Summary: One of the best horror pictures ever made, Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ is a perfect use of story and suspense to remind us of our nightmares.
Review: ‘Psycho’ is perhaps the definitive example of the horror genre, and what else would we expect from Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense? ‘Psycho’ succeeds in the areas that postmodern horror tends to fail. It’s focused and very intelligent in its approach. Hitchcock clearly understood that horror is only effective when it corresponds to plausible fears. That’s not to say that supernatural horror is by nature ineffective; rather, it is only effective so long as it reminds us of the darkness in our dreams. ‘Psycho’ is scary realistic and evokes our nightmares with the deft usage of cinematography and Bernard Herrmann’s unmatched musical score.
A critical flaw in postmodern horror is the use of stock characters that audiences find difficult to believe in. Every character in ‘Psycho’ is in some way sympathetic. This is because ‘Psycho’ is not about the sadistic satisfaction of extravagant kills, but examining real evil. Unlike future slasher films that emphasize the killer’s otherworldly qualities, the villain of this piece, Norman Bates’ Mother, is what we suspect is lurking in the cracks of our civilized society, and too often it’s a justified fear. Another shortcoming of recent horror is a lack of patience and suspense, which belies a lack of faith in the story’s substance. Horror is about story; as exploitation, it has no value. Hitchcock understood that a thousand shocking moments numb audiences, but a single moment coupled with suspense endures forever. So it goes with the famous shower scene.
The saying is that “Sound is half the picture”. Bernard Herrmann’s musical score is a masterpiece. What horror films often lack in their soundscapes is a unique personality. The composers often deliver harsh sounds and weighty orchestra without weaving their music into the story’s pattern. The theme from ‘Psycho’, however, is its heartbeat.
‘Psycho’ is one of Hitch’s best and is certainly in the top-tier of the genre. Our stay at the Bates Motel will remain in the cinematic consciousness forever.