Psycho (1960)

psycho poster 1960 movie
9.5 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 10/10

Amazing editing, great acting

A little pop-psychology and not as fun for current viewers who know the surprise ending

Movie Info

Movie Name: Psycho

Studio: Shamley Productions

Genre(s): Horror/Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s): June 16, 1960

MPAA Rating: R

psycho janet leigh marion crane shower eye shot

The Bates Motel…so clean you can eat off the floor

Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) has made a big mistake.  In order to be with her boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin) who is saddled with debt, she’s stolen $40,000 from a client at her job.  Debating what to do, she stops at the Bates Motel and meets the young man running it…Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins).  Norman isn’t like other young men, and Marion’s mistake is about to turn tragic.  With fears that the police will catch up with her first, Sam, Marion’s sister Lila (Vera Miles), and a private detective named Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam) are looking for Marion…and they are going to meet Norman’s mother.

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho is a horror suspense thriller.  Following Hitchcock’s North by Northwest in 1959, the film adapts the 1959 novel by Robert Bloch.  The film was released to controversy and a massive box office return.  It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Janet Leigh), Best Cinematography, and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration Black-and-White and was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1992.

psycho arbogast killed martin balsam

That last step is a doozy

Psycho was one of those legendary films as a kid.  When I was young, the sequels were already coming out so Psycho was a film you knew.  I can remember thinking because of The Birds and Psycho that Alfred Hitchcock made horror films (and was extremely confused when I saw more of his work).  Often considered one of the first slasher films, Psycho is both indicative of Hitchcock and a contradiction.

When Psycho came out in 1960, Hitchcock went to great lengths to keep the story secret (he even bought up copies of Bloch’s book…the simplicity of pre-internet).  While it seems rather obvious now, the psychological ideas in Psycho and Norman’s mental state were revolutionary (and needed a really clear explanation in the end sequence).  The movie famously also “switches the script” with it originally setting out as standard Hitchcock with a heist movie and a beautiful blonde in danger.  The money becomes a classic Hitchcock MacGuffin and the story shifts to Norman…and going in not knowing any of where the story was to go must have been a shock.

psycho mrs bates mother

She’s got a nice smile

While the movie could be a simple horror movie with simple performances, Hitchcock gets strong Hitchcock performances from his leads.  Vera Miles, John Gavin, and Martin Balsam all give dimension to their characters, but the hook of the story is largely Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins.  Leigh’s short but sweet performance not only contains her shocking death, but it also has a character you feel bad for…because she decided to make the right decision and no one will ever know.  Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates is both sweet, soft spoken, and rather pitiful…you do feel bad for him, but also he is able to show moments of intense anger that shows how scary he can become (even if Mother doesn’t take over).

Like many Hitchcock films, the movie has great visuals and experimental shots.  The showcase of this film is largely the classic show scene with its multiple “cuts” (literally and physically) which manages to be a bloody mess without showing the knife entering the Leigh’s body (who actually was a body double for Leigh for close-ups).  The film also has a great shot with Arbogast getting attacked by mother and falling down the stairs…this is combined with a great set that rivals his perfect set in Rear Window…the Bates Motel is both functional and carries a sense of menace.

psycho norman bates mother anthony perkins

Norman wouldn’t hurt a fly

Psycho is a great film and while it has a lot of Hitchcock’s classic traits, it also feels a bit alien to him because the Master of Suspense adds a lot of shock and jumps (something that doesn’t always work with suspense and is sometimes criticized as an easy scare).  Despite all of this, the movie’s real heart feels like it is found in the moment with Leigh and Perkins finding a sense of connection over a sandwich.  It is a tender moment in an otherwise rather brutal film.  They come off as two lost people making a connection…before everything goes sideways.  Psycho was followed by Psycho II in 1963 but also both a prequel movie with Psycho IV:  The Beginning in 1990 and the TV series Bates Motel which reimagined and modernized the story.  In 1998, a shot-for-shot remake of Psycho was helmed by Gus Van Sant and starred Vince Vaughn as Bates.  Hitchcock followed Psycho with The Birds in 1963.

Related Links:

Psycho II (1983)

Psycho III (1986)

Psycho IV:  The Beginning (1990)

Psycho (1998)

Bates Motel—Season 1 Review and Complete Episode Guide

Bates Motel—Season 2 Review and Complete Episode Guide

Bates Motel—Season 3 Review and Complete Episode Guide

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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