Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
Janet Leigh (Marion Crane), Anthony Perkins (Norman Baites). Screenplay by Joseph Stefano. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Rating: 15. Running time: 109 minutes.
I had always judged Rear Window to be Hitchcock’s magnum opus, but rewatching Psycho I realise it should be evident to everyone that not only is this his best, but that it’s up there with the finest pieces of cinema ever put onto celluloid. Not only is its story more compelling, but the way in which it is executed is so awe-inspiring as to make all other directors eternally drool. Those screeching violins, that masterful use of dark lighting, the most intense scene in horror history that only once fleetingly shows blade on flesh, Psycho is quite simply a work of unrivalled genius from start to finish. To make a film jumpy is easy; to make it genuinely frightening is near impossible. But whenever we get too close to comfort here – if the plot seems to be unfolding too formulaically, or the protagonist appears to be the exclusive focus – ties with our point of contact are severed and a sense of insecurity continuously renewed. Had a film ever before been made like this? Can the rapid-fire close-ups and multiple angles, now a signature of music videos, trace their origins back to 1960 with Psycho’s shower scene? Was the quite obvious undercurrent of sexuality running through the film’s veins known to Hollywood before this point? Had anyone ever combined so overpoweringly music, image and story into such a horrifying whole? What I would pay to go back fifty years and walk into a cinema and watch this for the first time, innocent and oblivious of what awaited me. I’d be grateful enough to have just watched it recently for the first time, not recalling the plot twists from a prior young and unappreciative viewing. Sit back and prepare to be Spellbound. Psycho is untouchable.
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Tags: magnum opus, psycho, rear window