“We all go a little mad sometimes.” –Norman Bates
Uma Madhu, II Year B.A. English
One could hardly imagine Psycho in Technicolor. Even if one did, it wouldn’t really be Psycho. Known as one of the best thrillers ever made, this movie belongs to the eerie, secretive gloom of black and white, of vintage cars, of abandoned telephone booths, of swamps that hide secrets, of houses with rooms that are never opened and of motels removed from the world, their lights flickering on only to suggest some grim, terrifying secret.
Psycho (1960), directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock, based on the book by Robert Bloch, follows the mystery surrounding the beautiful Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) who disappeared and ended up at a near deserted motel run by the twitchy, if not shady, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), and was never heard from again. Attempts to find Marion, by her sister Lila (Vera Miles) and her lover Sam (John Gavin) result in a foray into the winding, puzzling, and the most remote recesses of the human mind.
The movie had been directed with the deft Hitchcockian hand; terror and tension kept as taught as a string right from the very first scene. Even in seemingly insignificant or harmless scenes, you are haunted and hounded by the sense that something is terribly wrong – an implacable, yet slowly building terror that could only be created by Hitchcock, as real and tangible as the mounting dread of hearing footsteps behind you in a deserted alleyway. Stuffed birds, starched linen, nightgowns, the nagging voice of an old lady and an almost imperceptible gleam of insanity in the motel-keeper’s eyes, Psycho does not need screams and blood and poltergeists to evoke fear. The real and the terrible go hand in hand.
Adding to the atmosphere of the movie is the brilliant musical score composed by Bernard Hermann and the striking cinematography by John L Russell. The Psycho theme music is perhaps one of the most iconic soundtracks ever produced – eerie, scary, and heart-pounding.
The cast presented their characters with an empathy and subtlety that was way ahead of its times. Anthony Perkins, with his shifting eyes and vacant stares, flashes of intuition and violence flickering now and again across the meek demeanour and nervousness of Norman Bates gives a performance well worth the acclaim. Janet Leigh also brought across the impulsiveness and greed of Marion Crane, shifting effortlessly from looking perfectly ordinary to exposing the darker side of her character with ease.
As a path-breaking venture in the psychological thriller genre, Psycho continues to haunt and terrify, within and across its time, still standing as the epitome of thriller, no matter how many technological developments have come the genre’s way. Psycho is a must-watch, and a foreboding reminder that the monsters we fear are not under our beds, but in our heads.