Psycho

Psycho

When it comes to the psychological thriller, the undeniable master was Alfred Hitchcock, who knew that there were far scarier things in this world to ponder than just fanged monsters, giant insects and alien plotting to take over the world. With the release of Psycho in 1960, he gave the world a creature more terrifying than Frankenstein or Dracula – a soft spoken, awkward loner named Norman Bates who personified evil. The result was one of the most adored horror films of all time, containing perhaps one of the most chilling scenes ever filmed.

Young and beautiful Marion Crane (Vivian Leigh) is traveling through the desert with the law following close behind, the result of her embezzling from her employer. Too tired to drive, she finds an out-of-the-way motel.

The proprietor is a shy, antisocial lad named Norman Bates, who lives in a dilapidated Victorian house on a hill overlooking the motel. He offers to make dinner for her, although when she overhears a conversation between Norman and his yet-seen mother, it is clear that this dining arrangement isn’t welcome. The dinner is moved to the less romantic office and although it starts cordially, things get a little heated when Marion suggests that mom might need to be put in a home. As it turns out, Norman is a little defensive when it comes to dear old mom – and mom clearly doesn’t like her home being inhabited by any sort of competition.

After this interlude, Marion heads back to her room, in need of a nice hot shower. It’s the last soaping up she will ever do, as she is soon viciously attacked by a knife-wielding figure, who brutally stabs the woman numerous times in the claustrophobic water closet, killing her.

A short time later, Norman notices blood in the abode, finds the body, and being the responsible hotel owner he is, puts her body in the trunk of her car and pushes it into a nearby swamp. Marion’s disappearance attracts the attention of her sister Lila (Vera Miles), and a detective assigned to investigate the embezzlement charges, Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam). Milton tracks Marion’s whereabouts to the Bates Motel and questions the nervous Norman, who is less than convincing and just a tad overprotective when the subject of the family matriarch comes up.

Milton leaves the residence, contacts Lila to voice his concerns, and decides to return to the Victorian home. Soon after, he takes his place on the missing person list. Lila, along with Sam (Marion’s boyfriend) contact the authorities and raise the eyebrow of the local Sheriff when they mention that Milton saw Norman’s mother sitting by an upstairs window – as far as he was aware, mom’s been dead for over 10 years. It’s quite the mystery, and before it is solved there will be more blood (or, at least, chocolate syrup) spilled.

Psycho was considered one of the goriest films ever produced at the time, even if it is quite tame by today’s standards. It was also one of the most popular, thanks to the unsettling performance by Anthony Perkins. Most fondly remembered is the infamous shower scene, which was brilliantly filmed and remains significantly disturbing to this day. Even Vivian Leigh, who was only acting, was so affected by shooting the scene that she refused to take a shower afterwards without first locking the doors and windows.

Reaction to the film was enormous on every continent and it still ranks as one of the most successful black and white movies of all time. Hitchcock was hailed as a genius as a result and Psycho was nominated for four Academy Awards (none of which it won). And, although it would take over twenty years to get the sequel ball rolling, the three that followed were released in pretty short succession – Psycho II in 1983, Psycho III in 1986, and a prequel, Psycho IV: The Beginning in 1990, each featuring Perkins as the now-iconic Norman. In 1998, director Gus Van Zant took a trip down memory lane to the old Bates Motel, creating an almost shot-for-shot color reproduction of the original film, starring Vince Vaughn in the role of Norman Bates.

And while plenty of movie blood has been spilled over the years, with images far more graphic than the shower scene, none have matched the artistic mastery of Hitchcock, who knew all-too-well what people were truly scared of and made sure that he pushed all of their buttons in this truly timeless film.

If you count Psycho as one of your all-time favorite horror offerings, or if maybe it just kept you from showering on occasion, we’d love to hear all of your thoughts and recollections of this classic film in our comments section below.

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