Director- Alfred Hitchcock
Phoenix secretary Marion Crane is on the run after stealing $40,000 from her
employer in order to marry her boyfriend, Sam Loomis. Traveling on the
country roads to avoid the police, she stops for the night at Bates Motel and
meets the polite but very odd proprietor, Norman Bates, who she soon finds
out, is a psychopath.
‘Alfred Hitchcock's powerful, complex psychological thriller, Psycho (1960)
is the "mother" of all modern horror suspense films’
- AMC Filmsite
‘What makes "Psycho" immortal, when so many films are already half-
forgotten as we leave the theater, is that it connects directly with our fears:
Our fears that we might impulsively commit a crime, our fears of the police,
our fears of becoming the victim of a madman, and of course our fears of
disappointing our mothers.’
3. Title scene
In the title scene Hitchcock chose to reveal the actors names in distorted text suggesting
a deformed nature to their characters as if not everything is as it seems, or doesn’t fit
together (see screenshot on the right). This helps the audience to become aware of the gritty,
noir-like concept of the story. The font and style of the text is very conventional of the noir
genre because of the colours: black background and white text.
Hitchcock also uses bars (see screenshot on the right) which implants the idea of jail into the
audiences mind therefore, when we find that she has stolen the money we are pulled to the idea
of her going to jail. This suspicion arises again when we see the boss stop in the street.
This also could also represent a mental prison where they have locked up a dark, hidden and
unknown side to their characters. Further implying that all is not as it seems with these
Hitchcock also superimposes white text over the opening shot saying ‘TWO FORTY-THREE
P.M’ and ‘FRIDAY, DECEMBER THE ELEVENTH’ however he leaves out the year,
suggesting that Hitchcock is trying to say that this type of psychopathic horrors can happen
4. The Use of the Noir Genre
Hitchcock also uses the generic archetypes as well as the low-key black-and-white coloured
visual style of the noir genre such as the femme fatale, linking in with the defiant women in
films like ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ and the neo-noir ‘Thelma & Louise.’
To add to the atmosphere, Hitchcock also uses a strong, dominant soundtrack created by Bernard
Herrmann, a multi-award-winning composer. Herrmann is also best known for his many
collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock. Reed also uses a composer for her films, for example in
‘The Third Man’ Reed used Anton Karas. Powerful soundtracks have become a generic feature
within noir also appearing in American Psycho and Tarantino’s Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction.
Like many other Film Noirs ‘Psycho’ uses a linear narrative to enhance the realistic feel that noir
‘Film noir of this era is associated with a low-key black-and-white visual style that has roots in
German Expressionist cinematography. Many of the prototypical stories and much of the
attitude of classic noir derive from the hardboiled school of crime fiction that emerged in the
United States during the Great Depression.’ Wikipedia 2015
5. Introduction to Marion
In the opening sequence, we see another panning shot that goes from a medium close up shot of her to
a close up of the money. This strongly implies that no matter what Marion is doing somehow her mind
is pulled towards the money. Further suggesting that she feels guilty and the money is constantly at the
back of her mind, this then implies that she is not your typical femme fatale and that this is her first
time doing anything even remotely wrong. This adds to a sense of false innocence to her character.
This idea is further developed when we see her get pulled over by the police. Hitchcock uses high and
low angles showing the cops power and superiority over her.
The First shot of Marion shows her lying down while Sam Loomis, her boyfriend, stands above her.
This could be suggesting a hierarchy of power within this relationship. Hitchcock chooses to show her
like this to show how submissive she is to Loomis making the audience believe that she would do
anything for him, and she eventually does and buys his love.
Marion is the media representation of women during the 1960s, submissive and powerless. However,
this ideology has mostly dissolved, as we can see when Ridley Scott makes an intertextual reference to
‘Psycho’ (1960) in his movie ‘Thelma & Louise’(1991) (see shots on right). In this movie he shows
Thelma and Louise getting pulled over by a policeman in almost the exact same way, however it turns
out very differently for the cop and he ends up in the boot of the car after the two women stand their
ground and prove that dominance over the cop. Compared to the scene where Marion subdues to the
police officer and follows his words. The police officer obviously represents male representation and
Marion female representation. However this misogynist view of men having power over women has
not been completely diminished as the two characters still die at the end suggesting that the director,
Ridley Scott, still doesn’t think that they have a place in todays world.
Hitchcock predominantly uses chiaroscuro lighting to establish the genre and show to the viewers that this is
going to be a dark, cold thriller. He also uses naturalistic, ambient lighting to compliment the realism of the
genre and film. In the opening voyeuristic shot, the lighting outside is bright and sunny yet inside it is dark.
Suggesting that they live in the shadow of the rest of the city, meaning that they are hidden away and possibly
implying that they have something hidden from sight. Lighting design is also used in the shower scene to
enhance our fear. They use non-ambient lighting to create a silhouette of the killer, this hides his identity from
us and heightens the mysteriousness of the scene as well as our common fear of the unknown.
All the sound is diegetic, ambient sound, excluding the soundtrack, which gives it a realistic and naturalistic
feel. This realism to a movie that contains such horrors as this adds another level of fear. As I have mentioned,
the soundtrack is well known for providing a lot of the tension of the film. Hitchcock himself said that ‘33% of
the effect of Psycho was due to the music’. However, the soundtrack dies down at the start of the dialogue
showing the importance of the conversation. During the shower scene, later on in the movie, the soundtrack
has harsh, violent, stabbing-like sounds, representing the horror that is happening in the scene.
Hitchcock chooses to use many claustrophobic spaces, another generic noir feature. He uses locations such as
a car and a shower to make the characters feel vulnerable and trapped. The shower was also chosen because it
is a location that anyone can relate to, enhancing the realism and fear of the scene. These claustrophobic
locations can also be seen in films such as ‘The Third Man’ and ‘Kill Bill’.
7. Hitchcock uses his first shot to show Voyeurism and the ‘The Male Gaze’ at its worst. He is a director who likes to
push the limits of the viewer's fears and nightmares. One of the ways he does this in Psycho is through Voyeurism.
The audience can first see the sight of voyeurism (see image) when the camera pans over the city the zooms closer
and closer into Marion's room. This zooming action and the angle through the window makes the audience feel like
they are intruding, almost as though they are looking through the eyes of a watcher or voyeur (see images to the
right). Hitchcock could be using this to suggest that the film is a voyeuristic experience and that you are intruding on
other people's lives. This idea ‘creeps’ out the audience which brings in another sense of an uncomfortable fear that
Hitchcock has fed to us by the way he connects directly with our fears.
Further on in the opening sequence we see another panning shot that goes from a wide shot of her room to a close up
of the money (see image) suggesting that no matter what she's doing somehow her attention is pulled towards the
money, suggesting that she feels a lot of guilt and the money is constantly at the back of her mind, this then implies
that she is not your typical femme fatale who is constantly using her femininity to gain power over everyone else and
this is her first time doing anything even remotely wrong. This adds to a sense of innocence to her character. Which is
further developed when we see her get pulled over by the police. Hitchcock uses high and low angles showing the
cops power and superiority over her, which makes her seem even more innocent.
We can also see the rule of thirds used to make Marion seem small as if she is powerless in the shot on the right. The
shot is dominated by white tiles suggesting that even they hold more importance than her. They are all consuming.
Hitchcock also uses a lot of close ups (see image) in this scene to show pure emotion from the characters.
This means that the audience are not only physically closer to the characters but also emotionally, this, once
again, makes the fear more personal and therefore more horrifying for the audience to watch.