(Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
(essay by Troy)
Psycho, simply put, is the most influential horror movie of all-time. Here we have the film that took horror from being generally a genre with supernatural and gothic traditions, making it popular to place the emphasis on the modern, the domestic, and the psychosexual. Or, as Jamie has stated before it represents the “year zero” of the genre, creating a divide of those films that influenced Psycho and the films that were influenced by Psycho. 50 years later it’s narratives, themes, and aesthetics have been referenced and drawn upon in 100’s of films, yet no one has been able to quite perfect the combination of style, tension, timing, narrative misdirection, and morbid wit that Hitchcock did.
Filled with its fair share of remarkable moments, Psycho is forever connected to one indelible and iconic series of images, “the shower scene.” It’s memorable for several reasons. There’s the level of technical ingenuity that’s on display — it famously has not a single penetration of the knife, yet our mind connects those dots in the midst of the scene’s myriad of cuts and camera angles. Of course, there’s also an underlying sleight of hand at work here, Hitchcock slyly playing the audience “like an organ,” wherein he shifts our voyeuristic and objectifying gaze into one of complicity when Marion is attacked and her body is disposed of.
Those are part of what make this a staple of Film Study 101 classes, but what makes it stand the test of time is the abject fear it still manages to create, even after multiple viewings and the likelihood that everyone watching knows what’s lurking around the corner 40-minutes into the proceedings. I’ve seen it numerous times and it never fails to shock and chill me in its suddenness and violence, a combination of disorienting music and editing, murderous shadows, naked helplessness, and hemmed-in claustrophobia, finalized with Marion’s desperate grasp and a haunting focus on her lifeless stare looking back at us.
It’s the quintessential horror movie sequence and a permanent fixture in our cinematic cultural heritage.