Monday, October 18, 2010

Film Yap: Psycho

Psycho, even fifty years later, remains one of the most brilliant and ingenious horror films ever made. It defies so many expectations and ways of storytelling that it still has the ability to shock people even if they think they know what is going to happen. Some of its elements are deeply rooted in the pop culture lexicon, like the famous shower scene and maybe even its ending.

Yet the film is much more than that. It is perhaps Alfred Hitchcock’s most suspenseful movie because everything is just a little bit off. Janet Leigh plays Marion Crane a woman who decides to steal $40,000. Even before Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates shows up, everything is incredibly tense and eerie. There is a cop who keeps staring at her and she keeps acting incredibly paranoid with everyone she talks to.

Norman Bates and the Bates Motel remains as one of the greatest structural shifts ever conceived. Once the famous shower scene takes place and all of the emotion that is entangled with Marion’s moral decision, the audience is lost. “Wait. Now what is going to happen? The movie is halfway over.” People are familiar with structure in films, even if they don’t know it. Either the guy will or will not end up with the girl at the end of the romantic comedy, etc.

So then who does the audience root for? There is the private detective Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam) who starts to look for Marion but he isn’t really the main character. Neither is the sister (Vera Miles) or the love interest (John Gavin). It is just us vs. Norman Bates and his elusive mother. Perkins can not be praised enough for his performance. Casey Affleck must have watched this film in preparation for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford because Perkins knew just how to make everyone feel uncomfortable especially when he’s not saying creepy dialog.

It is his performance and the amazing script by Joseph Stefano that makes the truly best scene in the movie. When Marion arrives at the Motel she agrees to have a brief meal with Norman and the tension in that scene is impeccable. There is danger, uneasiness, but also a sexual longing. It’s frightening because at that moment Norman just wants to be with Marion and to connect with her. Just chilling. This shows it’s not about the gore or the morbid ways the teens get killed in horror films. It’s all about atmosphere and new ways to scare you without scaring you. This is how to make a horror film.

This new Blu-Ray is a must buy for fans of the movie. At first it is bit off-putting how smooth the picture looks, but it all quickly gels. The new 5.1 digital audio track is perfect. The bonus features are drool worthy. There is a long documentary about the making of Psycho, which is extremely well made. There are long interviews with Stefano, Leigh, and Alfred daughter Pat Hitchcock, who plays a small part in the film. There are also more featurettes breaking down various aspects of the film including Hitch himself and the shower scene. There is also a great segment from the famous interview with Hitch and Francois Truffaut. To top it all off, there is an informative commentary track from the author of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of “Psycho,” Stephen Rebello.

Film: 5 Yaps

Extras: 5 Yaps

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