“Psycho” is one of those rare movies that needs no introduction, by a director who also needs no introduction.
It’s one of the greatest horror movies of all time, and it deserves to be. Alfred Hitchcock’s magnum opus is a clean-cut, low-budget affair that lulls you with its slow, uneasy pace, only to shock you with bursts of bloody violence that practically make you jump out of your chair. And the acting — especially by Tony Perkins — is absolutely brilliant.
Secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is entrusted with $40,000, which she’s supposed to deposit in the bank for her employer. Instead, she steals the money for her impoverished boyfriend, Sam Loomis (John Gavin). She ends up staying overnight at a remote motel, where the only other people are the owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) and his crazy invalid mother.
Then someone kills Marion in the shower. Believing his mother is responsible, a desperate Norman cleans up the crime scene and hides the body.
Meanwhile, Marion’s sister Lila (Vera Miles) is doing her best to find both her sister and the $40,000, hiring a private eye and trying to figure out where Marion went before her disappearance. Teaming up with Sam Loomis, she begins seeking out whoever saw her last — but neither of them are prepared for the true horror of Bates Motel.
The biggest problem with “Psycho” is probably that, like most legendary movies with a twist, the brilliant twist ending is so well known that its impact is lessened. Pretty much everybody knows what’s going to happen and what is going on, so it isn’t as shocking as it probably was back in 1960. It’s sort of like “I am your father” or “You blew it up!” — everybody knows the twist.
But that doesn’t mean that “Psycho” isn’t still freakishly scary and beautifully-made. Hitchcock’s direction is clean, smooth and elegant, painting the screen with light and shadow like a master painter. He fills every scene with a slow-building sense of unease, even if nothing bad is actually happening at the moment. It’s quiet, restrained…
… until suddenly a shadowy figure lunges out and starts stabbing somebody, while the screeching violins stab right along. The violence isn’t very graphic, but it’s incredibly shocking.
As Norman Bates, Tony Perkins gave one of the greatest performances you’ll ever see in a film — he comes across as shy and boyish, with an ineffable charm. He comes across as a harmless momma’s boy who’s probably never even talked to a girl before. But even from the start, there are hints that he can abruptly transform into something dark and twisted.
In fact, his is probably the only performance you’ll truly remember from the movie. Not that the other actors aren’t good — Miles and Leigh give brilliant low-key performances as a pair of desperate young women — but Perkins is just SO perfect and chilling that you can’t get over him.
“Psycho” doesn’t need a recommendation from anyone at this point — it’s one of those brilliant movies that has achieved a mythic status. Go see it. Now.