This month, the staff at Nerds and Beyond brought you some of our favorite spooky movies to get you in the Halloween spirit. Today, we’re topping off our month-long celebration with the 1960 film Psycho, which is an adaptation of the Robert Bloch novel by the same name. The film was written by Joseph Stefano and directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
If you’ve never heard of this classic, here’s the low-down: After Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), a secretary from Phoenix, steals $40,000 from her employer’s client, she goes on the run. Caught in a downpour on her journey, she decides to stop at a middle-of-nowhere motel – Bates Motel – run by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), a man still under his mother’s control.
One of my favorite elements about Psycho is its never-ending suspense (but what’s a Hitchcock film without suspense?), even through to the end of the film! As soon as Marion flees Phoenix, I was watching at the edge of my seat, waiting for her to get caught along the way, especially when she trades in her car. Of course, she makes it to the (pretty shady) Bates Motel, and we meet the endlessly creepy Norman Bates. Marion doesn’t last much longer after that, once Norman’s mother senses Norman’s attraction to Marion, leading us to the infamous shower scene.
Eventually, people realize Marion is missing and decide to search for her. As they close in on Marion’s whereabouts, Norman and his mother also start to panic a little, but not entirely quite for the reason you would think. In the continuing build-up of suspense that takes viewers to the end of the film, Norman gets progressively more psycho, bringing you to the edge of your seat and holding your breath. Once the film reaches its conclusion, we learn that Norman’s mother has been dead for 10 years (murdered by her own son), and Norman embodied her personality (creepy, much?). It offers momentary reprieve from everything that happened, but the suspense STILL doesn’t let up. As Norman sits in the jail cell, staring into the camera, it’s nearly impossible not to wonder what happens next.
Originally, Psycho was supposed to be filmed in color, but Hitchcock decided to use black-and-white instead, claiming that color would scare audiences more (and also for budget reasons, but that’s not the important part here). I think that black-and-white actually enhances the scare factor. It gave Hitchcock more room to play with light and shadows and cinematography in general, creating a film that felt much more attuned to its horror element for the time, because it was black-and-white.
Another aspect that helped up the horror ante was the music, which was composed by Bernard Herrmann. From the slower and less urgent music to the fast-paced music filled with shrill notes, Herrmann creates a soundscape that pulls you in and doesn’t let go. Every single note fits perfectly to each scene, enhancing the viewing experience. The more laid-back music at the beginning gives you a moment of peace before Marion flees. The urgent and shrill music during the more terrifying scenes makes you afraid to turn around and will send chills up and down your spine. Herrmann’s score ties the film together; the perfect bow on top.
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Finally, I can’t talk about Psycho without mentioning Anthony Perkins, the actor who brilliantly brought Norman Bates to life. Norman is a character who seems so innocent and child-like when he’s initially introduced to the story. Now, that’s the exact opposite of who he is, but for the sake of his mother and himself, he must rely on that boyish charm, which Perkins absolutely nails. He comes off as a seemingly sweet man. However, there’s that one thing that seems off, but you’re not sure what. If you go into this film with zero knowledge about it, Perkins makes you believe that Norman is the good guy and will stay the good guy, if not the good guy who’s just a little off-putting. He does an excellent job of portraying Norman’s descent into madness. He does it gradually with the film, rather than an immediate switch from semi-normal to totally crazy. He’s able to show the switch from Norman to his mother with only the slightest change in his eyes and facial expression. Perkins brings the ups and downs of Norman’s situation and aligns them perfectly with the ups and downs of the film. Perkins was absolutely the best choice for the role. No one could play Norman Bates quite like he did.
Psycho also received television treatment with the A&E series Bates Motel, which had five seasons and ran from 2013-2017. It starred Freddie Highmore (The Good Doctor) as Norman Bates and Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring) as Norma Bates, his mother. The series served as a prequel of sorts to Psycho, giving us an inside look into Norman’s downward spiral. Of course, the writers took their own creative liberties, but they did an excellent job. Bates Motel is currently available to watch on Netflix.
We hope you enjoyed our Halloween recommendations and found some new films to add to your list whenever you’re feeling spooky.