Over the years, Psycho has been marred by circumstances beyond Hitchcock’s control. The film has been so adopted by popular culture that there is little left for me to write about Psycho, and little new can be ascertained from it with repeated viewings. It is impossible to watch Psycho with a clear mind today. The film carries so much weight with it, because everybody knows exactly what happens in the film. We all know the beats and the twists. We know exactly when and where Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is killed. We know exactly when and where Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is revealed to be an obsequious, cross-dressing murderer. Psycho is a fantastically crafted film – one of Hitchcock’s best – but after you become well acquainted with the film’s cleverness, there is not much left within the film that requires intellectual processing.
I don’t have much to say about Psycho. While some of the impact and tension of the film is lost because of the renowned nature of the ‘shower scene’ and other iconic moments, Psycho has so much inherent power encoded in the precise editing and the oblique black-and-white cinematography. The film is consistently unnerving, and through the editing and photography, Hitch never lets the viewers forget that something is very awry in the Bates motel. Norman Bates is often seen lingering in the background, in the negative space, as his victims’ lives unravel in the foreground – both visually and figuratively.
The subversion of the film’s salience from Marion Crane to Norman Bates – effectively shifting the focus from the corrupted hero in Crane to the naive killer in Bates – is brilliant, yet its power is diminished by the fact that we know Bates is the killer. We don’t know that because the film has told us so; we know that because popular culture has spoiled it for us.
While Psycho is an incredibly entertaining and occasionally pretty frightening film, I do not believe it contains as many incisory social commentaries as other films on this list. My other reviews are far, far longer than this because fewer people have seen the other films, and films like Scream and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre strive to allegorise something inherent and endemic to Western culture at the time they were made. Psycho existed to push boundaries – the boundaries of censorship, and the boundaries of narrative convention. Now that its boundary-pushing elements have become mildly dated, is there that much left for us to ponder? I’m not too sure.