Psycho (1960)

1960, Paramount Pictures

Principal Cast:  Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Janet Leigh, Martin Balsam
Director:  Alfred Hitchcock
Producer:  Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay:  Joseph Stefano
Cinematography:  John L. Russell
Plot:  A young woman steals $40,000 from her employer's client, and subsequently encounters a young motel proprietor too long under the domination of his mother.  (Courtesy: IMDB)

Awards & Nominations

Academy Awards
Best Actress in a Supporting Role:  Janet Leigh - Nominee
Best Art Direction/Set Decoration (Black & White):  Joseph Hurley, Robert Clatworthy, George Milo - Nominee
Best Cinematography:  John L. Russell - Nominee
Best Director: Alfred Hitchcock- Nominee

American Film Institute

  • #14 of the 100 Greatest Films
  • #1 of the 100 Most Thrilling Movies
  • #2 of the 50 Greatest Villains (Norman Bates)
  • #56 of the 100 Greatest Quotes ("A boy's best friend is his mother.")
  • #4 of the 25 Greatest Film Scores

Director's Guild of America
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures: Alfred Hitchcock - Nominee

The Essential Films

Golden Globes
Best Supporting Actress:  Janet Leigh - Winner

National Film Registration Board
Included in the National Film Registry as an important and/or culturally significant film

Writers Guild of America
Best Written American Drama: Joseph L. Stefano - Nominee

Well, if the woman up there is Mrs. Bates... who's that woman buried out in Greenlawn Cemetery? 

Everything you have read, seen or heard about this film is probably true.  Unfortunately the "twist" ending has been parodied to death (no pun intended) and it, along with its iconic score, is part of the American pop culture landscape.  However, if you have never seen Psycho, then you owe yourself a good scare.

Behind Jaws and The Exorcist, Psycho is easily one of the best horror, thrillers or horror/thrillers of all time.  It's not just because the film features a serial killer (although that plays a significant role), but because the film is genuinely terrifying.  

One of the reasons this film is so scary is that the scares are earned by a well-crafted screenplay.  Instead of using the tired conventions of modern horror films where something "jumps out" at the audience, the screenplay builds its characters, their motivations and their actions so well that when the scare comes it is natural and organic instead of contrived.  What is quite genius about Stefano's script (which was based on a novel by Robert Blotch), is that one of the main characters has what appears to be a petty motivation at the beginning of the film.  However, without entering into spoiler territory, Hitchcock completely manipulates your expectations and as Act I ends and Act II begins you are completely caught off guard as to what to expect in the film.  It's at this point that the Norman Bates character becomes the main crux of the story.  His motivation and character development are so fascinating that it dwarfs the rest of the plot and characters.  The mystery surrounding what is truly going on at the Bates motel is one of the most well-written in cinema history.

Obviously, Hitchcock's value can never be understated, but he truly did create a horror milestone.  Just examine the infamous shower murder scene.  A scene that even people who have never seen the film can immediately call to mind when the film is mentioned.  It is incredibly frightening, disturbing and terrifying.  Notice, however, there is no gore.  None.  You see a knife, a shadowy figure, the beautiful Janet Leigh screaming in terror and finally some blood trickling down the drain.  You never see the knife wounds, or stab marks, however the rapid-fire editing, the point of view shots (from both the victim and the killer), the sound effects and of course that unnerving score by Bernard Herrmann all combine to make one of the most violent scenes of all time.

While Hitchcock certainly had his easily recognizable styles and themes, they never overshadowed the actors or the performances.  Whether it was Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo or Cary Grant in North by Northwest, Hitchcock always populated his films with incredible actors.  Janet Leigh and Martin Balsam both give fine supporting performances, but the true star of the film has to be Anthony Perkins.  Perkins' portrayal of Norman Bates is all at once terrifying, pathetic, sweet and off-putting.  He clearly belongs on the list of the greatest film villains of all time.

Psycho is a horror film without monsters, ghosts or gore, yet it will never cease to terrify audiences.  It challenges expectations and its ending will drive you crazy.  But that's ok... we all go a little mad sometimes.