I remember watching Psycho for the first time in high school.
This post will totally contain spoilers, so if you haven’t seen this movie yet, you should get up and go do that right now.
Also, it’s over 60 years old. I think the spoiler cutoff has happened between then and now.
Psycho is a movie that stands the test of time. As I’ve gotten older, and my interests in cinema have grown, I continue to find myself searching for more films to watch.
Films to get the sensation of originality back. That feeling I enjoy when I know I’m in for a story like no other.
Of course, we all know many stories are repeated over and over again. The hero’s journey is a formula, etc., etc. But it still feels refreshing when a movie goes through a familiar formula and pulls it off masterfully.
Some of my friends make faces when I try to get them to watch black and white films with me. They’re not interested in those types of films. They want the movie, they want the popcorn flick.
They don’t want to endure cinema. Psycho is one of the films I show my friends if I want them to realize some black and white movies are better than the color saturated films we are all so used to.
Psycho completely affected all of cinema when it was released. It broke rules of the day. It established new rules that we all now follow religiously.
It changed things.
Before Psycho, movies were often seen informally. People would show up to a movie when they wanted to. Many would arrive late. Or halfway through a showing. Some would buy a double feature ticket and pop in halfway through the first movie.
Alfred Hitchcock insisted that everyone watch the movie from the beginning. In fact, that was a massive aspect of the film. It was crucial to the story, and he wouldn’t reveal why.
People were completely transfixed by this. It was a huge deal. Some folks were a little pissed about it, as well. Hitchcock enjoyed all of that.
The publicity was amazing.
Hitchcock knew it was going to be a film for the ages from the moment he first read the book it was based on.
He loved the story so much that he bought as many copies of the book as he could, just so he could prevent others from discovering the twists.
And what twists they were.
The protagonist dies!
Something completely unheard of at the time. No protagonist ever died. Let alone a protagonist dying in the first half of the film.
On top of that, she was played by the very famous Janet Leigh (more popularly known in the modern pop culture world as the mother to Jamie Lee Curtis), who was in Touch of Evil by Orson Welles and the original Manchurian Candidate.
She was a star, and Hitchcock had her sliced down.
No one was safe. Anything could happen.
A true horror film understands and conveys to the audience that there are no rules.
That’s what Psycho did masterfully.
The twist wasn’t just the ending. The twist was the end of the first act.
Then it get going.
This is something I’ve considered more and more as I’ve–hopefully–grown as a writer: don’t become satisfied with a single plot point.
Psycho had an amazing twist at the end of the first act. A lesser story would have been happy to make that the crux of the film.
But Psycho pushes forward and manages to top itself by the end.
That has stayed with me through the years.