Hitchcock's Great Psychological Thriller
Arguably the best psychological thriller ever made, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) is a masterwork of suspense and horror. The acting, cinematography, editing and music in this low-budget, studio-bound film are superb. The movie shows two grisly murders and paints a disturbing portrait of a psychopathic killer.
Twenty-seven-year-old Anthony Perkins gives a brilliant performance as Psycho's main character, Norman Bates. At first Norman seems to be an attractive, vulnerable and likable young man living with his domineering mother. But as Norman says, "We all go a little mad sometimes."
Janet Leigh is unforgettable in a key role, but she does not appear in the film's last hour. Leigh plays a secretary who steals $40,000, goes on the lam and checks into the isolated Bates Motel ("Twelve cabins, 12 vacancies."), which is run by Norman.
As Psycho winds down, there's a scene where a psychiatrist explains the psychology behind the murders. Critics often object to this scene on the grounds that it is heavy-handed exposition, but it is thought-provoking and indicates that the filmmakers want the viewer to recognize that the killer is not so much an evil man as he is a sick man.
The movie contains some memorable dialogue. The most famous line is Norman Bates saying, "A boy's best friend is his mother."
The Special Edition DVD Set Contains New Bonus Materials
There have been previous DVD editions of Psycho, but the Special Edition two-disc set provides new extras. The best of these is the scholarly audio commentary by Stephen Rebello, author of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. He says Hitchcock used Marli Renfro in doing the shower scene because she was physically similar to Janet Leigh and accustomed to nude modeling, including for Playboy. Rebello also claims dialogue implying an incestuous relationship between Norman and his mother was censored. And he says Hitchcock believed the didactic psychiatrist scene helped get Psycho past the censors.
Alfred Hitchcock may very well be the most influential filmmaker of all time, and the 26-minute "In the Master's Shadow: Hitchcock's Legacy" presents various talking heads in an attempt to make that case. But this documentary relies too much on generalities to be entirely satisfying. However, near the end there's a convincing specific example: footage illustrating how Martin Scorsese patterned a boxing sequence in Raging Bull after Psycho's shower scene.
In 1962 François Truffaut spent hours interviewing Hitchcock for his book about the American director, and the DVD set contains a 14-minute extract. It's fun to hear the two great filmmakers talk about Psycho, and Hitchcock expresses deep satisfaction with this movie because "it was pure film that stirred an audience."
Also, the DVD set contains "Lamb to the Slaughter" starring Barbara Bel Geddes, a half-hour episode from Season 3 of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV show. It's amusing, but not especially relevant to Psycho.
Bonus Materials Carried Over From Previous DVD Editions
The Universal Legacy Series Special Edition of Psycho carries over the supplements from previous DVD editions. The major offering here is the very good "The Making of Psycho," which has a runtime of one hour 34 minutes. The only principals involved with the movie still alive in 1997 when the making-of was done were screenwriter Joseph Stefano and Janet Leigh. Stefano discusses adapting the script from Robert Bloch's novel of the same name and says he drew upon his own experience with Freudian analysis. Leigh states she worked on the project for only three weeks, seven days of which were taken up with the shower scene, in which she wore moleskin.
Hitchcock initially planned to have no music at all during the shower scene, but composer Bernard Herrmann went ahead on his own and put some over it anyway. When the director heard Herrmann's screeching violins, he immediately realized the terror they evoked and decided to leave the music in. The two-minute "The Shower Scene: With and Without Music" shows the wisdom of this decision.
It has been widely reported that Saul Bass claimed he directed the shower scene, although both Janet Leigh and assistant director Hilton Green refute this in the making-of documentary. There is, however, no dispute that Bass played an important role in creating the scene by drawing storyboards for it. His storyboards can be seen on the DVD.
Miscellaneous additional bonus materials have been brought from the older DVD editions over to the new one, and these are itemized below.
Below I have listed all the details for the Universal Legacy Series two-disc Special Edition DVD set of Psycho.
Release Date: October 7, 2008
Number of Discs: 2
Feature Film Runtime: 1 hour 49 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1), Black and White
English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
French Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
English Captions for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Audio Commentary by Hitchcock Scholar Stephen Rebello
In the Master's Shadow: Hitchcock's Legacy (26 min.)
François Truffaut Interviews Alfred Hitchcock (15 min.)
Alfred Hitchcock Presents "Lamb to the Slaughter" (26 min.)
The Making of Psycho (1 hr. 34 min.)
Newsreel Feature: The Release of Psycho (8 min.)
The Shower Scene: With and Without Music (2 min.)
The Shower Scene: Storyboards by Saul Bass (stills)
The Psycho Archives (stills)
Posters and Ads (stills)
Lobby Cards (stills)
Behind-the-Scenes Photographs (stills)
Production Photographs (stills)
Production Notes (text)