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classic horror movie

It feels amazing to hand out a 10. It’s a feeling of joy and wonder and pure bliss. Thankfully for Keith and I, each 10 we find and review makes up for many twos or threes. But not too many, which is why we’re trying to save horror. First, let me start with this: my name is April and I’m a Hitchcock-aholic. {Hi, April} I’ve literally never met a Hitchcock film I didn’t absolutely adore. The man is a master and I merely a tiny fan of his work. Now, I could go back and forth for hours on which Hitchcock is the best and which leading lady dazzles most, but the truth is that only Psycho and The Birds ever seem to show up on horror lists. I’d argue a few others should be on there, but what do I know?

Released in 1960, Psycho (based on the book) stars Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, a mama’s boy who owns the Bates Motel in the middle of nowhere. Marion Crane (played magnificently by Janet Leigh) steals $40,000 from her employer and runs off to be with her lover, stopping for a night at the motel, where she meets Norman. Hijinks ensue. Just to be clear, this review will be a rave. I will not be touching on negative aspects of Psycho because there are none. You’ve been warned; if you’re looking for a criticism, try Just kidding.

For starters, the music of this film is wonderful. It accents the horror by putting you on edge with its piercing notes; there wouldn’t be nearly as much tension in this film without the music. Even the opening credits, quintessential Hitchcock, are jagged and fierce and move in and out of the screen at a rapid pace. From the very first note and credit, the viewer is nervous and anxious. Psycho is a black and white film, which frankly, I miss in horror, because it adds to the mystery. There isn’t the distraction of electric colors everywhere. The cinematography is eloquent, fitting only the essential items into each frame, avoiding wide shots and needless shots used for context. The viewer is giving only the necessary, which creates a nice feeling of claustrophobia that adds to the tension.

I’ve never read the book the story was created from, but I hear horror books are often more scary than the films. Now, I’m not naive - I realize most horror audiences today probably think Psycho is a boring black-and-white film with one good scare and not much else. I’m here to save horror, though, and Psycho is truly great horror. Every horror film released today should strive to be as deep and disturbing as this film. Psycho is a scary film in many ways. Marion spends most of the film paranoid because she just stole $40,000. Norman is a quiet scary; you never know what he’s thinking or what he’ll do next. The film is full of nervousness, hysteria, and flat-out craziness. Leigh, mother to future scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis, plays Marion so well; I found myself sympathizing with her, hoping for her and ultimately being paranoid with her. Perkins, however, steals the show as Norman Bates. On paper, a quiet, lonely boy who’s obsessed with his mother doesn’t seem like a horror film candidate. But Perkins manages to portray Norman as equal parts creepy and endearing, which adds depth to the story.

Story depth, along with great music, credits, cinematography and acting, is what sets Psycho apart from the rest. This film strives to do more than make someone jump out of their seat. It strives to keep them on the edge of their seat, biting their nails, for the entire film. It is meant to lure you out of your comfort zone, bit by bit, scene by scene, until it starts to shock you over and over, until the end of the film. Psycho isn’t just a horror, it’s a truly good movie with all the elements of an Oscar winner.

In a lot of ways, Psycho is where it all started for me. Sure, Jaws was my first, but Psycho was the first great film to actually scare me. Watching Psycho, learning that a boy’s best friend is his mother, it changed me forever. It opened the gates to horror island and made me believe there is more to this genre. Horror can be both terrifying and deep. I think a lot of people glance at Norman and brush him off as a skinny kid with a weird love of taxidermy. Those people will regret that assumption. Every creature on horror island already runs the other way when they see Bates walk by.

If you liked Psycho, you might also like Psycho (1998), The Shining and Cold Creek Manor.

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