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Blu-ray Review: Psycho (50th Anniversary Edition – 1960)

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Psycho is a movie full of surprising twists turns. There are so many it’s not easy to review the film without discussing them. If you have not seen this movie then I would suggest it is best to not know too much about it. Being as iconic as it is, it’s hard for anyone to not know at least a little about the famous shower scene, Norman Bates, and the Bates Motel. But even knowing those things does not necessarily make the twists and turns less suspenseful.

Psycho is a film that takes it time. Alfred Hitchcock is not called the “Master of Suspense” for nothing. The audience is not introduced to Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) for nearly a half hour; there is no foreshadowing nor even the slightest hint of Bates’ existence until the film’s heroine, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), meets him.

Psycho is a subversive film on many levels. It constantly plays with audience expectations. The constant turning makes it hard to know what to think or expect. That’s not to imply the film is confusing; it is not. It’s just a film very good at not allowing the audience to guess what will happen next.

Marion Crane, herself, is the antithesis of a typical movie heroine. The film opens with Marion having an afternoon tryst in a cheap Motel with her boyfriend Sam (John Gavin). Marion parades in front of a window wearing only a bra and slip. She wants to marry Sam, but he claims all his money goes to alimony payments to his ex-wife and he cannot afford to support her. In desperation, Marion steals $40,000 in cash from her boss and embarks on a road trip that is supposed to lead to Sam, who lives in another town. However, she ends up lost and at the Bates Motel.

So we have a heroine who has sex with her boyfriend in cheap motels in the middle of the day, who is also a thief. Still we do root for Marion. Maybe it’s her boss’s drunken client leering all over her, or the fact that she has a perfectly nice boyfriend who would like to marry her but can’t. It’s not hard to relate to Marion at all. After she is just someone who wants a little more out of life than what she has.

Norman Bates, on the other hand, is not all relatable to most people. Marion becomes all the more sympathetic in her plight the more she interacts with Bates. Bates is charming enough at first; he seems just a little nervous and shy, but there is something off about him. It’s that little something that makes us want Marion to get away from him as fast as she can, but of course she doesn’t. That’s where the audience is turned on its head. The main character, the character the audience has identified with and rooted for is brutally murdered and who are we left with?

New characters are introduced, all of a sudden, half way through the movie. Sam, who hasn’t been seen since the opening scene returns, along with Marion’s sister, Lila (Vera Miles), along with a private detective (Martin Balsam) who is searching for Marion and the missing money.

As the trio searches for Marion we learn more about Norman Bates and his mother. Each piece of information is disconcerting, but does not prepare you for any of the shocking moments that occur during the final act of the film.

Anthony Perkins gives a superb performance as Bates. His acting style seems much more modern than the other actors in the film, which further sets his character apart. The scene where Bates is questioned by the private detective is classic Hitchcock. It is funny, while at the same time unsettling and suspenseful. The final scenes at the Bates Motel are as shocking and scary as any modern horror movie, and they do not rely on any gore at all.

My one problem with Psycho is in the closing scenes where there is a very drawn out explanation of Bates’ behavior by a psychiatrist. It doesn’t ruin the movie in any way, but I do find it long and unnecessary, though the final voiceover by Bates that goes with it is good.

On Blu-ray the black and white picture is sharp with good clarity. The picture is presented in VC-1 encoded 1080p. The contrast is very good with well defined blacks, whites, and grays. Considering the age of the film, I found the picture to be quite good. The sound is in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and is very good. Bernard Hermann’s iconic score is brought to life on Blu-ray. The fidelity is excellent. The surround speakers are used adequately, but given that the soundtrack is not all that lush in the first place, the surrounds don’t get a lot of use by design.

There are tons of special features on this set, including a feature-length making of documentary that provides a wealth of material. The documentary is broken down in to chapters that can be selected on their own. There are featurettes on the film’s sound design, Hitchcock himself, the shower scene without the score, publicity stills, and poster images. There is also an interesting commentary by Stephen Rebello (a Hitchcock historian), which was brought over from a previous DVD release.

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About Sherry Lipp

Sherry Lipp is an entertainment and food writer who specializes in film and television reviews. She has published the gluten and grain-free cookbook Don't Skip Dessert.