Alfred Hitchcock has been called The Master Of Suspense, Discuss the techniques he uses to create and maintain suspense in psycho. Do you think he deserves this title? At the time of release, 1960, psycho was a ground breaking project. After its primary screening it was an immediate box-office success, earning over $15,000,000 in its first year, over 15 times as much as it cost to make. When I first saw the film, I would not of classified it as a horror, more of a suspense thriller. But looking back I begin to realise what a great effect this film would have had on people in 1960.Order now
It was the first of its kind, comparing this to “Tod Brownings Dracula” and others of such kind, would be like comparing “The Exorcist” to “My Little Pony.” Armed with its master-class cast, consisting of Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins and many other household names, its most excellent story line and script and one of the best directors of the time, Psycho stormed Hollywood and tested family values such as motherly love.
As I have previously stated the film had a very good story line. Based on the book written by Welles, the story of psycho influenced our modern day “slasher” film. But unlike most horror films psycho questioned the ultimate dichotomy of good and evil, for example making us relate with and feel sorry for, thieves and mass murderers. The scene after the opening sequence is set in a shabby motel in the city of Phoenix. It revealed that Marion was sleeping with a married man in debt named Sam.
The film progresses to a point where Marion has the opportunity to steal $40,000 very easily. Ultimately Marion leaves Phoenix with the money and heads in the direction of Fareville where Sam lives. Events occur that lead her to buy a new car and end up in the Bates Motel where it would be “safe to sleep”. She ends up in a deep conversation with Norman Bates. It was established that bates was somewhat, mentally infringed. Then there is the famous shot of bates watching her undress through the peephole. Then eventually whilst Marion is taking a shower a knife wielding female comes through the door and kills Marion, the body is disposed of by Norman Bates and we are led to believe that his mother had stabbed Marion.
A private detective named Arbogast is sent to look for Marion joined by Sam and Marions sister. After questioning bates, Arbogast is not convinced so he returns to the motel alone where he too is stabbed, unmistakably by Norman Bates. It is then revealed that Bates mother has been dead years and Marions sister disturbingly confirm this when she stumbles onto the corpse at the motel bates is arrested and that is basically it.
There is a very interesting and fitting title sequence in psycho. Hermans famous music is played whilst, the credits and so on were being displayed in the most interesting of fashions. The text appears and is just a few lines, it expands horizontally to reveal the whole word. The text is white on a black background, which gives a good felling of a dichotomy, a theme that runs throughout the film. With all of its aspects the title sequence is quite dramatic which sets the feeling for the rest of the film.
In films, music plays a key role, more important than special effects or even the actors. In my opinion you can judge how suitable the music is by your realisation of it being there. If the music is well suited to the scene you will hardly notice it at all and it will create a mood without you even realising it. But if the music is out of place, that would be noticed straight away. Without music most films would have no effect on the audience, be it horror, action or romance without the music there would be no mood.
In psycho the music is a masterpiece of sheer brilliance it so well suited to the film you find yourself involuntarily judering with each stroke of the high pitched strings. For example in the shower scene the music is the most important part ( coming from the opinion of a musician this may be slightly bias but if there was no music how would the scene effect you?) I have tried watching the shower scene on mute and it really has no effect on the audience.
When Herman wrote the piece he was in the right frame of mind, the high pitch short strokes of the violins and the under lying drone of the double bass really suits the scene better than if it was played by a brass section. The camera angles in psycho were somewhat experimental. It used a wide range if camera shots varying from straightforward long shots to state of the art intercutting and iris shots. Hitchcock was the first person to experiment with this wide range of camera angles.
Seeing as this was the first film to use these new techniques, they were used relatively effectively. One of the most effective shots in the film was the extreme close up of bates eye when he was looking through the peep hole at Marion getting changed. The only things in the shot were his eye and the wall. A beam of light shone through the hole onto bates eye and this was very effective. This brings me very nicely on to the next subject, lighting. Now the most obvious feature that everyone will notice is that the film was filmed in black and white when Hitchcock had the potential to film it in full colour so this was obviously his preference and not necessity. Perhaps Hitchcock chose to shoot the film in black and white because the colour that was available was very poor, but I feel this is not the case.
I believe that Hitchcock chose to film psycho in black and white as a pose to colour not because the only colour film was very poor quality. No I believe that Hitchcock felt that having it in black and white would increase the suspense and the amount of fear induced on his audience. As far as I can tell this worked, however this is hard to judge because the same film was not made in colour so we wouldn’t know. Although I empathise with Hitchcock, the film may have been better in colour, but this is doubtful.
The film psycho is highly if not mostly acclaimed for its audience traps. Hitchcock has always been a very manipulative director but in the film psycho he most definitely excelled himself. There are three main audience traps in this film. Primarily we are led to believe, in fact have no doubt about the existence of Mrs. Bates. We are also made to think that bates is a good person and that his mother is the murderer.
Towards the end of the film it is revealed that this is not the case and this shocks the audience. Some of the techniques that Hitchcock uses make it so that you do not question the reality of what is being made out. However upon watching the film again it becomes quite apparent that the audience is being manipulated. When watching the film for the first time you do not question the voice over of Bates mother and have no doubt that bates is just a lonesome man who looks after his sick mother.
Another technique that Hitchcock used in this film is repetition of certain images, such images as mirrors and voyeurism that, subconsciously, we recognise and grow to be weary of. Like becoming aware that something sinister is afoot when Hermanns famous music is played. One of the main themes that runs throughout the film is that of a split personality. The most blatant example of this is Norman Bates but without realising it Marion herself is somewhat of a schizophrenic. We first meet a respectable person, we are led to know her as a good person. But she is ultimately a thief. But the audience does not see it that way and they are made to sympathise with her.
This also leads to another main theme of mirrors throughout the film. Symbolic of similarity or resemblance, but who between? When we think about it the two main characters in the film, Bates and Marion are almost identical in their situation. Both have secrets, both are criminals and both are very lonely. So with all of the films audience traps, quirky camera angles, marvellous soundtrack and groundbreaking narrative, I conclude that Alfred Hitchcock fully deserves his title as the Master Of Suspense.