83. Psycho - The Part-Time Critic

Thursday, April 2, 2009

83. Psycho

Psycho (1960)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

The first of three Hitchcock films to make my list and its one I had to think about for quite some time. There’s no doubt there is much to like in Psycho, but as far as horror films go, I’d always felt like it was severely dated. What may have been scary in 1960, just doesn’t seem as visceral or horrific today. Ultimately, it was the film’s other elements that cemented it in place on my list.

Although the film’s scary moments are few, there are three legitimate moments of great tension. There is the iconic shower sequence, Arbogast’s murder, and the shocking ending. Despite those few moments, there is a wealth of other material to like. I think what sells me the most is the procedural nature of the film.

This is not a film in hurry. It takes its time to set up its story, then changes the story midstream, and then takes its time to find a conclusion. It lingers in conversations (giving us great moments between Leigh and Perkins), pauses while investigations take place (allowing Martin Balsam some great lines), and slowly makes its revelations (creating some iconic sequences). It’s this meticulous pace that always makes me return to this film. I really love that Hitchcock takes his time to do things like this. Of course, I haven’t even mentioned the famous score and the great cinematography (how the snooping cop is shot blows me away), all of which add up to a great and essential film.

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