Stars: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Secretary Marion Crane (Leigh) steals the $40,000 she has been instructed to bank. Immediately skipping town, she heads for her lover's California home. Stopping to spend the night at a quiet motel on the way, she finds a shy young man having problems with his mother. Hitchcock's masterpiece of terror hasn't dated a bit in the years since its release. The ominous opening chords of Bernard Herrmann's now famous theme (set against the stylish credit design of Saul Bass) makes our hearts beat faster, as well as making it immediately clear that whatever lies ahead, it's not going to be agreeable to any of the characters... But Hitchcock intended to mislead us from the start. For the first half hour the film is a straight crime thriller, featuring an established star on the run for embezzlement -- classic Hitchcock material that comfortably fits the assumptions one might have had upon entering the cinema. Psycho was his first foray into horror, and even then it didn't happen until a third of the way through the film. Shot in black and white (mainly to evade the censor's scissors) the film is stunning. Every shot is framed with subtle beauty, and every cut carefully considered to achieve precisely the intended effect. But none of this is news. The film appears in almost every 'all-time top 10' list devised, and for good reason. The interesting thing is just how unusual all this is for a horror film. Hitchcock lavished Psycho with at least as much care and attention as he did any of his films, and he did it at a time when the genre wasn't taken seriously. Horror (like sci-fi) was for drive-ins, existing only as exploitation B-movies since the demise of Universal's classic Frankenstein, Dracula and Wolfman pictures, while the British Hammer films had yet to make any impact in the States. What Psycho did was change the way cinema-goers thought about an entire genre. It made horror respectable again.