Psycho was a very successful film. Even now parts of the film are still cliche. For example the non-diagetic sounds of the violins used to provoke fear and terror are often used in other films and are often used in ‘spoofs.’ A ‘Spoof’ of a horror film is a hoax of what a horror film should be.
There is not one thing about this film that was an accident. Even down to the fact that the film was in black and white. Hitchcock said, “The reason I didn’t do this film in colour was because of the blood that was the only reason. With all that blood in the bathtub, I knew very well that I would have the whole sequence cut out if it had been filmed in colour.” He even added other more explicit scenes in so that they were cut out and not then shower scene.
There are many other techniques in which you can manipulate suspense and terror in a film other than with music or sounds. One of the techniques that Hitchcock used (and used well) was the use of the camera. Different angles show different things. For example, in the shower scene the camera angles are changed to show different views of Marion. From in front, and from behind her. Then you can see the silhouette of ‘Mother’. The tension at the moment is very high because all you can hear is the diagetic sounds of the shower. It is at this point that you realise, fear is in what you can’t see, not in what you can see. Also close up or full-faced shots of people can make you feel intimidated. Other techniques he used that showed different things.
He used a ‘Red Herring’ at the beginning of the film that manipulated you into thinking the film was mainly about the money. This was to deliberately detract he viewer’s attention from the main story line and heighten the suspense in the murder. There were many unexpected plot twists in the film. One good example of this is Marion. She is the main character and therefore played by a famous actress of that day. Then you automatically think that she will live through the film and come out of it all and live happily ever after. However Hitchcock cleverly planned the film so that the main character, whom you expect to live, dies. Thus leaving you flawed as to what might come next in the film.
Another unexpected plot twist is when the Sheriff says; ” Normans Mother has been dead and buried in Green-Lawn Cemetery for 15 years.” This leads you to thinking about who it was at the window. Then he follows up by saying; “Who’s that buried in Green-Lawn Cemetery?” This then changes your mind as to what to think about the situation leaving you clueless as to what’s going to happen next. Hitchcock said, “I’m directing the audience as well as the film.” By this he meant he wanted to manipulate the audience into thinking and feeling the different emotions of the various characters.
Each cleverly thought out plot twist leaves you feeling confused about what will be next in the film. It leaves you is suspense and keeps you interested in what is going to happen. This is exactly how Hitchcock wanted you to feel.
It is like this the whole way through the film. There are a few parts that really stick out where the tension is extremely immense. The Shower Scene is one of them.
I think that Hitchcock did this very well. The view of Marion in the shower is not explicit and you really don’t expect for anything to happen to her. The bathroom is very clean and white, almost idyllic as if no such a sin as murder could be committed there. The diagetic rhythmic sound of the shower makes you feel that she is safe. The only thing that makes you perhaps start to become suspected is that there is no dialogue, and hasn’t been since Marion said goodnight to Norman.
Hitchcock very cleverly changes the camera views so that you can only see the silhouette of Mother. However you cannot see her properly. This leaves you feeling more fearful or more aware. Also as the scene draws closer to the point where Marion is brutally butchered the editing cuts become much shorter and faster. The camera moves quickly all over the place. Starting just by looking at Marion from several different views – up at the showerhead, down on Marion as she washes her hair. Then the camera looks past her to see the silhouette of Mother coming in through the door.
You cannot hear anything but the shower at this point. Then as she pulls back the curtain you hear the non-diagetic sounds of the violin. The contrast from the sound of the shower to the noise of the violins makes it all the more frightening. It is at this point that the camera cuts are very short and sharp and moves with every stab Mother takes. This increases the suspense making it higher and higher until Marion is dead, and Mother is gone.
After that the camera seems too look down into emptiness, the blood washing slowly down the plug hole and then the final cut of that scene into Marion’s eye where is zooms out and pans around the bathroom out the door and zooms in on the money. Again this leaves you thinking about the money and what might happen to it.
As Norman cleans up the blood the camera becomes subjective so it’s like we are cleaning up after Mother with him. The remainder of the film is the inquiry into the sources of the psychological hell presented by Norman.
Another part that stuck out as having particularly high suspense was when Lila, Marion’s sister, is looking around the house. The part before when her and Sam scheme to distract Norman you can feel how panicked they are about doing it. Then when Lila goes up the steps the camera is behind her, so you can see the house and how daunting it looks. The camera keeps looking at her and then at the house as she goes up the steps. There is music in the background that makes you feel more suspense.
As we follow Lila up the stairs and into Mothers room we see everything left in its very position as it always had been for when Mother was alive. The camera pans around the room and looks at a pair of hands on a gold box. They are small and dainty. Could they have been hers? The music carries on through this bit and adds more suspense to the scene. Lila turns around and startles herself in the mirror.
Mirrors seem to re-occur a lot in the film. That was just one of the times, the other is when Marion is in the car and she sees her self in the policeman’s sun glasses.
Marion also seems to notice the imprint in the bed where Mother used to lay. By this you can see that Mother has lay there and not moved for years.
Then she walks into Norman’s room. That too hasn’t changed since he was a child. There are toys and games everywhere. This reflects that Norman is still very much a child and that a part of him never really grew up.
When Lila comes out of Norman’s room she notices him coming up the steps towards the house. The music changes again and becomes faster and more panicky. You are panicked too by the events on the screen and the music. As Lila rushes down the stairs and under them you are anxious that she will make it out with out getting caught. When she turns to go into the fruit cellar, the way that Hitchcock manipulates you with the music and sense of panic makes you concerned for Marion going in to the cellar because you know that Mother is down there.
When Marion sees Mother she looks well preserved. Then Hitchcock made it so that when Marion tapped Mother on the shoulder, she turned around slowly. This is very shocking because even though you know that Mother is dead you don’t actually expect her to look like that. The lighting makes her look even more frightening. The shadows are moving because Lila hit the light bulb.
In this scene Hitchcock uses different tricks to create suspense all the way through the film. The camera – like it did with Norman – becomes subject to Lila. Like it’s as if you are looking around the house through her eyes. This makes you feel her anxiety and fear. The Final Shot of that scene is full of activity. All the tension throughout the scene is mounted up in to one spot where all the motion is going on. It is then you realise that is was not Mother that was performing the murders but it was actually Norman.
From looking closely at this film and taking note of the different techniques that Hitchcock used to make the film more interesting and exciting I have learnt a lot. I have learnt that by changing the speed of which the camera editing changes and adding different kinds of music and other sounds you can manipulate the way the audience feels about the character or situation. Also the film is made more interesting if you include plot twists and Red Herrings so that the film does not become predictable. Also Hitchcock made the film more thoughtful by putting in ironic lines. Such as, “A boy’s best friend is his mother,” and, “I can handle a sick old woman.”
All together Alfred Hitchcock used many different techniques that made the audience thing and feel certain things about certain people. Thus achieving what he set out to do, direct the audience as well as the film.