Horror is a very curious genre in modern cinema. Some people downright revile it, while others claim it as their favorite. It’s easy to see why some would hate it, what with all the horrible remakes, but you don’t have to look much further than Psycho to see that horror is, indeed, a genre to hold in high esteem. Of course, there are bad horror films just like in every other genre, but every now and again a truly groundbreaking film will emerge from the realms of horror.
This brings me to Psycho. Psycho is not only Alfred Hitchcock’s most successful film (even if Vertigo is his undisputed best), it’s also the most influential horror film of the last 50 years. Psycho opened the possibilities for violence in film to the likes that were never seen before – it also set new standards for sexuality in cinema without showing any nudity. This was yet another amazing achievement for a master like Hitchcock.
To see how influential Psycho really was at the time of its release, all you have to do is look back on the horor flicks that came before it. The “monsters” of the horror genre were always easily identifiable as monsters. Characters like Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy, Frankenstein’s monster, Godzilla, Count Orlok, Dr. Caligari and Cesare (plus various different aliens from older science fiction films) stood in for human threats: the idea that a monster in a movie could be “the boy next door” had yet to be explored.
Hitchcock changed this forever by casting the brilliant Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. The genius of this is that, as Norman, Perkins looks like a nice, young man. He helps Janet Leigh’s Marion and is generally a bit awkward. Psycho was so revolutionary a film because it was able to change the course of cinema forever by bringing in the idea that the “monster” of the film could be anyone – something unheard of before Psycho.
Hitchcock’s greatest achievement was being able to bring the terror outside of the screen and into the paranoia of everyday life by taking the cinematic “monster” outside of the fantastic and into the everyday. He was also able to establish the horror film as a blockbuster, using a creative marketing process and by not allowing anyone into the theater after the movie had started to build a sense of mystery.
To see how fully influential Psycho really was on the horror genre, you only have to look at the best horror films that followed on from its legacy: The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, The Shining, Night/Dawn of the Living Dead, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream all feature the idea of a normal, everyday life being twisted into something horrific by intense outbursts of violence.
Psycho also invented the slasher sub-genre of horror, giving filmmakers new and creative ways to stab people to death on screen. Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre are the most obvious example of this, while The Shining is a more subtle example.
Hitchcock proved that you could make a truly intelligent movie that was also horrific at the same time, and the film world has never been the same since. Psycho is a film that will live on as long as movies themselves, and the name Hitchcock will forever be synonymous with quality filmmaking and suspense, thanks to the many masterpieces he made with Psycho being his most popular still to this day.
So there are some brief thoughts I have on why Psycho is such a fantastic film. I would love to hear from anyone in the comments if you have anything to add.