I believe the strength of a film’s impact can only truly be measured with the passage of time. So it comes as no surprise that Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” continues to top online movie listings 57 years after its release.
Its cinematic importance is evident through the numerous references and parodies in pop culture, the familiarity of the film’s shower scene and musical score regardless if you’ve seen “Psycho” or not, as well as its clear influence on slasher films, with many critics deeming it the earliest example of the genre.
These studies and critiques didn’t occur one day after the film’s release; in fact, initial reviews were mixed, with critics citing the film’s small budget and gruesome imagery as low points.
Ethics and morality were also called into question for “Psycho’s” unprecedented portrayal of violence and sexuality, as was its depiction of taboo subjects like two un-wed lovers sharing a bed together, and the now-comical controversy surrounding the filming of a flushing toilet; “Psycho” became the first mainstream film to show the action onscreen.
Despite early critical contention and disputes from industry guideline officials about the film’s content, audiences loved “Psycho.”
Theaters across the globe experienced heavy traffic, partly due to Hitchcock’s insistence that moviegoers arrive early. The director worked with distributors at Paramount Pictures to release a guide forewarning the public that they would not be permitted to enter theaters once the movie started.
“I’ve suggested that ‘Psycho’ be seen from the beginning,” Hitchcock said in the announcement. “In fact, this is more than a suggestion. It is required. […] This of course is to help you enjoy ‘Psycho’ more.”
The campaign worked, and eventually movie critics began to change their mind about “Psycho.”
So much in fact that film scholars often name it as one of Hitchcock’s best works, if not one of the greatest movies of all time. It’s now viewed as a piece of art, a timeless milestone in cinema that inspired new filmmakers.
In many ways, “Psycho” helped pave the way for slasher films, a subgenre of horror movies which predominantly feature a crazed antagonist with an affinity for bladed tools and posed a threat to our seemingly civilized world.
Without “Psycho,” there’s a good chance there would be no “Halloween,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street” or “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” all of which are seen as masterpieces in horror films.
There is something to be said of a film’s legacy when almost anyone knows “Psycho’s” iconic scene without even watching the film. Without spoiling the film, that scene came as a shock to many viewers in 1960. There many reasons as to why, but perhaps the most telling is its terrifying execution.
The footage itself is shocking enough, but it was the use of quick cuts in the editing process that further amplified the brutality of the scene. Coupled with the now recognizable score by composer Bernard Herrmann, and what’s left is a scene that was built to make an impact. And it did.
Hitchcock threw away conventional filmmaking when he made “Psycho.” He played off of audiences’ expectations – and this is partly due to the film’s source material by author Robert Bloch. The film could have failed. Hitchcock intentionally filmed “Psycho” in black and white and was on a much smaller budget, choosing to use his own television crew to produce the film.
“Psycho” would later receive four Academy Award nominations. Nearly 32 years after its release, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. Today, “Psycho” continues to place highly among horror movie lists.
It’s certainly a film worth remembering this Halloween season. Then again, time has shown it’s hard to forget.