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PSYCHO

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire, Janet Leigh
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Universal
Features: See Review
Length: 109 Minutes
Release Date: October 7, 2008

“She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes.”

Film ****

How many films have honestly stayed the test of time the way Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho has? And better yet, how many films have given birth to an entire genre of films like Hitchcock’s masterpiece? Few, if any, is the appropriate answer to both questions.

What more can be said of Psycho? That’s the biggest question that lies at the heart of this review. So many have seen it, the acclaim has been both never-ending and escalating in the years since its release.

But we have a new DVD release, with a newly remastered picture and two discs worth of extras. And since it’s Halloween, what better time could there be to reflect on what is simply THE BEST horror film of all time? The new release is a cause for celebration for both horror movie fans and DVD collectors.

What has made Psycho one of the most invigorating films of all time is the fact that it still manages to surprise you on each viewing. I’ve seen it countless times now, and every viewing honestly feels like the first. No matter how much you know or have ever heard about the film, you still are blown away by the story that unfolds.

Few directors were able to get away in breaking conventions like Alfred Hitchcock. And in terms of promoting the film, Hitch has to go down in history as one of the best. The rule he established about no one being allowed late into a theater showing of the movie was downright genius, and what a fitting release to carry such rule.

With a screenplay by Joseph Stefano, adapted from the Robert Bloch novel, Hitch was going to ensure a film experience unlike any other, and one that would blow away the expectations of each person who saw it. I could only imagine what it must have been like going completely blind into a showing of Psycho in the year 1960.

The story opens in on Marion Crane (Janet Leigh). We don’t know much about Marion, except that she works at a real estate office and is engaging in a secret affair with out of town lover Sam Loomis (John Gavin). But within the first several scenes, we realize that she is willing to risk everything to make this relationship last.

She wants to marry Sam, even though he lives miles away from her and has inherited a serious amount of debt and is up to his neck in alimony payments. Following a $40,000 real estate deal, Marion is given the money from her boss and told to put the money in a safe deposit box at the bank. However, possessing that kind of money only gets Marion thinking about one thing, starting a new life with Sam.

So Marion hatches a plan to skip town, with the $40,000, and meet up with Sam in California. But an increasing sense of paranoia starts to overcome Marion from the very minute she leaves town. Fearing she’s being followed and unable to find her way through a dark, stormy night, Marion decides to stop and take a rest at the Bates Motel.

She is immediately welcomed by the owner/caretaker, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins, in a monumental performance). Soft-spoken and shy, Norman spends most of the evening opening up to the sole guest of the motel. He reveals that he lives in the house overlooking the motel with his mother, and that he goes through life feeling like a prisoner more than anything else.

Several scenes later, Marion decides to take a shower…and the rest is cinematic history! To this day, no other turning point in a movie manages to shock the way the famous shower scene in Psycho does, especially when you take into consideration the fact that it occurs only halfway through the film.

I won’t even touch on anything that happens next. Even though the rest of the movie is already familiar to those who are reading this review, I still think any description would be doing serious injustice to the film in general. All I can say is that in the realm of all time shocker endings, Psycho remains THE MOST shocking one of all.

There’s a very good reason why Psycho is regarded as the cinematic classic that it is. In addition to being an innovative “shock” of a horror/thriller and a film that broke all the rules, it’s a piece of work where you get a sense of the filmmaker’s passion in each and every frame, and anyone who knows anything about Hitchcock knows that this was the case on each of his projects. Because of Hitchcock’s passion and the fact that the film itself has grown to be even more popular today than it was then, Psycho an accomplishment of phenomenal proportions.

Video ****

Having seen the first DVD release of the movie many times, I can honestly say that the presentation on this new edition from Universal is absolutely stunning! The previous release was in a non-anamorphic picture, which appeared to be even grainier than it should be. The new anamorphic picture has been cleaned up quite a bit, resulting in one of the absolute best Black and White presentations I’ve ever experienced in the format. Though there is occasional grain in some scenes, the crisp and ultra-clean picture is evident from beginning to end, particularly in the darker lit sequences (the shot of Marion driving at night is a terrific example). If you are a die-hard fan of this film, then you owe it to yourself to discover the best presentation of Psycho you will ever see!

Audio ***1/2

Though we get a Mono mix just like that of the original DVD release, I wonder if the sound got a little re-working in addition to the picture. Whatever the case, the movie has never sounded more effective. Bernard Herrmann’s classic score is unquestionably one of the big highlights. The dialogue delivery and many moments of suspense are delivered in ultra-superb form. And the presentation also delivers with the many sequences where silence is an important factor!

Features ****

Universal has upgraded their already monumental Collector’s Edition release into a most fantastic 2-Disc Special Edition release, as part of their Legacy Series. Disc One includes a commentary with Stephen Rebello (author of "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho"). Also included are two featurettes, “Newsreel Footage: The Release of Psycho” and “The Shower Scene”, as well as storyboards on The Shower Scene, Archived Posters, Ads and Lobby Cards, Photographs from the production, production notes and Theatrical Trailers.
 

Disc Two contains “The Making of Psycho”, the fantastic 90-minute documentary that remains one of the best behind the scenes retrospectives you’ll see on any DVD. Also included is “In the Master's Shadow: Hitchcock's Legacy”, which includes interviews from numerous directors, from Martin Scorsese to John Carpenter, who consider Hitchcock a true inspiration. Lastly, we have the audio “Hitchcock / Traffaut Interview Excerpts”, and an episode of  Alfred Hitchcock Presents titled “Lamb to the Slaughter”.

Summary:

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho remains both a remarkably thrilling film and an all around important one. Without it, the horror/slasher genre would pretty much extinct. As a piece of bold filmmaking, it continues to shock and amaze beyond belief. This new Legacy Series release from Universal demands attention from fans and DVD enthusiasts alike!

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