Film review by Gordon Justesen
Technical specs by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Anthony Perkins,
Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire, Janet Leigh
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 109 Minutes
Release Date: October 19, 2010
“Mother...what's the phrase?...she isn't quite herself today.”
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 Blu-ray 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.
It keeps getting better...from a non-anamorphic DVD to full widescreen enhancement, we now have THE definitive edition of this classic. Blu-ray never ceases to amaze me when it comes to what it can offer in bringing an older black and white film to modern audiences. There is a crispness and clarity to the contrast that really makes it a new experience, even for an old fan like me. The print is astonishingly clean, and there is a purity and integrity to the edges and detail unlike any past viewing experience I can remember. Superb!
It's rare as a reviewer for me to hear something that absolutely floors me...sure, there are some great sounding high definition audio tracks out there, but mostly ones I'm expecting. I had no idea an original 50 year old mono track could get this kind of tasteful yet powerful makeover. Thanks to new technology, the original track got separation, cleaning up, and discretion, making for an audio that doesn't detract from the original experience while absolutely bringing you a listening experience like no other. From the opening strains of Bernard Hermann's classic score, which sounds more like a live string orchestra than ever before, you know you're in for something special. Simple effects like cars on the highway panning left to right as they go could easily be missed, they're so carefully done, but then you remember this track was always mono, and your appreciation grows exponentially. Very easily the best remix of its kind.
This loaded Blu-ray starts off with 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
“The Making of Psycho” 90-minute documentary remains one of the best behind the scenes retrospectives you’ll see on any disc. 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”.
New for this Blu-ray is BD Live and "Psycho Sound", a terrific little piece that shows you just how it became possible for a mono track to grow into the terrific 5.1 listening experience this disc offers.
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. I have never been so thrilled with this film as I have been with this Blu-ray issue that's so high quality, it almost defies belief. You have to see it (and hear it) to believe it!