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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Psycho (Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection) (1960)

"A boy's best friend is his mother."
- Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: November 28, 2005

Stars: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, Janet Leigh
Director: Alfred Hitchcock

MPAA Rating: R
Run Time: 01h:48m:50s
Release Date: October 04, 2005
UPC: 025192834622
Genre: suspense thriller


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-B+A- C+

DVD Review

What to say about Psycho, probably the most iconic, the most influential, the most widely known and the most parodied of all of Alfred Hitchcock's movies? A look at it again, especially in the context of this Universal box set, provides the reminder that the movie still has the possibility to shock—yes, the psychology is dime-store stuff, and in terms of explicit gore and violence, a quick run through the premium cable channels any time after 10 p.m. or so will yield plenty that's bloodier and more nauseous. But as he so often was, here Hitch is almost as playful as he is frightful, and this is, among many other achievements, one of the most daring movies structurally that's ever been made.

Things start off conventionally enough, with Janet Leigh as Marion Crane, a secretary for a real estate agent, who frequents a local hotsheets motel at lunchtime with her divorced beau—the carnality between them is palpable, but financial obligations (principally his hefty alimony payments) are keeping that elusive ring from her finger. A loathsome sort comes into Marion's boss's office, bragging about the house he's buying for his daughter, a wedding present—he's paying in cash, and Marion is entrusted with the $40,000, to bring to the firm's safe deposit box. But that money sure could come in handy, when you're in a dead-end job and your boyfriend bitches routinely about overwhelming financial obligations—Marion goes on the lam with the cash wadded into her purse, hoping for a clean getaway.

But her guilty conscience weighs heavily on her, to the point of exhaustion—she simply must find a place to spend the night, before turning around and picking up the pieces. This leads to her fateful stay at the first place she happens upon: it's the Bates Motel, which has now become shorthand for screen lunacy. Overseeing the nearly deserted place is young Norman Bates, happy for the business, the company, and for the opportunity to look at a pretty face.

What's so jolting about Psycho, first of all, is that the movie is classically set up as Marion's story, but the plot abruptly switches gears, almost sending us into another movie altogether. It's an incredibly bold thing that Hitch has done—the only thing that compares even modestly to it is the Drew Barrymore sequence in Scream, but Craven's got nothing on the master of suspense. Norman becomes our protagonist of sorts when the film changes horses midstream, and for Anthony Perkins, this was a career-defining performance, even an albatross—there was always at least a little bit of Norman for us to see in everything else he ever did. Norman's hobby alone—taxidermy—should be our tipoff that not all is quite right with Mrs. Bates' little boy, and all our fears are borne out, and then some.

Any discussion of Psycho has to make prominent mention of the shower sequence, maybe the most famous and often imitated scene in the history of movies. The jump cutting, along with Bernard Herrmann's staccato score, give more of a jolt than any scene of explicit violence might—it's the audience and the storyline that have been attacked, almost as much as the unfortunate victim. And technically, after the Technicolor triumphs of movies like North By Northwest and Vertigo, Hitchcock invests the black-and-white photography of this movie with a moody, low-rent sort of creepiness.

There are some strange bits, to be sure—I'm not sure I quite buy the acoustical setup of the Bates manse in relation to the motel, with every syllable of the conversations between mother and son audible in Cabin 1; and the last reel is uncomfortable in its obviousness, the psychological underpinnings of the tale unnecessarily laid out for us by a total stranger. Still, though, even if you know how the movie ends, the climax is disturbing, the filmmaking is crisp, and what's going on inside of Norman's head is, well, just plain psycho, especially since mother...what is the phrase? She isn't quite herself today.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Occasional problems with the source material are evident—unsightly little flecks in the print pop up with some regularity—but the black-and-white photography looks eerily luscious.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: A bit of hiss now and again, but the dialogue is all audible, and Bernard Herrmann's score remains iconically creepy.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
5 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
7 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. gallery of publicity shots
Extras Review: Production notes provide a project history and a look at the influence of the movie; an original trailer shows Hitch in the courtyard of the Bates Motel, and is accompanied by four re-release trailers, promising "the movie version TV didn't dare show! Rated M!" Archival newsreel footage (07m:46s) shows lines around the block for the movie's original release, and The Psycho Archives (07m:40s) is many screens' worth of production photographs. There's a chance to focus on Bernard Herrmann's contribution to the shower scene (02m:31s), shown first with and then without the musical score; then you can revel in what Saul Bass brought to the party, with a look (04m:10s) at his storyboards for the same sequence. A behind-the-scenes gallery (08m:00s) shows the director and crew at work. There are also quick looks at tinted lobby cards (01m:30s) and original posters and ads (03m:01s), and a set of publicity shots as well. It lacks the making-of documentary that's a staple of many other Hitchcock DVD releases—it's especially unfortunate, as regularly appearing in them is the director's daughter, Pat, who plays a small role in this feature as Marion's office mate.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

When it comes to serial murderer movies and slasher pictures, all roads lead to the Bates Motel—they all owe a huge debt to Psycho, which revels in its sordidness and tackiness, and was probably both the best and worst thing ever to happen to Anthony Perkins. And even after all these years, it will still make you flinch before step to the other side of the shower curtain.

 


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