Psycho Film Study Essay
The Alfred Hitchcock film ‘Psycho’ is undoubtedly one of the most significant, ground breaking films of all time. It is now considered the ‘mother of all modern horror films’, and sets the base to many horror films and themes made after its release in 1960. To create such an influential movie Hitchcock used many techniques such as code and conventions, symbolism, themes, and film noir. Code and conventions are used in ways that greatly increase the effectiveness of the overall film.
Close-up camera angles are used to show the actors emotions to a greater extent.
An example of this is in the scene before Marion pulling into the Bates Motel. Hitchcock creates close-ups of her faces, which show worry and anxiety, and uses over the shoulder subjective shots of the rain and the flashing lights of passing cars. The scene in the parlour uses lighting in different ways to achieve different effects. The way Hitchcock works lighting into Psycho is by making specific features of different object stand out.
The stuffed birds stand out by lighting it underneath and placing the camera above to catch a shot that intensifies certain features of it. The suspense in the film is created by allowing the audience to become included in the scenes through the use of camera angles. This increases the psychological effects of the film and can be viewed at the start of the ‘shower scene’. During the subjective shot of the water cascading onto Marion’s face, the viewer feels cleansing feeling along with Marion. Music also plays a crucial part in Psycho, and was most effectively used in the ‘shower scene’.
The shrieking violins played very harsh, high pitched and nerve wracking wailing, that coincided exactly with the stabbing actions of the knife and Marion’s screams. The movie Psycho uses the technique of ‘film noir’. The evidence for this is the black and white colouring, the ‘murder drama’ theme, and style. The black and white colouring makes the shadows seem denser, and creates a shady atmosphere. The tension is increased by the decreased light, as there is more opportunity for something evil to be hiding in the shadows.
A murder drama type movie is usually where people are killed by people they are close to, or have put their trust into. This can be seen in where Marion trusts Norman, and yet gets murdered dramatically by him. Psycho’s style is typical of a film noir type movie. This can be seen by: the slanted camera angles and subjective shots, the dense shadows created by the black and white colouring, the depressing doom laden atmosphere, the shady lighting and desperate people doing anything to make their dreams come true.
The shady lighting created by the black and white colouring increases the ‘spookiness’ of the atmosphere by allowing the audiences imaginations to run wild. The audiences’ own minds create the feeling that there are evil things lurking in the corners or the darkest parts of the shadows. The feeling of bad things prowling around just out of sight evokes feelings similar to the childhood paranoia of a monster living under the bed. Symbolism is shown in this film through the colour changes in Marion undergarments.
During the beginning of the film, before Marion stole the money, her underwear was white, symbolising innocence or purity. After the money had been stolen, the underwear had changed to black. This colour indicates that she has committed a crime, and that her innocence or purity has been lost. During most of Hitchcock’s films, birds are a major theme. This is no different for Psycho, which has a number of birds references scattered throughout. The scene where Marion dines with Norman has the highest number of references to the birds theme.
The theme in this scene is shown through the number of stuffed birds placed around the room. Predatory birds, owls, ravens and hawks, are placed round Norman, and smaller songbirds are near Marion. Because songbirds are prey/ victims of these predatory birds, it creates the feeling that Norman is the more dangerous one of the pair, and that Marion is vulnerable in his presence. Punishment, or Karma, is also a theme in Psycho. This particular theme is shown by the way that wrongdoers are always punished – Marion is killed for stealing money, and Norman is locked away for killing her.
It is particularly distressing to the audience that Marion is punished just after she had resolved to return the money; her redemption being the water metaphorically washing away her sins, just before she was killed. Through the techniques of film noir, symbolism, themes, and code and conventions, Alfred Hitchcock created one of the most significant films of all time that will undoubtedly continue to set the path for many a modern horror movie. His film was, and still is revolutionary in the world of film making and the genre of horror.