"Psycho" wins with old-school suspense


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The beauty of Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" is that, unlike the gory extravaganzas of today, this movie is all about subtlety. Some might call it slow, but that is what makes it so eerie, along with the mental instability of the main character, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). Having a character with an affliction immediately causes fear. The thought of it causes audience members to take a look at themselves. After all, Norman even tells us: "We all go a little mad sometimes."

It is a combination of many things that all went right that make this film the American Film Institute's No. 1 thriller. Take for example the number of scenes that have no dialogue and no music. They are incredibly powerful, and the suspense of waiting for something scary to happen within the silence is almost worse than the murder scenes themselves. Throw in some shrieking music, and you will jump so high your head could hit the ceiling.

The infamous bathroom scene happens within the first half of the film, throwing the audience for a complete loop. What was Hitchcock thinking killing one of the featured stars? Well, he was probably thinking that he was going to make the best horror film ever. That notorious scene made the world a little dirtier for fear of showering, even causing a rumor that Janet Leigh, who played the victim Marion Crane, rearranged her bathroom at home so that she could always see the door.

The slashings seem tame compared to the on-screen massacres that today's jaded audiences are used to. But it is not the deaths but the reason behind the deaths that are important. This reason comes into play watching Norman Bates, the owner of an off road motel who lives with his mother.

Anthony Perkins does a flawless job of portraying Bates with a quiet dangerousness, and he is such a good villain because at first sight he seems harmless. He is handsome and polite, though during his quiet conversations with Marion Crane we can see glimpses of how dangerous he really is.

The creepiness of Norman Bates' character comes mostly from his on-screen nonverbal moments: watching him clean up the murder of Marion Crane and then dispose of her body without displaying any emotion is enough to give anyone the heebie-jeebies. This psychological portrayal has the ability to terrify far beyond the stereotypical movie "psycho" of today's bloodfests. The way Bates behaves onscreen by himself sends chills up your back, even if he is doing something as simple as standing looking out on his property.

Now, I don't like horror movies. Harry Potter is about as hard-core as I can get when it comes to scary. But I found myself watching this movie for the first time about seven years ago in my basement alone, and it wasn't the horrible experience that I was expecting. From the start it reeled me in, building anticipation for about 45 minutes before the first attack and leaving me incredibly creeped out and speechless as it ended. If only more movies like this were made today, we wouldn't have to put up with performances like Paris Hilton's in "House of Wax," or "Halloween 37: Michael Myers - The Nursing Home Rampage." While some may not appreciate this movie or realize the effect it had on 1960s audiences, it is a movie that will have viewers locking the bathroom door when they go to shower.

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