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review added: 4/19/00



Psycho
Collector's Edition - 1960 (1998) - Universal

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock on DVD

Psycho: Collector's Edition Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/A+

Specs and Features

109 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, dual-layered (extra layer for supplements), Amaray keep case packaging, The Making of Psycho documentary, theatrical trailer, re-release trailers, newsreel footage: The Release of Psycho, the shower scene (with and without music), storyboards for the shower scene by Saul Bass, Psycho Archives (featuring production photographs, lobby cards, posters and ad materials), production notes, cast and crew bios, film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (26 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: Spanish, Closed Captioned


"She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven't you?"

Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho is a film held in such high regard by film fanatics around the world, that nobody would dare remake it. Oops, let's rephrase that - nobody should have dared to remade it. The film is a defining moment, not only in horror cinema, but also in movie-making at large. Psycho was based on the novel by Robert Bloch, a horrific book inspired in part by the life of Ed Gein, whose obsession with his mother and all things postmortem have been documented in countless publications. Joseph Stefano's screen adaptation stayed faithful to the book, but toned down a few of the novel's more graphic passages to avoid a war with the censors.

In an Academy Award-nominated performance, Janet Leigh stars as Marion, who, in a desperate bid to be with her out-of-town boyfriend, flees town with $40,000 cash stolen from her employer. During a heavy rainstorm, she's forced to pull off the highway and checks into the Bates Motel for the night. It's there that she meets Norman (Anthony Perkins), who is all too desperate for the company of a woman. As they sit and talk, Marion reconsiders her motives and at the last minute, has a change of heart and decides to return to Phoenix.

It's at this point in the movie that Hitchcock did the unthinkable. Just as the audience is getting attached to the film's leading character; she is brutally killed in one of cinema's most recognizable moments. Asking the audience to shift their attention from a very likable heroine (with whom people can identify) to a very flawed, disagreeable human being was a risky move, but one that ultimately paid off.

Most of the credit for that smooth transition lies with Anthony Perkins. Here's an actor who was so completely able to lose himself in this character, that it negatively affected the rest of his career. Norman Bates was not necessarily a good person, but Perkins was able to give such a sympathetic, genuine performance, that audiences couldn't feel anything other than pity for him. His performance is so good, that you can't hate him for what he's done. You hope against hope that things aren't what they seem, and that he's a better person than we're lead to believe.

The rest of the movie plays more along the lines of a crime story, as Marion's family and a hard-nosed private investigator (Martin Balsam) gather clues to solve the case of Marion's disappearance. Hitchcock's trademark brand of suspense builds once again as they start to discover Norman's secrets. He, in turn, becomes more frantic and desperate to save himself and his beloved mother. The movie's finale is still shocking and very scary, even if it is slightly weakened by the over-explanation and simplification of Norman's motives.

All things considered, the video presentation of Psycho on DVD is pretty good. Most of the film's image issues are based on the print used. The print shows its age at times, and at certain points during the movie, it is noticeably flawed. Minor scratches and pops show up every now and then, but other than that things look pretty good. As is the case with Universal's earlier Hitchcock releases, Psycho is NOT enhanced for anamorphic displays, and that's a shame. As for sound, the film's original mono soundtrack is included and it's crisp and clear, although the dialogue is a bit little subdued.

Universal deserves kudos for the extensive extras included on the disc. The Making of Psycho is a nice retrospective on the entire movie, from start to finish. There are interviews with many of the principle cast and crew (including Janet Leigh and Joseph Stefano), who all talk openly and lovingly about entire process of making the film. The sessions with Janet Leigh are particularly involving, and she talks a great deal about shooting the now infamous shower scene. I miss the days when Hollywood would spend money on advertising in mediums other than television and theatrical trailers, and there are TONS of pictures included here of lobby cards and posters created for Psycho.

The trailers and newsreel footage (also available on the disc) are fun. Hitchcock wanted to make sure that everyone seeing Psycho didn't miss a single development of the movie, so he made theater owners agree not to let anyone into the theaters after the start of the movie. There are banners stating so on a lot of the ad materials, as well as warnings advising moviegoers not to reveal any of the movie's secrets to those who have not yet seen it. And one of the more intriguing features on this DVD allows you to see the shower scene with or without the Bernard Herrmann's captivating score. Seeing it without the music almost underscores the intensity of the scene, especially when all you can hear is Marion taking her last breaths.

Psycho has endured for forty years now and will likely persevere for many years to come. It's a film that people know inside and out - one that can be identified by just a few frames and which has inspired countless imitators. If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, then Hitchcock has many reasons to feel flattered. Psycho's influence can be seen in many movies, both great (Halloween) and horrible (any of the Psycho sequels), but at the bare minimum, they all remind you of the same thing - what an individual achievement Psycho remains in cinema.

Dan Kelly
dankelly@thedigitalbits.com


The Films of Alfred Hitchcock on DVD




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