This essay is about Alfred Hitchcock’s film “Psycho”. Psycho was made in 1960 and starred Janet Leigh (Marion Crane), Vera Miles (Lila), Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates) and John Gavin (Sam- Marion’s lover). The music was by Bernard Herman. In this essay I will investigate costume, camera angles, soundtrack and lighting, and explain how all of these contribute to preparing the audience for Marion’s murder. Even though colour television was available in 1960 Alfred Hitchcock chose to shoot the film in black and white to add to the effect and because he thought that it would have been too violent, for the time it was made, in colour.
At the very start of “Psycho” there is a panoramic shot of the city. The camera then focuses on one building and gradually zooms into one room of this building. This is trying to show the viewers that it is just an ordinary city with many people doing their own things but the camera is only interested in the occupants of this room. Inside the room the audience see a man and a woman who is wearing white underwear. The fact that she is wearing white underwear is important because the colour white is associated with purity and innocence.
This makes the audience feel more kindly towards her, even though the fact that she is having an affair with a married man is revealed in their conversation. At this point in the film the audience are expected to see Marion as an attractive bad girl and think she may be in danger because the bad girl in a film usually ends up being murdered. Because Marion wants to marry Sam (her boyfriend), the audience think that she is not entirely bad. When Marion is packing her suitcase after stealing the $40 000 she only packs dark coloured clothes and changes her clothes and underwear to black.
This change is significant because it shows that she has done something that is not morally correct and she is not as virginal as she was before she stole the money. On Marion’s journey away from Arizona she sees her boss as he is crossing the road and then the famous “Psycho” music starts. This music sounds frantic and is meant to represent her increased heartbeat. In stressful situations the tempo and the volume of the music are increased, and this creates a sense of tension in the audience. The music begins at this point because it shows that she has set off a chain of events that will lead her into danger and may end up with her death.
In the scene in which Marion is seen by her boss, the camera angles represent the differences in power. A low angled shot is used to look down at Marion, whereas a high angled shot is used for her boss. This shows a gender issue where men are considered stronger than women, so he is looking down on her. He has the power and authority. It is almost as if he is hunting Marion. When the policeman approaches Marion she is asleep in her car and this makes her seem vulnerable to the audience. Similar to the scene with her boss, the director uses a high angle shot to look up at the policeman and a low angle shot to look down on Marion.
This shows the moral authority and power that he has over her just like her boss. The policeman is the wearing dark glasses that are concealing his eyes so there is no eye contact between Marion and the policeman and she cannot tell if he believes her lies or not. This makes him seem more threatening. In the scene where Marion exchanges her car the policeman stays by his car on the opposite side of the road. This creates a sense of danger and urgency. This also increases the tension in the scene as the policeman is still wearing his glasses, therefore the audience cannot tell what he is thinking.
When Marion is driving through the rain, before she reaches the Bates motel, she is shielding her eyes from the oncoming headlights. The audience are made to see them as attacking her, as if she is being interrogated because she has done something wrong. In this scene the director has also used Pathetic Fallacy to show Marion’s feelings, her feelings are quite stormy and so is the weather. The audience will probably have some idea that this may be Marion’s final journey and that she is driving through the rain and may never see light again.
The Bates motel fits the traditional description of main setting of a horror film; it is a deserted motel, which is shadowed by an old house that is higher up than the motel itself. The weather and lighting effects fit into the horror genre and they form a picture in the audience’s minds. Norman does not seem a threat to Marion, he is dressed plainly and appears normal. He appears to be boyish and gentle, and incapable of murder, although it is obvious that he is under the influence of his mother because he frequently talks about his mother.
The camera zooms into his face making the audience question whether Norman is all that he seems. This close up invites the audience take a closer look at him. Norman hesitates when choosing which cabin to put Marion in. He puts his hand by the key to cabin one, he stops and gives Marion a sneaky look out of the corner of his eye. He then decides to give Marion the key to cabin one. The way in which he hesitates about the key suggests that he has an ulterior motive, which the audience later find out is the spy hole in the wall of cabin one.
When showing Marion around her room, Norman hesitates when talking about the bathroom. He will not even say the word “bathroom” and when he has to turn the bathroom light on he quickly puts his hand in and then pulls it back out. This makes the audience think that something may have happened in the bathroom before or Marion may die in the bathroom. Norman seems quite pushy when asking Marion to have dinner with him. After insisting that he was making his own dinner before she arrived, Marion agrees and they go to the parlour to eat.
Norman then says that he is not hungry. This makes the audience think that he was just trying to get Marion to go with him when he had not got a real reason. One of Norman’s hobbies is taxidermy and his parlour is filled with stuffed birds of prey. These make the atmosphere sinister and they make Marion feel apprehensive. In the 1960’s the audience would have also felt apprehensive, however today’s audiences do not find it as frightening because the censorship of films means that we see much more violence in horror films of today.
Marion can also be seen as one of Norman’s birds, hunted by him as well as her boss and the policeman. Norman, however, kills Marion. Norman’s hobby of taxidermy links in with the fact that he was preserving his mother’s corpse. One of the birds in the parlour is an owl, the owl is above Norman’s head and in the shadows, this makes Norman seem more aggressive and powerful because the owl is a predator which hunts at night. Norman refers to Marion as a bird: “You eat like a bird” This quote suggests she will be treated like the birds on his wall.
In this scene a high angled camera shot is used for Norman in contrast to a low angled shot for Marion, making Norman look more threatening. Again, this shows that the women in this film are seen as the weaker sex and men are more dominant. Marion suggests to Norman that he might put his mother in a mental institution because Norman deserves to have his own life. At this suggestion, Norman’s whole attitude changes and he becomes more aggressive towards Marion, consequently Marion becomes more tense and frightened of Norman.
This makes the audience think that he might harm her. When Norman is in Marion’s room and finds that her name is Marion Crane he knows that she is hiding from something or someone, as she signed the register as Marion Samuels. He gets angry that she has been lying to him, and tension increases. In the shower scene the camera keeps zooming in on the showerhead and that makes the audience think that the showerhead may be something to do with Marion’s death. There is no music in the scene and the audience are waiting for something bad to happen.
The music starts all of a sudden when “mother” pulls back the shower curtain and points the knife at Marion. The camera does not actually show the knife touch Marion. One reason for this is that the censorship laws in the 1960s would not have allowed it to be shown. Instead it cuts from “mother’s” face to “Marion’s” face quickly. This creates the illusion that Marion is being stabbed even though the audience do not actually see it. The music fits in with the camera shots and helps to create the illusion in our minds. The music is made to sound like screams and tears.
The scene is edited so that the attack seems more frenzied and dangerous because of the quick cuts from one person’s face to another, and from the hand to the knife. It is not obvious to the audience that Norman’s mother is dead because in the attack the camera does not show “mother’s” face because it is in darkness. In conclusion, the audience are prepared for Marion’s death in “Psycho” by factors such as camera angles showing her to be less powerful than men and the increasing tension added by the music and particular shots.