Alfred Hitchcock's Creation of Tension and Suspense in Psycho
'Nasty, skilful and clever'. This is how one critic described Psycho
at the time of its release. He/She recognised the film's obvious power
over the audience, and its ability to manipulate emotions and
responses. 'Psycho' is an excellent example of how tension and
suspense can be created, and how they can improve a film tremendously.
Hitchcock uses all the classics horror codes (old houses, weather,
dark, etc.) together with several tricks of his own, camera shots and
angles, and twists the plot structure to create a very effective
atmosphere an to produce a classic film. The mise-en-scene, the
low/high angles, the clever lighting, the close-ups and the general
style have been reproduced in many later films.
Three sequences that demonstrate the techniques Hitchcock uses to
create tension and suspense are Marion's drive up to the motel, the
'Peeping Tom' scene, and Lila's walk down to the cellar.
The scene in which Marion drives up to the motel comes quite early on
in the film. At this point the audience are expecting a crime film, as
Marion has stolen $ 40,000, has been stopped once by a policeman,
changed cars, and is in the process of making her getaway. All these
things suggest a crime film. The scene consists of two shots, the road
and Marion's face; and alternates between the two.
The scene starts in daylight with a shot of Marion's face. The road at
this point is fairly busy and is in a seemingly quiet and civilised
neighbourhood; it does not arouse fear and tension, on the contrary,
in fact, it is almost a little too relaxing. The voices of various
people we have met so far, the policeman, the car dealer, etc. are
being played, talking in pairs about Marion, and her crime. These
voice-overs are being played as Marion's thoughts. Of course she
cannot know what these people are actually saying, and neither can we,
but her evident guilt and anxiety is causing her to imagine the
conversations. In each of the situations the characters come closer to
finding out the truth. This makes the audience become tense, and
produces a feeling of suspense, as, due to our experience of crime
stories, we know that if the individuals she has left behind find her
out, she will be in big trouble. We are waiting to see if they
discover the secret, and we are concerned for Marion.
The first pair, the policeman and the car salesperson, are bemused and
intrigued by her, their curiosity having been harmlessly aroused by
her strange behaviour, so we are not particularly concerned by this,
but the car dealer ends by saying ' The only funny thing, she paid me
700 dollars in cashâ€¦'
This cliffhanger type ending makes us tense, and as we are not told
what happens after this, especially so. After this we have another