Film Analysis: Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho

1133 words - 5 pages

Running water, a high-pitched scream, shrill violins, pierced flesh, a torn curtain, gurgling water: these were the sounds that gave a whole new meaning to the word "horror" in the year 1960. With enough close-ups and cuts to simulate the feeling of a heart attack, the notorious shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho serves as the ultimate murder sequence in cinematic history. What makes the scene so frightening isn't so much the blood or the screams or the cross-dressing murderer: the true horror lies Hitchcock's use the camera. It enables us to enter the mind of the killer and literally "cuts" up our protagonist. Through the use of carefully crafted sounds, lighting, camera angles and cuts, Hitchcock creates a visually striking and emotionally stimulating sequence to serve as the essence of his film.
Serving as a stand in for "dialogue" throughout the scene, the sounds and music empathize Marion's frantic state of mind and eventual downfall. With no other sound than the running water, Hitchcock creates an ordinary, comforting feeling. Marion is mesmerized the the comfort of warm water, are so are we. Even as the killer lurks in the shadows the music provides no implication that danger is present. It isn't until the killer yanks back the curtain and raises the knife that the shrill sound of violins, violas, and cellos begin. This triggers an immediate scream from Marion, and perhaps from us as well. As Marion fights for her life against the killer she also seems to be fighting against the music to have her screams to be heard. The sound of stabbed flesh grows louder, allowing the crescendo of violins to die down. This sudden change in music informs that Marion is losing her battle. Only when the killer leaves do the piercing violins cease their screeching. Thus, the music establishes that the killer is in control. As she sinks down to the shower floor the gloomy and slow chorus of cellos correlate with her gasping and fade out during her desperate attempt to cling to life. The clinking sound of the curtain being torn from the hinges deny Marion her chance stay alive. We are left a gurgling drain, endless running water, and a dead protagonist.
Throughout the scene, Hitchcock engages the audience by enabling us to act as voyeurs. In her most vulnerable moment Marion undresses for the shower. While Hitchcock do go about the scene "tastefully" and choses not to expose her breasts, the frequent and camera cuts force us to focus our attention on different aspects of Marion's body. We are no longer viewing a monotonous, every-day activity, but a private moment. Although the killer is not yet present we do get a glimpse of Marion from outside the curtain. Somehow, this is a more invasive view than before. The sheer fabric can't even keep us out. With the view from the inside the camera literally cuts off Marion's breasts. We becomes instant peeping Toms, essentially no better than Norman Bates himself. Unsettling the viewer, Hitchcock cuts to...

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