Tension in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho
When Psycho was first released in cinemas in 1960, audiences all over
the world were shocked. They were shocked that something as sexually
explicit, for that era, was being screened in hundreds of cinemas.
Although audiences of the modern day are used to violence and sex
scenes, the audiences of the 60's reacted in different ways. Some
people viewed Psycho as a cinematic brilliance but other critics gave
the film many bad initial reviews. This is because Hitchcock was
extremely secretive in the making and publicity. He did not allow
critics' to see the film at special screenings. Instead they had to
see the film with the ordinary filmgoers after the release.
Mise-en-scene plays a major part in creating atmosphere, tension and
shock in Psycho. The most dramatic events in Pyscho take place in the
house and at the Bates motel, so Hitchcock needed to create tension by
make the sets look in such a way that the audience were on edge from
the very start of the film.
In the opening, the titles are slashed, spliced, split and cut which
represents knife or dagger cuts and immediately alerts the audience to
the nature of the film. Even though people hadn't seen the film till
its release date, the titles would have been extremely disturbing to
the subconscious mind of an average cinemagoer. Furthermore, the
beginning music written by Bernard Herwann, has a strict pulse and
beat like a heartbeat and seems to feel like the "motions" of stabbing
which is unnerving. This music repeats itself at different but
significant intervals throughout the film such as the minutes before
Marian's death. This running theme contributes to the slow but steady
buildup of tension.
Late on in the film Marian changes from white to black underwear after
she has committed the theft of $40'000. This boldly suggests that she
has turned the corner from being a good girl to a bad girl.
The use of mirrors signifies the chaos/evil theme, which Hitchcock
favors. The scene where Marian holds up the money beside the mirror in
the Bates motel's toilets, shows Hitchcock's idea of the innerself and
private self being shown in the reflection of the mirror. We are shown
that Marian is uncertain of the situation. However when we see a
reflection of Norman Bates in a window, it implies that although he
has a nice outer persona, he must have a darker innerself.
Hitchcock uses weather to a great advantage. It is a great
atmosphere-maker as whenever we see the Bates House, it is always in
shadow, whether it's raining or sunny. The weather makes it gloomy and
sinister. At Marian's arrival at the motel, the rain blinds her way so
she has no choice but to stop at that particular motel. Perhaps if it
hadn't been raining she wouldn't have stopped and thus not met her