Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”
[Spoilers.] There are three things I learned by newly watching this classic from start-to-finish and studying every article I could find about it:
1) The way to surprise people is not to hint at what's coming. That sounds obvious, but it isn't. Hitchcock was sick the day they were to film the private eye going up the stairs and being attacked, so since everyone else was there, the crew decided to try filming it without him. They filmed it using the traditional cinematic language of suspense, such as ominous close-ups of his feet touching each step and the anxiety clear on his face. But when Hitchcock returned, he threw out the footage and just shot the private eye going up the stairs like it would appear in any ordinary scene, and then BOO comes the attack. Which version do you think delivers a bigger shock?
2) The 1998 remake was a disaster, but as far as I can tell, it was made with modest intention: An experiment to determine whether a classic movie, remade shot-for-shot and line-for-line, would play as well as the original. In other words, is a movie's power in the sum total of its components, or is something else necessary? The overwhelmingly negative reaction to the remake proves the latter, indicating that it was not just Hitchcock's special talent but also the magic of Psycho's release being such a cultural touchstone in 1960 that made it so special, but that doesn't mean the remake was a bad idea. By being so bad, it helped us appeciate the original even more.
3) Hitchcock ruled. (Yeah, yeah, I knew that already.)
Kris Weberg: Tiresome as it will likely be for you to read about it yet again, the original shock of the film remains the one element we cannot recapture. Audiences went in expecting a Hitchcock suspense film, and for the first third of the film, they get just that with Janet Leigh, her bag of stolen money, and her guilty conscience.
And then the film jettisons all of that to present its real story. And an entire horror subgenre was born.
We go into Psycho awaiting the shower scene. Its original audiences went in without an inkling of it. It changes the movie in a way that, say, knowing the secret of "Rosebud" arguably doesn't change Citizen Kane. For one thing, Kane merely uses the word as its McGuffin; for another, "Rosebud" really isn't any more illuminating regarding Kane than any thing else we learn about him in the film. It's just one more piece of the puzzle.
But going into Psycho knowing all about that shy young motel clerk, and all about the hidden plot? That's losing something integral to the original presentation of the film, and something of Hitchcock's intended audience manipulation. What keeps Psycho a classic is the way in which Hitchcock seems to have anticipated this inevitable spoiling of the major twist. Even knowing the truth, the cinematography creates a new sort of suspense for the altered film. And even knowing the shower scene will come makes Leigh's early scenes into a sort of Chekhov's gun; we spend time with this doomed woman, watching her agonize over a crime that will go unresolved and fear every consequence she can imagine...every consequence but the one that actually occurs. − January 2, 2008 more by Kris