The film Psycho - Sample Essay
Analyse the ways in which Alfred Hitchcock builds tension and fear in the shower scene in the film ‘Psycho’ Robert Bloch first released ‘Psycho’ in 1957 in form of a novel, but it was better known as a film directed and edited by ‘the master of suspense,’ Alfred Hitchcock, and it was first released on big screens in 1960. The film was highly controversial at the time due to the strict morals and ethics enforced by the Motion Picture Association, but escaped the censorship laws due to numerous tricks that Hitchcock deployed, to bend the rules.
Hitchcock got around Norman’s transvestite side, which along with homosexuality was taboo at the time, and by saying that Norman was not dressing up as a woman for sexual reasons so therefore was not a transvestite. These factors plus many more like the verity of camera angles, music and most importantly the plot helped Hitchcock to wheel in his audience to come and see ‘Psycho’. Throughout the film ‘Psycho’ there are numerous techniques used that assisted Hitchcock to keep his audience in suspense and tension. One clear example, in the storyline is in the introduction.
Never before on the big screens in the 1960’s would the audience have ever dreamt to imagine a semi naked figure on screen, but when that is the dress status of the first two characters the audience are shocked and horrified, and this clever tactic would have kept his audience interested and poised in their seats. Hitchcock took advantage of his stunned audience and used a series of close and long moving shots to move in on Marion. This would have made his audience feel particularly uncomfortable because it would almost seem that they are spying on Marion, and her male companion.
This different introduction would have lead the audience to believe the film would be about Marion and her male companions relationship. So, Hitchcock developed the story line and plots very cleverly, as the title of the film is called ‘Psycho’, the first ten to twenty minutes, the film resembled a romance story but then dramatically changed to a police enquiry, which would have lead to the Hitchcock’s audience being engaged with the film as they are eager to find out more about Marion moreover the audience would be trying to figure out what the plot of the film actually was.
And it is near the middle of the film the audience started to get vivid image of death, there were two stuffed birds of prey in Norman Bates office, where he offered Marion dinner when she took a pit stop at a motel called ‘Bates Motel’. One an owl and the other a crow which both represent death. This is one of the most meaningful and ironic scenes that are seen throughout the whole film.
The position of the birds are very important as they are towered over Marion, which suggested perhaps that death is going to come to her soon. The room was very dark and Hitchcock had used dark coloured walls, to give a huge shadow effect on the birds, to give them a scarier and sinister look. A lot of tension was created in this particular scene but then when Marion starts the conversation she found it somehow relaxing. And without noticing Marion gave her real name when earlier she intentionally gave another.
When she went into her room, Norman also went into the back of the office, and it is now when suspense in ‘Psycho’ came combined with suspicion When Norman watched Marion through a peephole, Hitchcock was particularly clever at this point because the audience would brand Norman a weirdo and a pervert but would soon fell very strange, as they would be watching through his eyes, as if they were, the weirdo and not Norman. As Marion took her clothes off, the camera takes a shot of Marion standing in black underwear, which in the 1960’s gives a symbol of wanting to have sex.
Ironically, in the beginning of the film she was wearing white underwear which is a symbol of purity and cleanliness. This office scene was soon to be followed by an extraordinary and famous ‘shower scene’, which took Hitchcock seventy-one to seventy-eight different camera set up’s to film. Which suggested that Hitchcock wanted the scene to be perfect. The ‘shower scene’ took seven days to film and only lasted forty-five seconds. It opened with Marion taking off her robe for a shower. She was located in a white tile bathroom, which was brightly lit.
All the natural sounds were emphasised; the toilet being flushed, soap packet being opened, movement of the shower and shower curtains. The audience could not predict a murder was about to happen because everything seemed superficially fine there are no real sign of foreboding. So when Marion took of her dressing gown and stepped into the bath, pulling the shower curtain across, normality was still sustained however the audience start to get a feeling of suspense and tension due to the lack of action.
The camera angle at this scene is very important as the camera took a low angle shot and transferred to a high angle shot. The angle illustrated that characters identity was changing. This showed the audience that the character goes from being superior to powerless suggesting that something bad was about to happen. In addition, Marion having a shower suggested that she was washing away all her wrong doings to make herself to the audience as being deeply relaxed as she was smiling. Hitchcock gave tranquillity and calmness to the audience as he made them enjoy her shower.
But to their sudden horror the bath room door opened and a figure appeared in the room. An over the shoulder shot was used as it prepared the audience for an attack, because they saw what Marion couldn’t and this created a lot of eeriness in the atmosphere. Another over the shoulder shot was used, and suspense is further created as the figure advanced towards the shower, footsteps were not heard because of the loud sound effects of the water, and as the curtains were closed the audience couldn’t see the figures face, which made the shot look like a surveillance camera.
The calm and normal atmosphere was dramatically changed to being terrified as a shadow entered the bathroom with a large knife. Additionally, the frantic violin sounds added feeling of fear in the audience. And that fear effect was sustained as Marion fought and screamed for her life. Close up of Marion’s face allowed the audience to see and feel the pain she went through. The ‘thriller’ genre is clearly identified in this particular scene. Marion soon disappeared off the screen making the audience focus and concentrate on the dark, disturbing figure.
Hitchcock made the audience believe that the figure was the ‘mother’ of Norman due to the shape of the hair, which is shown in silhouette. Rapid shots were shown of the killing, and several of those shots were of Marion moving form side to side and struggling to defend herself to show that she can not stop her killer. The camera swooped in with a high angled shot, which emphasised Marion’s blood draining away in the bath. The extreme close up of Marion’s hand allowed the audience to see how slowly and painfully she was dying.
This aroused emotional thoughts within the audience. The audience were shocked because they knew Marion’s been attacked. They see the upper part of the body and her facial expressions. The high angled camera shot of Marion falling forward made Marion appear smaller which lead to her beginning to appear off the screen. This unique scene built up the tension in the audience, and image of her eyes filling the whole screen is frightening as the eye becomes lifeless and emotionless…
The music and the sound effects in the film ‘Psycho’ also played and important role in creating tension in the audience. Hitchcock slowed down the tempo of the film, due to the fact it would have made the audience feel more shocked at the sudden death of Marion. The violin and cello in ‘Psycho’ was so effective because it is used as percussion suggesting the knife strokes. Deep sounds also sound percussive, and the audience could feel them literally piercing their body. This clever method would have sent shivers to the audience.
In order for Hitchcock to create fear in the minds of the audience he had to use both the fast camera angle shots and the sharp, high pitch of the music to sustain and capture the audiences fear. This in the 1960 would have made the hairs on the back of the audience stand up, but now in the new millennium the audience are prepared and have seen more horrifying films, to be frightened from ‘Psycho’. Consequently ‘Psycho’ led the path in film history, and it has made horror films what they are now.