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How does Alfred Hitchcock create tension and suspense in 'Psycho'?

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Introduction

How does Alfred Hitchcock create 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. ...read more.

Middle

All we can hear is the sound of the sound of the rain. The lack of music and cars emphasizes the now obvious fact - she is lost - she is alone. The film has now turned clearly into a horror. We have the horror codes characteristic of typical horror films, used to create tension. Darkness and night is one of these codes, as at night most people are asleep in bed, so the person is more alone. It is easier to hide at night, in shadows and places that would be well lit in sunlight. Also, it is unnatural for a diurnal creature such as a human to be out at night; they are doing something wrong. Another code is bad weather, which can add to danger, and create an unpleasant situation. Again, it adds to isolation, as fewer people are around. The effect of these horror codes is to make the audience tenser still, as they will recognise the codes and know what to expect. The change in itself adds to the tension, as change can bring about insecurity. As Marion looks about, she still seems tense, biting her lip in thought, but certainly more relaxed than she was before. A bright road sign appears ahead, advertising the 'Bates Motel', and becomes clearer and clearer as she approaches. The windscreen wiper, which before was picked out by the headlights is now just black, although it still retains the look of a stabbing knife, perhaps hinting at some hidden danger. ...read more.

Conclusion

Here we have a massive close-up of Normans eye. This makes him seem very powerful, and so very threatening, increasing the tension. Marion, on the other hand, is made even more vulnerable by the fact she is wearing less than normal, so there is less between her and him; she has less to protect herself with, increasing the tension and suspense yet further. Then she puts on her dressing gown, and Norman turns away, as if realising his sin, or as if a spell has been broken. Above him, one of the owl's outstretched wings is visible. It points in the direction of the door, and the house. Norman turns again. The wing is now in line with his line of vision. He rushes out the door. AS he does so the light from the window throws half of his face into shadow, while the other half is lit up. This reflects his mental position, half dark and sinister, half light and innocent. He goes out of the office, and pauses, looking towards the house. Then we see his facial expression. It is determined, as if he has made his mind up about something. We then see his dark figure going up the hill back towards the house that looms above him like the owl, back to the mother who looms above his life. I believe the film 'Psycho' is a brilliantly masterminded piece of cinematography. It works well to produce a tense and clever atmosphere that is very effective and produces perfect results with a variety of interesting techniques. Lydia Blake ...read more.

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