How does Alfred Hitchcock create suspense and tension in psycho? Focus particularly on the 'shower scene' and 'arbogast's murder.
How does Alfred Hitchcock create suspense and tension in psycho? Focus particularly on the ‘shower scene’ and ‘arbogast’s murder.
Alfred Hitchcock 1960 horror film ´Psycho` is one of the most celebrated and scary films of its time. Hitchcock’s psychological thriller, psycho was and still is the mother of all modern day horrors. It cost Hitchcock around $800,000 to make the film. Psycho broke all film conventions by showing a leading lady having a lunch time affair in her underwear and also in the shower scene it was rejected on the grounds of nudity but was later with no alterations was accepted. The film stars Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, Janet Leigh and Marion Crane and Vera Miles as Lila crane.
Psycho differs from other horrors because the audience starts off identifying with the main character we are shown what her life is about, her job, her boy friend and just her life in general. When Marion takes $40,000, instead of the audience disliking her because she has committed a crime they understand why she did it after all it is from a arrogant, snobby millionaire when he is talking to Marion’s boss he says ‘I never carry as much as I can afford to lose.’ So when she takes the money we don’t feel sorry for him at all. But when she is killed then we start to identify with Norman Bates. The audience is tricked in thinking that they will be following Marion thought the film but they are wrong, this is known as Maguffin of a red herring.
Hichcock uses many different devices to create tension and suspense, for example camera angle, lighting, music and red herrings all of these components make up psycho, without them the film just wouldn’t be as good or effected. One of the first examples of first person camera angles is early on in the film, where Marion is awoken by a police officer. This shot is a close up looking through the eyes of Marion. The police officers high camera angle gives a sense of superiority. Also his gaze and glasses contribute to this. Then when we are looking through the police officers eyes we look down on Marion making her look inferior the audience can see straight away how scared she is. The music and sound is also another key component of the film due to its ability to build up expectations within the audience and create a huge amount of tension and suspense. There are two different sounds in the film diegetic and non-diegetic sounds. A diegetic sound is any sound present as originated from a source within the film, it could be voices of characters or sound made from objects in the film. A non-diegetic sound is any sound coming from a course out side of the story, this could be; a narrator, a sound effect or mood music. One example of non-diegetic sound is when is when Marion is driving away whit the money she had stolen, the imagines conversations of what people would say about her leaving. The music is key to the film due to its ability to build up expectations within the audience, and create huge amounts of tension and suspense. Hitchcock had devised two different pieces of music, one being a past pace, jumpy and eerie piece which is used to build up the tension one example of this is when Marion is driving away with the money every time she starts driving the car the music starts and gets louder and louder but as soon as the car stops so does the music this might signify that every time she stops in the car she is safe but when she is driving she is driving into trouble. The second piece of music is a calm, quiet piece which is used to bring the tension down to relax the audience.
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Hitchcock wanted to build his film on a combination of devices; lighting, camera angles, sound and music and also red herrings. A red herring is and object or person put into the film to miss lead the audience they do this to create suspense and tension. An example of a red herring is the $40,000 because we the audience think the story it about the money but as we find out later on in the film that it has nothing to do with the money. Another good example of a red herring is the police officer, when we first see him he looks very menacing and scary we are led to believe that this is it for Marion especially when he starts to follow her but then after the car lot he is never seen again.
The audience first impression of Norman bates is that he is a very nice normal guy but then you see him with his hands in his pockets he a eating sweets and offers Marion sandwiches and milk, this brings out a very childish kind of guy. And then when you look into the living room and see all the stuffed birds, it shows that there is something not right with the guy. a main effect to the living room that that lighting there wasn’t a lot of it making the room very dark, the only sort of light was on Marion but everything else was dark thin shows that where is a very eerie and almost evilness to the room. When Norman and Marion are talking Norman talks of his mother, when he does this the camera focuses the audience on the dead birds connecting Norman’s mother of murder and death. In the whole film there is this connection with birds. Birds are seen as watchers of the world which can be related to voyeurism and birds watching is a theme throughout the film; Marion’s second name is Crane the city in which she comes from is called Phoenix and Norman’s strange hobby of stuffing birds. Another example of voyeurism is when Norman is watching Marion getting undressed through a hole behind a picture. And another great clue of that is going to happen is that the picture is a painting of murder and rape.
Hitchcock wanted to bring the audience right into the shower scene he wanted the audience to feel and experience everything that was going on. He did this in two ways the first one was that he used all of the key devices and the second one was that he split the scene up into three main parts the first being getting into the shower and showering the second being the attack and the third being when she is left on the floor. Before Marion gets into the shower she feels the need to shut the door this symbolises a lot because even though she is in her cabin alone she still feels the need to shut the door, this is because it gives her a sense of security. It also shows that we are most vulnerable when we are naked. Then when she is in the shower the camera focuses on and zooms into the shower curtain whilst Marion is showering and the camera lingers on still on this shot the music starts to get louder and louder which builds up the tension within the audience. Then as the camera zooms in closer it reveals the silhouette of ‘mother’ and then as the curtains rips open you see the sharp blade of the knife. The next part of the scene is the most power and horrifying part of the film as they struggle her face and top of her bode is visible. The camera then cuts to a close up of her terrified face, and then there is an extreme close up of her mouth this gives the audience a more in depth of her terror. Then you see ‘mother’ and Marion struggling, at this point the music is at its peak and that’s when the knife goes in to Marion and then the last part of the scene is when Marion is layering on the floor and the blood is running down the drain. Because the scene was edited so quickly there had to have music in this scene that would sets the speed of the action. Without the fast moving pace music, the scene would be absolutely ineffective. Hitchcock done the shower scene very well the audience was dragged into it, they became Marion, they went through everything she went through and felt everything she felt.
Another time ‘mother’ strikes is when she kills Arbogasts, the private detective. Arbogasts character is there to arouse suspicion within the audience. His murder is not as intense as Marion’s murder because we didn’t develop any sort of bond with his character. Before Arbogasts walks up the stairs he takes his hat off to make min look more vulnerable, then slowly he starts to climb the stairs. As he climbs the stairs the music changes pitch and speed very quickly giving the impression that the killer could jump out at any moment. Then as he gets to the top ‘mother’ steps out, as soon as she does the camera changes to an high angle shot. Then ‘mother’ approaches him and starts to stab him, Hitchcock has created a silhouette of the knife going into Arbogasts very well, it still hides mothers face and it doesn’t let the audience see the actually stabbing. The camera continues creating the suspense by following Arbogast fall down the stairs and still keeping a full face on effect so that the audience can see and what Arbogasts is feeling. I think that this scene was done incredibly well. I think his murder was necessary for two reasons; one being that Hitchcock had to show that even though ‘mother’ was a very old and frail lady she could still take on a fully grown and strong woman and man, throughout this whole movie there had been this sense of venerablness within all the main characters; Norman who is a very child like man which makes him very venerable and just before Marion and Arbogasts were killed there were quite venerable, infact the only person who wasn’t venerable was the person who you would think would have been the most was ‘mother’ and as we have seen when Norman wanted to take her down the stairs she wasn’t going without a fight.
When Hitchcock first released the film he wanted it to be a horror because it had the key elements of a horror like blood, murder and a lot of tension building. but after the film was released it created a completely new sub-genre and started a whole new generation of horror movie, this sub-genre is the slasher movie. There have been many slasher films since psycho such as ‘Silence of the lamb’, ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and ‘Nightmare On Elm street.’ With the film being in black and white adds to the tension of the film, it doesn’t give anything a way. Even though Hitchcock wanted to bring to audience into the film the black and white look doesn’t let then get to close. Also Hitchcock was a master of using light, he could make a character stand out more then the rest or blend in with the rest. If the film was in colour it wouldn’t be as effective.
I think Hitchcock was a master at what he did and creating suspense and tension, he knew exactly when to get the audience on the edge of their seats and when to relax them. He was also a master at using certain devices like camera angles, lighting, music and sound, with every sot he took all of these components into account. I really enjoyed watching the film, I wasn’t tense or in suspense as such, but I can imagine what effect it had in people in the 1960 and why the film was such a big hit. In my option I would give the film a 9/10 overall. And would recommend anyone go and watch it.
By Mikie Gabriel McWilliams