How does Hitchcock create suspense and tension in the film "Psycho?"

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Kamran Hussain 10MF        07/05/2007

How does Hitchcock create suspense

and tension in the film “Psycho?”

Alfred Hitchcock’s fantastic thriller “Psycho” was made in 1959 and was released in 1960. Horror movies were very popular in those days. Alfred Hitchcock bought the rights to Psycho, he then sent his assistants out to bookstalls to buy up as many copies of the book as they could. Hitchcock wanted Psycho to avoid the ending being common knowledge. This also made more people come and watch the movie in the cinemas, which would’ve increase the rate of the movie and money. Alfred Hitchcock creates tension and suspense by lighting, music, camera angles and shots and also by the clever use of limited dialogue.

Throughout this essay, the different techniques Hitchcock used to create tension and suspense will be examined. Hitchcock used several techniques to promote Psycho. An example of one of these would be the publicity of the poster. The poster made the audience think opposite to what the film was really about, this was what exactly Hitchcock wanted. However, Hitchcock wanted the ending of the film to stay a secret. Hitchcock insisted that no one would be allowed into the cinema once the film had started. This led to huge queues and lots of publicity. The actors were made to swear an oath of secrecy when filming. This was because he wanted to direct a film that would be new to the audience and create suspense and tension. The publicity of the poster makes the audience think that Psycho would be to do with relationship and an adult sexual film. The poster shows Janet Leigh, a young famous actress in her underwear named Marion in the film.


The first scene I will be concentrating on will be the “Parlour Scene”. The parlour scene has Norman talking to Janet Leigh’s character. In this scene they both talk about Norman’s mother. The scene uses five main techniques, which are “lighting, music, camera angles and shots and also dialogues”.

Lighting is a very important technique, because Hitchcock uses darkness and shadows a lot to hide details. This makes the audience uncomfortable. However, there are also a few untypical scenes that are very brightly lit. In the shower scene a shower curtain is used to hide the attacker’s details. The audience will be very tense because you do not know whom the attacker is. Hitchcock used the shower curtains deliberately for two reasons, firstly to obscure the view of when the attacker approaches the shower and secondly, to evoke a sense of the private world. Therefore the shower curtain allows for dramatic irony, which is a powerful tool in creating suspense, as it allows the audience to see the figure behind the shower before Marion does. Therefore, we are alerted of danger. However in the shower scene there is no dialogue, this is because it creates more tension and builds up the atmosphere giving it a dramatic effect. When the attacker kills Marion he/she walks off while Marion lay dead on the floor. While a knife was stabbing Marion, there were over 70 angle shots to give you an overall view of the scene. The close up of Marion’s eye created an image, which in my opinion was very effective. Marion’s dead body lies on the bathroom floor with her head brightly lit, this emphasises horror and shows that she is dead. Often when the characters are alone and afraid the lights are dim. In the opening dialogue between Norman and Marian, Norman shows her to her room. She is the only guest staying at Bates Motel so he puts her in room number 1 the closest room to him. Norman underlines how isolated the motel is by saying that no one ever comes to the motel anymore.

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The house behind the motel is big, old and frightening. It is appropriate to the genre as it creates an element of tension its not somewhere you would want to go. When Marian is unpacking in her room she overhears a conversation between Norman and his mother. Norman’s mother is shouting at him because she doesn’t want him seeing young women, as her son might be lead astray. This makes the audience feel sympathy towards him, his mother treats him like a child and he is still worried she will tell him off he is scared of her.


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