The shower scene is probably the key scene in Hitchcock’s movie. This is the point were the movie starts to divide itself into two separate story lines.
Hitchcock’s moral beliefs are reflected in his films. At the beginning of the film, Marion is seen in white underwear, which symbolizes purity and innocence. During the shower scene this is changed to black underwear, which means to the audience that she has committed a crime and will be punished.
‘In truth, Janet Leigh should not have been wearing a brassiere. I can see nothing immoral about that scene and I get no special kick out of it. But the scene would have been more interesting if the girl's bare breasts had been rubbing against the man's chest.’
- Alfred Hitchcock 1962
This quotation shows that there are huge moral differences between today and back in 1962 and it tells us that censorship at the time was very strict and were not able to have blur effects to conceal any unwanted images.
Alfred Hitchcock used 70 different camera set-ups for 45 seconds of footage. These sharp and short images create an effect to which the audience doesn’t know what they’re going to see next. This effect creates an enormous amount of suspense for the audience.
The shrieking music yet again adds to the feeling of suspense that is created during the scene. Throughout the scene the killers face remains carefully concealed thus increasing fear and suspense as the true nature of the scene is left in the audience’s imagination.
During the footage each cut of the knife seems to coincide with cut in the film. The effect of this on the audience is intriguing. It draws the audience into the film thus creating a visual effect on the viewers mind.
Hitchcock’s intention for the shower scene was to suggest and not to show. During the stabbing incident you never actually see the victim (Marion) being stabbed. You assume that she is being stabbed due to the movement of the knife and the blood dripping in the bath and the stabbing sound, which is actually a knife being stabbed into a melon.
‘…and not an actual bare breast or plunging knife is to be found in the final cut, just illusion through montage.’
- The Hitchcock Collection
Hitchcock used thousands of different camera shots. In Arbogast’s murder he used a High Angle shot when the killer approached Arbogast and murdered him; this stopped the audience seeing the killers face, making the scene more exciting and intriguing.
When Arbogast is walking up the hill towards the house, the background music continuously goes up an octave each one or two steps he takes up the hill. This effect simulates walking. You could listen to the film and not watch it and still know that there was a ascending camera shot..
Hitchcock had to make the house and the surroundings look disturbing in order to convince the audience that the film and the overall setting is disturbing. The weather coincides with the setting and the mood of the act. Each time when something grim or bad was about to happen, it would either rain or a storm could be heard in the background. This builds tension into the audience
The architectural contrast between the vertical house and the horizontal motel
makes a pleasing sight to the eye. It adds to the eeriness of the house and shows how disturbing the house is compared to a basic structure such as the motel.
‘I chose that house and motel because I realized that if I had taken an ordinary low bungalow the effect wouldn't have been the same. I felt that type of architecture would help the atmosphere of the yarn.’
-Alfred Hitchcock 1962
The tension in some parts of the film is somewhat so great that it becomes unbearable at times. If you have never seen ‘Psycho’ before you would never be able to predict what was coming next due to the suspenseful thinking and editing that Hitchcock has done.
Hitchcock draws on natural instincts from the audiences such as when a burglar goes into a room, all the time he's going through the drawers, the audience is generally anxious for him and when Norman is looking at the car sinking in the pond, even though he's burying a body, when the car stops sinking for a moment, the audience is thinking, "I hope it goes all the way down!”. This is a natural instinct.
Hitchcock draws the audience into the film and can deceive the audience by using clever camera shots. This distracts the audience from one event to another, causing a feeling of distress and suspense within the viewer.
Hitchcock had a hanging camera follow Norman up the stairs, and when he went into the room he continued going up without a cut. As the camera was raised to the top of the door, it was turned and shot back down the stairs again. Meanwhile, an argument was taking place between the son and his mother to distract the audience and take their minds off what the camera was doing. In this way the camera was above Norman as he carried his mother back down the stairs and the public did not notice a thing. It is excites Hitchcock to use the camera to deceive the audience.
The scene in which Marion’s sister, Lila, discovers Norman’s mothers’ body in the cellar is a key scene and an element to the build up of suspense for the final scene.
The build up to this scene is very intense. The audience is shown all of Norman’s childhood memories and thoughts. You then are taken down into the fruit cellar where they hear the shrieking and squawking of birds. The camera then turns and goes to a back view of Norman Bates’ mother. Lila approaches the figure and it spins round to reveal a skeleton of an old woman.
As Lila backs up she turns and knocks the light on the ceiling. This swings back and forth casting shadows around the room. This creates a shocking and puzzling effect to the audiences mind. It becomes almost impossible to focus on single objects as the light deceives the eyes of the audience into thinking that everything is moving around.
I conclude that Hitchcock is the master of suspense due to his tremendous efforts and expertise that have made ‘Psycho’ such a masterpiece and a classic. He used all the available sources and elements needed to make the film so great. He used manual effects to create and sustain the suspense throughout the film, unlike today’s directors who rely on technologically generated effects.