Film / Psycho
"It is absolutely required that you see Psycho from the very beginning!"

"A boy's best friend is his mother."
Norman Bates

Arguably the best-known film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, released in 1960.

The story, adapted by Hitchcock and screenwriter Joseph Stefano from Robert Bloch's novel of the same name published the year before, has not one but two major plot twists; at the time, Hitchcock went to great lengths to keep them secret (including an ad pleading "Don't give away the ending — it's the only one we have"), but these days, most people know about both through Pop-Cultural Osmosis even if they know nothing else about the film.

Psycho begins as a Film Noir crime thriller: Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals a large amount of cash from her employer's client and sets out for California, where she plans to hook up with her lover and start a new life. She stops for the night at the out-of-the-way Bates Motel, run by nervous Momma's Boy Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), who lives with his domineering mother in an ominous Victorian house behind the motel.

Twist #1: As Marion has a shower in her motel room, a dimly-glimpsed knife-wielding maniac suddenly appears and stabs her to death in the film's most famous and oft-parodied scene.

After that, Psycho changes gears into something more along the lines of a psychological horror story, while retaining a few noir elements. The rest of the film follows the investigation into Marion's disappearance, first by a private detective (Martin Balsam) hired to recover the money she stole, and then, after he also falls victim to the knife-wielding psycho, by Marion's lover (John Gavin) and her sister (Vera Miles). It appears that Norman's mother may be killing off any woman he shows an interest in; the local sheriff (John McIntire) mentions two other unsolved disappearances of young women in the area. This leads into...

Twist #2: Norman's mother has been dead for years. Her domination is now entirely in his head, a split personality with the persona of his mother. It is Norman, under the influence of this personality, who has been committing the murders. Though the Mrs. Bates personality insists that Norman is the real killer because she can't move.

Being such a popular movie, it naturally spawned three sequels (one being made-for-TV) that few know exist. Anthony Perkins reprised his role and even directed the third movie. Despite Sequelitis naturally setting in, they received better reviews than expected:

There was also an unrelated 1987 TV movie, Bates Motel, involving a man named Alex (Bud Cort) who'd befriended Norman while being institutionalized with him, and on his release learns that the now-deceased Norman has willed the motel to him.

In 1998, Gus Van Sant released an almost shot-by-shot remake starring Anne Heche and Vince Vaughn. To the extent that it was the same as the original, it was widely regarded as pointless, and to the extent that it was different, it was widely regarded as inferior (probably the most notable difference being a shot of Norman masturbating and a gratuitous scene of Viggo Mortensen's butt). But the fact that somebody thought it might be a good idea suggests what a big place the original film has in the public memory. Indeed, Van Sant may have been doing us a favor: in his own words, he did it "so no-one else would have to". Look at the trend of horror-film remakes from the oughts (The Amityville Horror (2005), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), Halloween (2007), The Hitcher, Friday the 13th (2009), and even a new version of Hitchcock's own The Birds came close to getting made at one point), and you'll notice he was ahead of the game in preventing Platinum Dunes from touching this one. Of course, he could just be backpedaling.

The 2012 film Hitchcock is based on Stephen Rebello's non-fiction book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho and deals with the filming of Psycho.

And in 2013 a TV series, also titled Bates Motel and a prequel (albeit set in the modern day) debuted on the A&E Network.

The shower scene is now part of movie culture and the music used, along with the film itself, is used in many scholarly courses as prime examples of their chosen subject. It's also Trope Namer for Psycho Strings and "Psycho" Shower Murder Parody.

As one last footnote, it holds the honor of being the first film ever released on home video.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the novel, Norman is middle-aged, overweight, and a drinker. In the film, he is much younger and better looking and your basic "boy next door" type. Hitchcock and screenwriter Joseph Stefano felt the book's Norman Bates was too unlikable; making him better-looking made him slightly more sympathetic to the audience.
  • Adorkable: Initially, at least. Norman is handsome and sweet-natured, but stammering and shy - a little socially awkward. Hitchcock deliberately cast Perkins in the role to create this type of character, saying:
    "I suddenly saw a tender, vulnerable young man you could feel incredibly sorry for."
  • Advertising Campaigns: In a campaign considered unusual for the average movie, signs and trailers reminded people not to come in late to Psycho. Hitchcock commissioned these to make sure everyone got a chance to see Janet Leigh's scenes, and they also ensured that viewers would not miss any important plot information. Previous Hitchcock movies then became re-released with ads reminding moviegoers to see each from its beginning.
  • Affably Evil: Norman. Movie-Norman/Anthony Perkins-Norman, that is.
  • Alone with the Psycho: The scene where Norman and Marion have dinner—in retrospect, at least. Although it's notable how Norman, who seemed so harmless, starts to come off as creepy in this scene.
  • And Starring: "And Janet Leigh as Marion Crane"
  • Animal Motifs: Specifically, bird motifs: the stuffed birds in the parlor and bird pictures on the walls, Norman compares himself and Marion to caged birds and notes that she eats "like a bird", Marion's surname is Crane and her robbery takes place in Phoenix, Norman eats candy corn in a birdlike manner. Even the trademark Psycho Strings (see below) are reminiscent of a bird's shrieks.
  • Antagonist Title: Norman Bates is the psycho, not the woman he murders in the shower (Marion Crane). Averted by the sequels, where Bates becomes a Anti-Hero or Anti-Villain depending on the film.
  • Anti-Climax: The scene in which the audience finds out the truth about Norman's mother forms an effective climax to the film, but the scene immediately following it (in which the psychologist details every aspect of Norman's psychosis in exhaustive detail) has been described as "an anticlimax taken almost to the point of parody".
  • Anti-Hero: Marion steals $40,000, but the man she steals from isn't the nicest fellow.
  • Anyone Can Die: Both played straight and averted. Considering how genuinely terrifying Marion's death is, and how unexpected it is when it comes, there's only one other casualty for the rest of the movie. Hitchcock reels you in twice with this trope.
  • Artistic Title: Courtesy of Saul Bass. Lines slide across the screen, bringing up and pushing away peoples' names. Watch here.
  • Author Appeal: Janet Leigh, one in a long line of blonde leads for Hitchcock.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Part of what makes the movie so effective.
  • Big Bad: Norman Bates. He ranges anywhere from Villain Protagonist to Type IV or V Anti-Hero throughout the series.
  • Bowdlerise: While the shower scene is hardly tame, it's still toned down from its corresponding scene in the book, where Marion is decapitated.
  • Break the Cutie: Marion. Her death comes AFTER a conversation with Norman convinces her to go back and turn in the money. It's also heavily implied that his mother's abuse did this to Norman, and made completely explicit in the sequels.
  • Carpet-Rolled Corpse: Shower curtain rather, but the concept still applies.
  • Central Theme: The famous exchange between Norman and Marion:
    Norman Bates: "I think that we're all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and we claw, but only at the air, only at each other, and for all of it, we never budge an inch."
  • Chair Reveal: The famous scene in which Lila spins around Mother's chair to reveal a mummified corpse.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Norman Bates, amateur taxidermist.
  • Colliding Criminal Conspiracies: Marion fleeing wth some stolen cash and ending up dead.
  • Cool Car: The '57 Ford Custom 300 Fordor that Marion buys from California Charlie.
  • Creator Cameo: As with all Hitchcock films. He's standing outside the bank where Marion works, wearing a cowboy hat. He was very careful about the placement of this; his cameos were well-known by then, and he knew that people would be looking for him. He also knew that showing up any later in the movie would disrupt the mood he was going for, so it had to be right at the beginning.
    • Gus Van Sant pops up in the same location in the remake, along with a Hitchcock lookalike.
  • Creepy Basement: Super creepy, lit by a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling, as Lila finds out the truth about Mother.
  • Creepy Crossdresser: Probably Trope Codifier.
  • Dark Comedy: Alfred Hitchcock considered Psycho to be this.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Implied in the original; lamentably explicit in the remake.
  • Daylight Horror: Though all of the scary events take place at night, the four scariest scenes in the film - the shower scene, Arbogast's death, the reveal of Norman Bates as the killer, and the final scene where Norman has an extremely creepy interior monologue - all occur not just in well-lit rooms, but rooms with lights that are actually intense and glaring in the case of the shower and reveal scenes.
  • Dead-Hand Shot: The famous shot of Marion's hand flopping down onto the bathroom floor as she falls over dead.
  • Dead Star Walking: One of the earliest examples of this trope, and maybe the most famous. Marion Crane is the central character and Janet Leigh is the star—until she gets offed completely out of nowhere thirty minutes into the movie, and the film becomes something very different.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Marion. Some have argued that after Marion is killed, Norman becomes the film's real protagonist.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Allegedly to save time and money on special effects, as they could use chocolate syrup rather than having to mix up a batch of Kensington Gore. Hitchcock also said that in color, the fake blood going down the drain would be pink, and pink is not scary.
    • Probably the bigger contributor is that Hitchcock is that he wanted to make the film with a lower budget; Paramount didn't want to do Psycho due to its content, so Hitchcock financed the film himself, bringing the budget down by using the crew from his TV series to shoot the film. This also included shooting in black-and-white, since color film was still very expensive in 1960. The opportunity for better blood effects was coincidental.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: At the end, on the window of an office in the police station.
    "Office Of Deputy District Attorney. Alan Deats, Deputy District Attorney."
  • Dies Wide Open: Marion Crane, as revealed in the incredibly chilling shot that ends the shower scene.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: Norman does this in his dinner conversation with Marion, comparing her to a bird because birds eat a lot.
  • Disc One Final Boss: Think Arbogast will be the one to crack the case and expose Norman and his mother? Wrong.
  • Do Not Spoil This Ending: In 1960, at least. But at the time it was common to go to a movie halfway through and watch the rest with the next run. This one was set up so you had to watch it front to back. A few years later this would catch on with all movies.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Although Bates probably wouldn't be so bad if he could just forget about her.
  • Evil Matriarch: Mother is cruel and murderous.
  • Eye Open: One of the more disturbing ones in cinema history, as Hitchcock cuts to a tight closeup of Marion's dead, staring eye before a spiraling zoom out from her face.
  • Face-Revealing Turn: A particularly ghastly version of this trope forms The Reveal when Lila finds Mother in the basement.
  • Fan Disservice: The shower scene. Marion's nudity and vulnerability make the scene all the more terrifying.
  • Fanservice: Marion appears stripped down to a bra and half-slip in multiple scenes.
  • Film Noir: The first half of the movie, anyway.
  • The Film of the Book: Robert Bloch's novel was published in 1959, and Hitchcock's film sticks very close to the novel's plot. There are only a couple of differences: in the novel is that the conversation between Marion ("Mary" in the book) and Norman actually takes place in the house, and in the novel it's the sheriff who comes to the rescue of Lila in the basement. Also, the suggestion in the film that Norman is a Serial Killer is absent from the book, in which the murder of Mary Crane seems to be a first.
  • Final Girl: The film is considered to be an Ur-Example of a Slasher film. While not a perfect fit of the Final Girl that has become conventional in later years, Lila can be considered a prototype since she is the one who investigates her sister's disappearance and survives her confrontation with the killer, albeit not by her own doing.
  • Finally Found the Body: Aside from Marion and Arbogast, implied regarding the two unsolved missing persons cases mentioned by the psychiatrist during his monologue.
  • Foreshadowing: A lot of Norman's more blackly comic lines ("She's not herself today", "A boy's best friend is his mother" and "Living with an invalid, it's practically like living alone") and his rambling monologue about mental hospitals take on a much greater significance once you know the ending.
    • Not to mention one of Marion's lines ("They also pay who meet in hotel rooms") in the opening scene. Also, when Marion is packing to leave Phoenix with the money, her bathtub and shower are prominently visible in the background.
    • There are two mentions of mothers early on, from Marion and Caroline, foreshadowing that as a theme.
    • Norman is clearly swiveling his hips in a womanly way when climbing the stairs to fetch Mother.
  • Freudian Excuse: And how! There's a whole speech at the end explaining the Hollywood Psych behind the plot.
  • Genre Shift:
    • Typical Hitchcock film: crime thriller, anti-heroine steals a wad of cash and goes on the run. First act ends with her pulling into a roadside motel for the night—and then a huge Gut Punch as the film turns into a dark and violent drama.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Norman staring at Marion through the peephole. Something is causing his body to shake. We also see Norman go in to stare at the dead Marion, then later see him leave the room and wipe his hand on his shirt. Yeah.
    • Towards the end of the shower scene, when Marion reaches out and grabs the shower curtain, the naked breasts of body double Marli Renfro are visible in the background out of focus. (Picture here, possibly NSFW).
  • Gollum Made Me Do It: Norman's a nice guy! It was Mother!
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: Marion changes from white lingerie and a light-colored dress to black lingerie and a darker dress after deciding to embezzle the money.
  • Guilt Complex: A theme of the first third of the film. Marion is wracked with guilt over stealing the money, to the point that she probably felt her murder was a Karmic Death.
  • Gut Punch: The shower sequence is possibly the single most famous example ever.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: The first half of the film focuses more on Marion's fleeing and her interaction with Norman. The shower murder that triggers the latter of the plot doesn't come until halfway.
    • Probably one of the best in cinema history, since most people who haven't seen the movie assume the death is the climax... something Hitchcock counted on with his promotions.
    • Hitchcock did this intentionally to upset the audience. Up until that mid-way point, the audience had been identifying with an attractive, blonde, cold-blooded thief. Halfway through they suddenly have to switch their identity onto a creepy young man who is covering up a murder. Hitchcock wanted the terror of the film to come from the audience being disgusted with themselves.
  • Hand of Death: A hand wielding a knife in two murder scenes.
  • Hell Hotel: Codified the "roadside motel with creepy owner" variation.
  • Hero Antagonist: Lila Crane and Sam Loomis, trying to find out what happened to Marion.
  • Hey, Wait!: Marion starts to drive away from California Charlie's without her suitcase from her old car.
  • Info Dump: The original film features a long one in the penultimate scene, filling in one or two things that weren't made entirely clear earlier, but otherwise just telling the audience stuff they already know. About the one thing that everyone agreed the 1998 remake improved on was that it trimmed the scene down to just a few lines.
  • Irony: "Mother" refuses to swat a fly—but had no problem with killing Marion and the others.
  • Jump Scare: Arbogast's death scene. Before it happens it's apprehensive and the atmosphere is tense, then the strings start up as "Mrs. Bates" blindsides the poor sap out of nowhere.
  • Kensington Gore: Chocolate syrup variety.
  • Knife Nut: Norman's weapon of choice.
  • Kubrick Stare: Norman gives a particularly unnerving stare directly at the audience in the last scene, making this a possible Trope Maker, if not Ur-Example. Made even creepier by the fact that in the last frames of that scene, Norman's face is superimposed with that of his mother's skull.
  • Kuleshov Effect: The shower scene is often used as an example of this trope. After watching it, everyone immediately understands that Janet Leigh's character has been stabbed to death, but if you slow it down, only three frames actually show a knife piercing human flesh (this is fast enough to count as subliminal messaging). The audience's understanding of what has taken place comes entirely from the way the images and sound are arranged, not from the actual content.
  • MacGuffin: The stolen money is just a motivational element for the lead character to run away and wind up at the motel. Unlike most Hitchcock movies, however, the motivation's not the apparent one. It's the red herring that helps set up the Halfway Plot Switch's effectiveness, since Bates is clearly broke. That Marion died was an open secret that everyone knew about, so the revelation that Marion intended to return the cash felt to them like Norman or his mother were going to find out and kill her over it. Hitchcock played to audience expectations, then crushed them an hour early. The end result is that the movie first-time watchers expect is thrown out the window less than halfway through the running time, and nobody knows what to expect next.
  • Match Cut: The shower drain to Marion's eye.
  • Matricide: Norman Bates is one of the most iconic modern examples. His mother Norma sheltered him extensively after the death of her husband, making Norman form a codependent attachment to his mother. When she found a new paramour, Norman murdered his mother, causing him to develop a second personality modelled after her to conceal this crime from himself.
  • Mirror Scare: Subverted. While searching the Bates house, Lila is startled by her own double reflection in a pair of mirrors in Norman's mother's room.
  • Mr. Exposition: The psychiatrist.
  • Mrs. Robinson: See Chick Magnet.
  • Multi-Gendered Split Personalities: In the famous twist ending it turns out that Norman Bates' mother is long since dead, but Norman has a split personality who he thinks of as his mother. Even more creepily, we actually hear Norman talk in her voice near the end of the film.
  • Mummies at the Dinner Table: Norman keeps his mother's corpse in the master bedroom, occasionally taking her to the basement when someone comes to the house.
  • My Beloved Smother: The relationship Norman has with his domineering mother, as he covers up for her. Then we find out the trope still holds true - but from beyond the grave.
  • No-Tell Motel: Not the Bates Motel, but the place where Marion and Sam have met for a tryst in the opening scene.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: There is extremely little explicit horror content in the film. It was made by The Master of Suspense himself, after all.
  • Oedipus Complex: What drove Norman to commit his first murders (if his description of events in the fourth movie are to be trusted, anyway).
    • It's pretty obvious he suffers from this based on dialogue from the first film.
    Norman: A boy's best friend is his mother.
  • Oh, Crap!: Arbogast clearly gets a moment of this.
  • Parental Incest: Norman's extreme issues with his mother and sexuality are both very firmly connected.
  • Peek-A-Boo Corpse: Even if you already know Norma Bates is dead, her corpse will freak you out. No eyes!
    • The light bulb's swaying is to intentionally give the impression that the corpse is alive and laughing.
    • It's worse than that. Every bird in the movie was a Chekhov's Gun staring right at you.
  • Peeping Tom: Norman has a peephole in the office that he uses to watch Marion in Cabin #1 when she undresses for the shower.
  • Phallic Weapon: The knife. Note its silhouette as the stabbing sequence begins.
  • Private Detective: Arbogast, who has been sent to find Marion because the people back in Phoenix don't want to call the cops.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Norman. It becomes more apparent when Lila Crane snoops through Norman's room and finds his toys.
  • Psychotic Smirk: Marion displays this, while driving along and imagining the reactions of everyone as they realize that she's fled with the money, particularly Mr. Cassidy.
    • Norman has a slight one at the very end
  • Psycho Strings: Trope Namer, along with "Psycho" Shower Murder Parody.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Marion takes her fatal shower more or less immediately after deciding to go back to Phoenix, return what's left of the money, and face the music.
  • Red Herring: As mentioned before, the money. The fact that Norman tosses it away alongside Marion's body (and probably never even knew about it) completely demolishes the audience's (original) expectations about the reasons of Marion's death, and thus cements in the end that Norman did it all because he's insane, and Marion was nothing special in terms of choosing who to kill.
  • The Reveal: One of the most famous in history, as Lila turns to find Norman Bates in wig and dress, holding a knife.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Offing an important character in order to make a sudden change in direction—Marion is a perfect example.
  • Serial Killer: Norman Bates is easily one of the most famous examples.
  • Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny: Norman's reaction in the novel when he is peeking Marion in her room.
  • Sexy Walk: Sharp eyes will notice Norman goes up the stairs swiveling like a woman in the first film.
  • The Sheriff: Al Chambers
  • Shirtless Scene: Sam Loomis, in the hotel room at the beginning.
  • Shower Scene: It seems like it should be pretty sexy—we are talking about Janet Leigh naked, after all—but Hitchcock frames and shoots the scene to give it an ominous feel. Then the door opens and the movie veers off in a completely different direction.
  • The Shrink: Delivers a painfully long, boring Info Dump in which he spells out everything that the audience already knows.
  • Sinister Shades: Worn by the cop who wakes Marion up in her car.
  • Slasher Movie: Not a full member of the genre, but a clear influence on those that followed. While the movie does codify the short, vicious bursts of violence punctuating long set-ups, it's otherwise thoroughly averted. Only two people die on-camera, and a third is only threatened. While there's plenty implying that this isn't the first time Norman's killed, even since his mother, the gore is subdued and the violence mostly off-camera.
  • Slasher Smile: Norman gets off an epic one at the end while he's in a holding cell.
  • Slashers Prefer Blondes. More accurately, Alfred Hitchcock prefers blondes.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Waaaaay over on the cynical side.
  • Sorting Algorithm of Mortality / Sorting Algorithm of Deadness: Defies both of these. No one expected the main character to be killed off, and less expected her to stay dead once it happened. And yet, that's what this film does. Think about how few films defy this rule even today, and you get a sense of just how ahead of its time Psycho was.
  • Split-Personality Takeover: According to the psychiatrist, "Mother" has taken over, and in the last scene Norman is talking in Mother's voice and having Mother's internal dialogue.
  • Stealing from the Till: Marion makes a crazy spur-of-the-moment decision to run off with Mr. Cassidy's forty grand rather than deposit it at the bank.
  • Sweet Tooth: Norman is constantly munching on candy.
  • Taxidermy Is Creepy / Taxidermy Terror: Norman's office at the Bates Motel is decorated with various stuffed birds. This serves to establish seemingly mild-mannered Norman as creepy and weird even before the Halfway Plot Switch.
  • Toplessness from the Back: Guess.
  • Unable to Support a Wife: Sam Loomis can't, which is why Marion steals the $40,000.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Almost a deconstruction of slasher movies before the genre would even take hold two decades later with Halloween (1978), it plays around with Nothing Is Scarier, something that would only begin to re-emerge in The Aughts with films like The Ring and The Grudge.
  • The Unfair Sex: An Averted Trope. Marion's a thief and Norman's mother was abusive.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Between Marion and Norman. There are problems in Marion's and Sam's relationship, so when the handsome young Norman shows up, audiences at the time were primed to expect a love triangle to develop.
  • Ur-Example: One of the Ur Examples of the Slasher Movie.
  • Villain Protagonist: Marion is a thief. Norman's evil personality is a murderer. Norman's "good" personality tries to cover up the evidence of the evil personality's crimes.
  • Visual Innuendo: The entire shower scene. The distinctly phallic silhouette of the knife, the stabbing (or rather, penetration), the ejaculatory spurts of blood. It's symbolic of a rape that the severely repressed killer cannot otherwise carry out.
  • Wall Slump: A dying Marion slumps against the wall and slides down to the bottom of the tub.
    • Norman's reaction to seeing her.
  • Wham Line: "Norman Bates's mother has been dead and buried in Greenlawn Cemetery for the past ten years."
  • Wham Shot: Mother!
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Norman. The things he does are quite "mad," but look at who raised him. How could anyone not sympathize with him in at least some capacity?

Alternative Title(s): Psycho 1998