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Film / Psycho

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"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, Psycho was released in 1960 and is credited with strongly influencing the Slasher Movie genre.note 

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


Psycho begins as a Film Noir-style crime thriller: Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), a secretary at a Phoenix real estate office, embezzles a large amount of cash from her employer's clientnote  and sets off for Fairvale, California, where she plans to hook up with her lover and start a new life. After two days of driving — plus an unnerving encounter with a highway patrolman and a hasty exchange of cars — Marion stops for the night at the desolate, 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 takes a shower in her motel room, a dimly-glimpsed, knife-wielding maniac suddenly appears and brutally 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 combination mystery and 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 sharing the persona of his mother. It is Norman, under the influence of this personality, who has been committing the murders. However, 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, the sequels are a lot better than one would expect, largely due to Perkins’ performance as Norman Bates:

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 1993 and 1994, Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights had a haunted house based on the movie called The Psycho Path Maze, featuring props from the filming of Psycho IV. It was followed by Psycho: Through the Mind of Norman Bates in 1999 and Psycho Path: The Return of Norman Bates in 2006.

In 1998, Gus Van Sant directed a nearly Shot-for-Shot Remake starring Vince Vaughn as Norman and Anne Heche as Marion. 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.

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.

This film provides examples of:

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  • Abusive Parents: Mrs. Bates inflicted awful emotional abuse on her son, Norman. First of all, she cut him off from all other society throughout childhood, making him utterly dependent on her. All the while, she tells him that sex is evil and dirty, and that women are whores (except her). She then abandons him at age 12 when she finds a boyfriend. Unable to deal with the loss of his one companion, Norman murders them both. Wracked with guilt afterwards, his Dissociative Identity Disorder is triggered, occasionally taking on her personality to deal with his guilt and grief. Unfortunately, even the internalized Mrs. Bates is emotionally abusive, and Norman is riddled with anxieties over his sexuality and still smothered by his domineering mother.
  • Accidental Hero: Marion, a posthumous example. By stealing the money, she set off the chain of events that exposed Norman’s murderous antics.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the novel, Norman is middle-aged, overweight, balding, bespectacled, 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. It also makes what's coming more jarring. Norman of the movie initially comes off as more sweet and lonely than creepy or threatening, even with regards to his hobby of taxidermy. (He himself says it's too much, but all he has.)
  • Adaptational Badass: In the 1960 film, Lila freezes in shock seeing that Norman is the true killer. In the 1998 remake, Lila incapacitated Norman by delivering a kick to his head while Sam Loomis stops him.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The novel starts with Norman and mother arguing, with Mary arriving at the motel in the next chapter. This is cut from the movie, which starts out with Marion and Sam post-tryst.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: The dark-haired Mary of the novel becomes the blonde Marion of the film.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Marion is named Mary in the novel.
  • 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.
  • After-Action Villain Analysis: The film ends with a wrap-up where the psychiatrist tells everyone (including the audience) Norman's situation.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: It's difficult not to feel sorry for Norman. After all, he was warped by a very twisted and abusive upbringing and the murders were really not done out of malice on his part.
  • 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 in the motel room, 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 calls.
  • Antagonist Title: Norman Bates is the psycho, not the woman he murders in the shower (Marion Crane). Averted by the sequels, where Bates becomes an 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 $40,000, but the man she steals from isn't the nicest fellow.
  • Anyone Can Die: Played straight and averted. Considering how genuinely terrifying Marion's death is, and how unexpected it is when it comes, it's surprising to discover that there's only one other casualty for the rest of the movie. Hitchcock reels you in twice with this trope.
  • Artistic Title: Courtesy of Saul Bass. Lines slide across the screen, bringing up and pushing away peoples' names. Watch here.
  • Asshole Victim: Mr. Cassidy is a leering bore who brags about evading taxes, to the point that almost the entirety of his time in the film seems designed to give the audience reasons to side with Marion when she steals his US$ 40,000.
  • Author Appeal: Janet Leigh, one in a long line of blonde leads for Hitchcock.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: Marion, nervous and paranoid from her encounter with the police officer that morning, pulls into California Charlie's used car lot and starts looking over the vehicles for sale. Then the dealer comes up behind her...
    Charlie: I'm in no mood for trouble.
    Marion: [startled] What?
    Charlie: There's an old saying: "First customer of the day is always trouble." But, like I say, I'm in no mood for it, so I'm gonna treat you so fair and square that you won't have one human reason...
  • Beneath the Mask: Everyone. Marion, the hard working secretary who isn't. And Norman, of course. He seems sweet and timid but what psychosis and a murderous alternate personality lies underneath.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Part of what makes the movie so effective.
  • Big Bad: Norman Bates. He ranges anywhere from Villain Protagonist to Anti-Hero throughout the series.
  • Black Blood: Hitchcock famously shot the film in black and white, specifically so he could use chocolate syrup to represent blood in the shower scene.
  • Black Bra and Panties: Marion starts the film wearing a white bra and slip. When she decides to make off with stolen cash, she changes to a black bra and slip to symbolize her fall from grace and Norman's attraction to her.
  • Blood Is Squicker in Water: The shower scene ends with bloodied water going down the drain. It was made possible with chocolate syrup. An inversion of this is also why the movie is in Black and White, since Hitchcock felt that "pink wasn't scary".
  • Bowdlerise: While the shower scene is hardly tame, it's still toned down from its corresponding scene in the book, where Marion is decapitated.
    "…started to scream, and then the curtains parted further and a hand appeared, holding a butcher’s knife. It was the knife that, a moment later, cut off her scream. And her head."
  • Break the Cutie: Marion. Her death comes after a conversation with Norman convinces her to go back and turn in the money. Also Norman, of course. It's also heavily implied that his mother's abuse did this to Norman, and made completely explicit in the sequels.
  • Camping a Crapper: The film showed a toilet on film for the first time… followed shortly by the infamous shower scene.
  • Carpet-Rolled Corpse: Shower curtain rather, but the concept still applies.
  • Cast as a Mask: Anthony Perkins doesn't appear as Mrs. Bates until the very end of the film. Up until that point, the role was assumed by several different actors.
  • Censor Decoy: Hitchcock put a shot of Marion Crane's buttocks in his original cut so the censors would let him keep a plot-important scene of a flushed toilet, which at the time would not have been allowed to be shown on film.
  • Central Theme: Expressed by Norman during one of his more lucid moments, in conversation with 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. The scene establishing that Norman stuff birds sets up the reveal with the mummified corpse of Mother at the end.
    Marion: A man should have a hobby.
    Norman: Well, it's, it's more than a hobby. A hobby's supposed to pass the time, not fill it.
    Marion: Is your time so empty? [...] Do you go out with friends?
  • Colliding Criminal Conspiracies: Marion fleeing wth some stolen cash and ending up dead.
  • Cold Ham: As the psychiatrist, Simon Oakland keeps a calm tone of voice, but takes the rather clunky, overwritten monologue and milks it for all it's worth, with dramatic pauses and emphasis on certain words and phrases.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: A three-issue one by Innovation Publishing.
  • 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 office 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 Crows: In the 1998 remake, Normal hides Mother in the fruit cellar, which is also an aviary filled with creepy crows.
  • Creepy Crossdresser: Probably Trope Codifier. But he doesn't do it intentionally.
  • Cult Soundtrack: Most films by Hitchcock are memorable for Bernard Herrmann's music, but this one in particular has become a Pop-Cultural Osmosis in the sense that many people recognize the famous "shower stabbing" violins from the countless parodies.
  • Cute and Psycho: Norman has very cute mannerisms and verbal tics (nibbling candy, giggling, stuttering, saying "sorry" and "gee") and his boy-next-door looks don't hurt anything, but none of it changes the fact that he's pretty much out of his mind.
  • Dark Comedy: Alfred Hitchcock considered Psycho to be this.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Slightly implied in the original; lamentably explicit in the remake.
  • Daylight Horror: Though they all 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. One of the scariest moments is Lila walking up to the Bates Motel.
  • 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 about forty-eight minutes into the movie, and the film becomes something very different.
  • Deathly Dies Irae: A repeating, backwards variation on dies irae plays as Marion is looking around her room in the Bates Motel, exploring the place where she will meet her end.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Marion is certainly the all-time most famous example, if not the Trope Maker. 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. Another rumor is that color would have made the murder scene too gory, which would have pulled viewers out of the narrative. Probably the bigger contributor is that Hitchcock 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."
  • Developing Doomed Characters: Audiences were led to believe that the film was all about Marion Crane...until she had that unfortunate incident in the shower.
  • Did I Mention It's Christmas?: The film begins on "Friday, December the Eleventh" according to an onscreen graphic during the opening shot, and Christmas decorations can be seen in downtown Phoenix as Marion leaves town. However, no further allusion to the holiday is made although the film's narrative extends later into the month. (To be fair, this was not intentional. The film crew noticed after filming that decorations were up, and decided to superimpose a December date to make it work.)
  • 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. He also reveals more than he intends in his conversation with Arbogast.
  • Dirty Old Man: Cassidy, well into his 60s, casually tries to flirt with 22-year-old Marion. The fact that a man his age has a teenage daughter also implies he likes them young.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: Think Arbogast will be the one to crack the case and expose Norman and his mother? Wrong.
  • Disposing of a Body: Norman uses the in-a-trunk-in-a-car-in-a-lake variant.
  • 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. Unlike Les Diaboliques, however, it was more of a William Castle stunt by Hitchcock than the usual version of the trope.
  • Drop Dead Gorgeous: Marion is slashed to death while taking a shower. Camera angles and fast cutting give the impression of a naked body, though no actual nudity is shown.

  • Entertainingly Wrong: After talking with Lila and Sam, the Fairvale sheriff comes to an entirely reasonable conclusion based on what he knows, to wit, that Arbogast got a lead on the money and told the pair a bullshit story to throw them off the scent. He just happens to be wrong because he has no way to know just how insane Norman realy is.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: The opening shot was meant to be one, with the camera panning through the city until it entered the hotel room Marion was having her affair in. It proved impossible to do with the technology of the time, so Hitchcock used a series of cuts to achieve a similar effect. Hitchcock later succeeded in opening Frenzy with a similar shot.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Although Bates probably wouldn't be so bad if he could get out of the psychological hold she's inflicted onto him since he was a young child.
  • Evil Costume Switch: Downplayed. Marion changes from white lingerie and a light-colored dress to black lingerie and a darker dress after deciding to embezzle the money.
  • Evil Matriarch: Norma Bates is cruel, abusive, and murderous.
  • Extremely Protective Child: Norman Bates is arguably one of the most disturbing villainous examples ever to his mother, My Beloved Smother Norma, to whom he's The Caretaker. One interpretation of his murder of Marian is that he does it because she criticizes and mildly insults his dead, abusive mother. Although he didn't know that.
  • 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.
  • The Faceless: Mother Bates, until the climax of the film.
  • Face-Revealing Turn: A particularly ghastly version of this trope forms The Reveal when Lila finds Mother in the basement.
  • Fake-Out Opening: At the behest of Alfred Hitchcock himself, audiences were not allowed to enter theatres after the film began, as to not spoil the twists. One of which being the fact that the character we spend the entire first part of the film with is replaced with an entirely new one, despite the fact Janet Leigh was promoted as the star on all the advertising.
  • Fan Disservice: The shower scene. Marion's nudity and vulnerability make the scene all the more terrifying.
  • Female Misogynist: Mrs. Bates raised Norman to hate and fear women who weren't her.
  • 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 closely to its plot. There are only a couple of differences: in the novel the conversation between Marion ("Mary" in the book) and Norman actually takes place in the house, and in the novel it's the sheriff, rather than Sam, 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. The novel also has long sections of Norman's Inner Monologue as well as more conversations between him and Mother.
  • 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 isn't quite 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.
    • One of Marion's lines ("They also pay who meet in hotel rooms") in the opening scene foreshadows the eventual setting of the film.
    • 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 has some fairly feminine affectations, the most prominent being the way his hips swing when he goes upstairs to fetch mother.
    • The Dead Star Walking trope is foreshadowed in the credits itself where Janet Leigh gets an And Starring credit.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • When Norman turns Marion's body over and drags her across the bathroom floor, her left hand and arm are covered with blood, while her right appear mostly clean of blood.note 
    • While Perkins drags "Marion's" body out from the bathtub, the strap of a panty can be glimpsed on the hip of the body double (Marli Renfro).
    • When Norman's sitting in jail and it fades to the car being pulled from the swamp, there's a brief flash of his face becoming his mother's skull.
  • Freudian Excuse: And how! There's a whole speech at the end explaining the Hollywood Psych behind the plot.
  • Freudian Slip: Norman stumbles on the word "falsity" because it sounds like "phallic."
    Norman: You know, I heard the phrase 'eats like a bird' is actually a fa— fal— f— uh, falsity.
  • Funny Background Event: When Marion tells her boss she plans to spend the weekend in "bed," Cassidy's reaction is one of lewd amusement. Given the kind of fellow he is, he clearly didn't think she meant rest.
  • 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 psychodrama.
  • Giggling Villain: Norman can rarely get through a sentence without a cute little nervous giggle. The tic seems to disappear as soon as he goes into full-blown psycho mode, though. He smiles after managing to shoo Arbogast away.
  • Gollum Made Me Do It: Norman's a nice guy, it was Mother!
  • Gory Discretion Shot:
    • During the shower scene, only two times is the knife ever seen touching the victim (and in both cases, never penetrates flesh), and otherwise, at no point does the knife, killer, or victim ever appear in the same frame. All violence is implied by the moving knife, the victim's screams, and the final shot of blood circling down the drain.
    • Aside from when she slashes his face, we don't see Mother kill Arbogast either, just her hand with the knife coming down and his scream.
  • Guilt Complex: Marion is wracked with guilt over stealing the money almost immediately and her conversation with Norman in the parlor seems to convince her to drive back to Phoenix to return it.
  • Gut Punch: The shower sequence is possibly the single most famous example ever.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: Hitchcock did this intentionally to upset the audience. The first part of the film focuses more on Marion's fleeing and her interaction with Norman. The shower murder that triggers the latter part of the plot comes at the 49-minute mark (with exactly an hour left to go in the film). It's 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.
  • 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.
    • Milton Arbogast, a private detective hired to track down Marion and the money she stole.
  • Hey, Wait!: Marion starts to drive away from California Charlie's without her suitcase from her old car.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Marion hides the stolen money by taking it out of the envelope she carried it up to the Bates Motel in, wrapping it in a newspaper she bought earlier and just putting it down on top of the cabinet.
  • Hollywood Darkness: The film has some day-for-night shots, particularly the sequence where Norman is getting rid of Marion's body and her car (the shadows are very sharp).
  • I Didn't Mean to Turn You On: Played for Drama. Whenever Norman feels attracted to a woman staying at his motel, his mother eventually discovers it and decides to Murder the Hypotenuse, even if said woman never intended to gain her son's interest.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: Norman has a habit of doing this, which makes him a strangely Bad Liar for someone who has a lot to hide.
    Norman: [regarding his mother's abuse] I don't mind it anymore.
    Marion: Oh, but you should. You should mind it.
    Norman: I do, but I say I don't.
  • 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.
  • In Medias Res: The second chapter of the book features Mary arriving at the motel, with her backstory explained in a few pages.
  • Innocently Insensitive: It seems like Norman is going to run into this, especially once he starts asking Marion about "what [she's] running away from," but she seems strangely tolerant of it. A moment later, when she asks why Norman doesn't send his delusional old mother to an institution, he does not extend her the same courtesy.
    Marion: I am sorry. I only felt... it seems she's hurting you. I meant well.
    Norman: People always "mean well"! They cluck their thick tongues, and shake their heads, and suggest oh, so very delicately.
  • Inn of No Return: The Bates Motel is arguably the definitive example.
  • Insane = Violent: Norman seems harmlessly socially awkward at first, but he is gradually revealed to be a dissociating murderer.
  • Intimate Open Shirt: Sam begins the scene shirtless and by the end is like this, as he wants to continue their raunchy hotel antics whereas Marion wants to go back to work.
  • Irony:
    • Marion survives sleeping in her car, a situation ripe for robbery/rape/murder. The cop chastises her for this, telling her she would have been safer in a motel. She stays in one the next night and is stabbed to death.
    • "Mother" claims she would't hurt a fly—but had no problem with killing Marion and the others.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Arbogast is gruff and rough-around-the-edges, but he shows nothing but sympathy to Lila and informs her and Loomis about his progress in tracking Marion with no ulterior motive.
  • 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: Mother'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.
    • Norman also gives one while standing at the swamp's edge after sinking Arbogast's car as he hears Sam calling for him, indicating that he's becoming thoroughly fed up with covering for his "mother".
  • 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.
  • Large Ham: Mr. Cassidy and the psychiatrist, in-universe as well as out.
  • Last Grasp at Life: Different variant of this trope; the last movement of life the dying Marion is able to do with her final fading strength is reaching out her hand and grasping the shower curtain, before she slumps dead.
  • Laughing Mad: Norman occasionally laughs at inappropriate points during his dinner with Marion. He also lurches from laughter to complete seriousness a couple of times, which is equally scary. Downplayed in that it's a nervous chuckle rather than a full-lunged hysterical laugh.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: While filling the registration book at the motel, Marion puts down her residence as Los Angeles, after looking at a copy of the Los Angeles Times.
  • Lingerie Scene: Marion is seen in her bra and half-slip. In a later scene, after she has decided to run away with her employer's money, she is shown in lingerie again when getting dressed. There is some colour symbolism as well: in the first scene her bra and slip are white, and in the second they are black.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: In the novel, Norman mentions having a "terrible feeling" when dining with Mary (as she's called in the book). He comes up with the correct word a few sentences later, taunting himself about it. Is it any wonder that the knife is a phallic substitute and the murder symbolizes a rape that he can't carry out?
    "Im something. Importance? No, he didn't feel important when he was with a woman. Impossible? No, that wasn't right either."
  • Loners Are Freaks: Norman Bates certainly qualifies, although of course he has 'Mother' to keep him company.
  • 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.
  • Male Gaze: The film's first half could be summed up as being about Marion's body; emphasizing her in lingerie (heavily used in posters and promotionals), inviting viewers to join Norman at peeping at her undressing, and gazing at her body from the moment Marion removes her robe and during the shower scene and as Norman removes her from the bathroom and dumps Marion into the car trunk. Even though, for the most part, viewers are denied seeing nudity or the knife violence done on her.
  • Malignant Plot Tumor: Many people forget that the first half hour is a heist plot involving Marion Crane embezzling money from her boss and making her escape. The entire plotline is completely abandoned once she's murdered partway through the film. The emphasis then transfers over to Norman Bates and how he's eventually captured.
  • 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, not letting him have friends or leave her side, making Norman form a codependent attachment. When she found a new paramour, Norman murdered his mother out of desperation and jealousy/rage, 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.
  • Momma's Boy: Norman Bates must be the creepiest and most dominated example of this in film history. Even though he killed his mother, she still dominates him from beyond the grave.
  • Motive Misidentification: When Lila and Sam become convinced that both Marion and Arbogast were both killed at the Bates Hotel, they're sure that Norman Bates robbed Marion and then covered it up. In reality, of course, Norman is just crazy and never even knew about the money that Marion had.
  • Mr. Exposition: Dr. Richmond, a One-Scene Wonder whose only purpose in the film is to give a lengthy explanation of Norman's mental illness to both the other characters and the audience.
  • 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 acts as his mother. Even more creepily, we actually hear Norman talk in her voice inside his head 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.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted; this was the first American movie of The Hays Code era to show a toilet, thereby implying people have to use it. This was Serious Business at the time, no pun intended.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: There is extremely little explicit horror content in the film. It was made by The Master of Suspense himself, after all.
  • Nothing Is the Same Anymore: Marion's death completely changes the plot from a thief on the run to a serial killer at a motel.
  • 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!:
    • When Marion's boss passes on the crosswalk in front of her as she's stopped at a red light while leaving town, then turns and nods at her before doing a Double Take. (She's supposed to have gone home with a pounding headache after leaving work early.)
    • Marion again, when she's at the car dealership and suddenly sees the same highway patrolman she'd encountered that morning parked across the street, standing outside his cruiser and watching her.
    • Arbogast clearly gets a moment of this when "Mother" pops out to stab him at the top of the stairs.
  • Old Maid: In both the book and the movie, Marion is motivated to set the film's action in motion—that is, steal $40,000, and run off with it in order to pay off her boyfriend's debts so he can marry her—in part because she is over 35 (27 in the book), and desperate to get married.
  • One Bad Mother: Mother — if not the Trope Maker, then definitely a popularizer.
  • One-Word Title
  • 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.
  • The 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.
  • P.O.V. Cam: Briefly but effectively used at several points throughout the film.
  • Private Detective: Arbogast, who has been sent to find Marion because the people back in Phoenix don't want to call the cops.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: Inverted. In the original novel Lila and Sam become romantically involved after Marion is killed and they try to solve her murder. Hitchcock made their relationship platonic in the film, because it would be gross otherwise.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Norman, to a small extent. We see Norman's childhood toys when Lila goes into his room.
  • 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. Aside from the infamous scene in the shower, listen closely to the soundtrack throughout the film. There's not a woodwind or a percussion note to be found; it's all strings.
  • 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 the $40,000 away alongside Marion's body in the lake (and 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 not killed for her money.
  • Reflexive Response: Marion nods at Cassidy when she sees him crossing the street, only to realize a split second later that he's just caught her in a lie (she's driving out of town rather than home sick as she claimed).
  • The Reveal: One of the most famous in history, as Lila turns to find Norman Bates in wig and dress, holding a knife.
  • Rule of Scary: Mrs. Bates' rocking chair acts like a swivel chair around the end of the movie, entirely for the benefit of a very creepy shot. Audiences were okay with this.

  • 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 when he is peeking at Marion in her room.
  • Sexist Used Car Salesman: Averted. Marion is desperate to sell her car and get another (in order to change her conspicuous license plate, given the theft she committed has already been reported), and has to practically beg the dealership man to get one, without even bothering to discuss the price.
  • Sexy Packaging: The original poster had Janet Leigh in a bra as the central image.
  • Sexy Walk: Sharp eyes will notice Norman's little hip swing as he goes upstairs in the second act.
  • The Sheriff: Al Chambers, who doesn't think much of Lila's wild tale.
  • Shirtless Scene: Sam Loomis, in the hotel room at the beginning.
  • Shout-Out:
    • While searching Norman's bedroom at the house, Lila comes across an old phonograph with a record of Beethoven's Eroica symphony on it.
    • In the novel, it's mentioned that Norman has studied occult writers such as Aleister Crowley and P.D. Ouspensky.
  • Shower of Angst: Marion takes one after deciding to return to Phoenix, but it is horribly subverted.
  • 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, but it's understandable because of the era the movie was released in. To our modern eyes, the scene comes off as overwritten, but in 1960 almost no one would have even heard of the kind of psychosis that Norman has, let alone been able to connect the dots without some kind of explanation.
  • Sinister Shades: Worn by the cop who wakes Marion up in her car.
  • Slasher Movie: Not a strict example 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 the third only comes close.
  • 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.
  • Speech Impediment: Norman has an occasional stammer. Initially, it adds to his early adorkableness, and seems to be due to nerves. It becomes more unsettling later, when it becomes apparent that Norman stammers over significant words.
  • Spiritual Predecessor: Plenty of films have tried using the same themes, but very few come close to matching the gravity and substance of Psycho. The movie Split, by M. Night Shyamalan is perhaps the closest one would find. The 2018 movie features a main character that follows a similar path.
  • 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.
  • Stay on the Path: Marion discovers that she has missed her exit while driving in the dark and the rain, and gotten off the main road onto the old road. This was in 1960, when the highway system was less extensive than today, and she made a very common mistake people made then, which would have made the audience nod in recognition. She stops at the Bates Motel to ask directions, and decides to stay the night before trying to find her way back in the dark. After being spooked by an essentially harmless, but seemingly menacing, policeman when she tried sleeping in her car the night before. She feels sorry for Norman, who is lonely, hasn't rented a room in a long time, and seems so harmless.
  • 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.
  • Stepford Smiler: Norman. Outwardly smiling and charming, but oh so unwell behind the mask. It's even more unnerving because Norman himself is so unstable that he acknowledges his Stepford mask slipping on and off:
    Marion: Sometimes, we deliberately step into those traps.
    Norman: I was born into mine. I don't mind it anymore.
    Marion: Oh, but you should. You should mind it.
    Norman: Oh, I do (laughs) but I say I don't.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: Arbogast's death scene was filmed to invoke this, as focusing the camera on the his feet would clue the audience in that something was about to happen.
  • Survivorship Bias: Zig-zagged. While Marion dies early in the film, after the story continues on, the narrative shifts its emotional investment to the surviving characters and Norman.
  • Sweet Tooth: Norman is constantly munching on candy. This was apparently Anthony Perkins' idea.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Norman is a very deeply disturbed man, and the movie is directed in such a way as to elicit sympathy from the audience after he kills Marion. In the end, he becomes a figure of pity and is states to not really be responsible for his own actions.
  • 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.
  • The Tetris Effect: The film gave people a pathological fear of showers.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: Norman Bates. In the book, he's written as middle-aged, homely at best, and a bit creepy (much like his inspiration, Ed Gein), but Hitchcock thought it would be more interesting to make him look wholesome.
  • Toplessness from the Back: Guess.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Norman is often seen munching on candy corn, a habit created by Anthony Perkins for the character.
  • Trailers Always Spoil:
    • Every home video release from 2008 onward unfortunately spoiled the killer's identity in the synoposis. Some home video trailers even have the nerve to show Norma Bates' stuffed corpse!
    • The original trailer featured Hitchcock himself taking the viewer on a tour of the set and giving away multiple plot points, while still being sufficiently vague.
  • 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.
  • The Unreveal: Lila opens a book in Norman's bedroom. We never see what's in it and her expression offers no clue—pornography (as it was in the remake), a children's book, a photo album?
  • Ur-Example: One of the Ur Examples of the Slasher Movie.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Certain aspects of Norman Bates (specifically the mommy issues and the crossdressing) are based on real life graverobber and murderer Ed Gein. Though accounts vary on whether Robert Bloch, the author of the original 1959 novel that the 1960 film was adapted from, intentionally based Bates on Gein, Gein's crimes were uncovered in 1957 in Plainfield, Wisconsin, only 35 miles from where Bloch was living and writing at the time, and the case was a national media sensation.
  • 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.
  • Villainous Incest: Hinted at, but it's not until the prequel that the subtext becomes a textbook case of Freudian Excuse.
  • Villainous Mother-Son Duo: Unbuilt Trope. It appears that Norman Bates and his (unseen) mother are running a Hell Hotel together, although Norman is horrified when he finds that his mother murdered Marion Crane and covers up her crime by disposing of Marion's body. In the climax it's revealed that "mother" is actually an evil Split Personality of Norman, created after killing his mother many years ago and suppressing the guilt by fooling his psyche to think she is still alive and not just a preserved skeleton. The real woman actually encouraged Norman to be more independent. However, later sequels retcon this, showing that although Norman and Norma were not actively in league together, she *did* play a large part in his Freudian Excuse.
  • Visual Innuendo: The entire shower scene. The distinctly phallic silhouette of the knife, the stabbing (or rather, penetration), the ejaculatory spurts of blood.
  • The Voice: Norman's "mother". Well, she does make an on-screen appearance at the very end. Sort of.
  • 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! When Lila ventures into the basement and finds Mrs.Bates, the chair slowly rotates to reveal Mrs.Bates is actually a rotting decaying preserved corpse, frightening Lila.
    • After discovering Mrs.Bates's corpse, Lila turns around and sees Norman dressed as Mother ready to kill her.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Fairvale, California is fictional, but going by the map on the wall in the Sheriff's office, it's in Shasta County at the north end of the Central Valley.
  • Wide Eyes and Shrunken Irises: Marion's eyes do this, though in a Artistic License – Biology moment. (In Real Life pupils dilate at death.)
  • 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?
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Sam when he confronts Norman and tells Norman that he thinks Mrs. Bates killed Marion and Norman stole the money so he can start a new life with the money. This is the type of motive that would make perfect sense if this was a Noir movie (like we are initially lead to think it is)however this is a horror movie and as we find out Norman killing Marion has nothing to do with the money.
  • You Bastard!: Subtly done. In a movie about a sexually-repressed voyeur, the opening scene is a semi-dressed couple just after having sex. The camera moves into and through the window so we can watch. We are voyeurs, just as the main character is.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Psycho 1998


The Shower Scene

Used famously in (duh) Psycho. Alfred Hitchcock supposedly wanted the murder scene to be totally silent, but film composer Bernard Herrmann had a better idea.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / PsychoStrings

Media sources:

Main / PsychoStrings