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14. Psycho (1960), dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Still catching up with film reviews here... don't mind me. This was the last Cottage Classic, seen in the company of big_daz, ms_siobhan and planet_andy, and with an audience unusually full of youngish types who don't normally come along to these showings. Good news for the future viability of the Cottage Road Cinema.

I think this was only the second time I have seen the whole film, and the first was an awfully long time ago now (at least 15 years, possibly more), so I had forgotten a lot of the details. But of course you do not forget either the iconic shower scene or the twist ending, so I still had the pleasure of watching how the film was building up to each of those. I am also rather more aware now than I was last time of the techniques of a good director, so enjoyed noting the markers of Hitchcock's craft along the way - like the shots looking upwards into the shower head during the aforementioned iconic scene, so that as a viewer you feel immersed in what is going on as though you were there under the water yourself.

As usual the showing was preceded by various vintage adverts, and also trailers for a couple of contemporary horror films - including William Castle's 13 Ghosts, filmed in 'Illusion-O'. Probably because of this, I found myself wondering as I watched the main feature whether or not Psycho itself is a horror film. It has nothing supernatural in it, but then plenty of horror films don't. Indeed, serial killers and an unhealthy obsession with the dead are well-established staples of the horror genre, and Psycho certainly has both of those (embodied in a single character), not to mention a classic scary old house and abundant thunder-storms to boot. Hitchcock also does a great deal through the use of music, careful camera-work and dramatic irony to build up suspense and deliver scares - including the classic 'shock' scares of the horror genre, as for example when Norman Bates' mother's chair revolves around to reveal the true nature of its occupant. But then again, it could equally be called a crime thriller or a psychological drama.

It doesn't matter really, of course. Genre classifications are only convenient labels to help people identify films which they might enjoy, and like all categories they break down and prove over-simplistic when examined too closely. Besides which an individual film can easily straddle more than one genre without the characteristics of one disqualifying it from belonging to the other. Many horror films are also romances, comedies, period dramas, fantasy or sci-fi (e.g. Alien); hell some are musicals (e.g. Sweeney Todd (2007), which was of course also crap). Somehow the genre of horror seems to cause more controversy than most, with more people willing to dismiss films out of hand if they belong to it than they would for e.g. romances or crime thrillers, while also willing to insist that films which they consider 'good' cannot possibly be horror. But Psycho does seem to me like a pretty solid case for inclusion in the genre (though it certainly spans others as well) - and as such perhaps a good example to bring up when next faced with a horror-dismisser.

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Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
nmg
Nov. 4th, 2013 09:42 am (UTC)
Hitchcock also does a great deal through the use of music

Bernard Herrman, surely?
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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