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Psycho (50th Anniversary Edition) (1960) Print E-mail
Thursday, 21 October 2010
ImageIt is tough to take on a review of such an important film in cinema history.  Having not been around during the initial release of this film makes it difficult to really grasp all the underlying tones and emotions of this film.  In addition, I am not the biggest Hitchcock enthusiast of all time.  However, I will admit that “Rear Window” is a stroke of genius in my book.  But as for the rest of Hitchcock’s collection, I recognize there significance but they are not my cup of tea.

That being said, “Psycho” is perhaps the most notable Hitchcock creation in his career, with the exception of possibly “Vertigo.”  There are few films that have seeped into our culture and widely referenced, especially during this time of year.  Still, there is most certainly a generational break that truly keeps this film from being at the level that most have come to see it at.

Back in 1960, “Psycho” broke every taboo, between what it showed on screen and what it discussed in the film.  By today’s standard, the film would be considered dull and prolonged.  It certainly is not a horror film by any means today.  However, 50 years ago the topic and imagery were true horror, and not the B-Movie horror that was to come shortly thereafter.

“Psycho” got into the minds of the audience, lulling them in false sense of securities, killing the female lead and leaving the audience wondering what could come next.  Hitchcock takes his time getting to what we would call the meat of the plot.  The film opens with a long segment about a typical secretary that suddenly runs off with a stolen $40,000, making her way to her boyfriend in Fairville.  This plot continues for about an hour until the shocking shower scene.  Okay, let’s be honest, the shower scene, for those that never originally saw the film back in 1960, is not very shocking.  We see worse on TV shows nowadays.  But, remember in 1960 it was brutal.

Hitchcock is known as the master of suspense.  Once again, in 1960 this was a suspenseful film.  Today, not so much.  That isn’t to say that this isn’t a great movie or that Hitchcock didn’t know what he was doing, because the opposite couldn’t be more true.  Hitchcock knew exactly how to bring the audience into their comfort zone and then shock them.  His obsession with obsession is integrated into each and every one of his films.
“Psycho” can also lend some of it tension success to Bernard Herrmann’s score.  As an audio engineer myself, the strings in the score are the most haunting aspect of the film.  It certainly isn’t the visuals as we have been desensitized in the modern era of film and television.  There isn’t hardly anyone that hasn’t heard those dissonant strings in their head or acted out the knife stabbing and their own vocal version of the strings during Halloween.  They may not know where it comes from, but they know it by sound.

In my book, what makes “Psycho” a horror, if you want to give it that label, is the psychological impact that the film has on the audience.  What makes the film scary is the reality that goes into the film.  Norman Bates’ psychological profile is real and can exist in the world today.  Those horror slasher films are nothing but fake blood and usually a waste of time.  “Psycho” makes an effort to get into your mind.  And that is what Hitchcock is really about.

So, what do we expect in terms of video quality from “Psycho’s” appearance on Blu-ray?  We expect a tremendous upgrade from any past release of the film on DVD, and that is exactly what we get.  Is the transfer flawless?  Not by any means.  However, you will be so pleased with the clarity that the little artifacts won’t detract from your overall viewing experience.  Videophiles will notice many instances of artifacting throughout the film.  However, for the average viewer the most noticeable video issue is going to be shimmer and luminosity flutter.  It is easy for our eye to pick those issues up right away.  Still, to me they add to the experience of seeing a 1960 film.  Universal has thankfully not scrubbed the transfer clean of all grain.  It remains intact and stable throughout.  Minor speckles and scratches can be seen from time to time, but they are nowhere near as obtrusive as a worn out cinema reel.  Contrast lends itself to well above average black, white and gray patterns.  This is an excellent transfer and that it is a definite must for fans goes without saying.

“Psycho” comes to Blu-ray with a brand new 5.1 audio mix in DTS-HD MA.  I am not one for remixing classic films in 5.1 as there is simply nothing to work with and the films of the age never call for use of the surround sound.  Thankfully, “Psycho” remix has been keep minimalistic.  In fact, you probably will never even tell that it is in surround sound.  Tried as I might I couldn’t.  Anything that envelopes you almost seems just like a room characteristic and not from having speakers behind you.  Stereo separation in the front is even minimal.  Predominately everything is centered by slight separation that is just enough to take away that “everything clumped in the center” feeling.  Dialogue is clear and intelligible throughout.  I didn’t notice any evidence of magnetic print warble from audio reel storage.  Fans that are wishing the studio would just leave the original audio alone will be happy with this “5.1” mix.

The 50th Anniversary edition of the “Psycho” comes with a bunch of special features that have all been carried over the from the 2-disc SD DVD release of the film.  Some are missing however.

“The Making of ‘Psycho’” is an extensive one and one half hour documentary that covers everything about the film.  “’Psycho’ Sound” is my favorite of the bunch, which analyzes the mono to 5.1 creation process.  “In the Master’s Shadow: Hitchcock’s Legacy” provides an overview of how Hitchcock influenced filmmaking.  “Hitchcock/Truffaut Interview Excerpts” is exactly what the title implies.  “Newsreel Footage: The Release of ‘Psycho’” contains information on how the film was taking on the road.  “The Shower Scene” is a with and without the music score version of the sequence.  “The Shower Scene: Storyboards by Saul Bass” takes a look at the images that formulated the shots of the most recognized sequence in film history.  “The ‘Psycho’ Archives” is a photo gallery.  There other photo sections and lastly a feature length audio commentary by Stephen Rebello, a film expert on Hitchcock.

“Psycho” may have trouble grabbing young generations.  However, for those that were there when the film was release and a for a time after, will find that the Blu-ray retains all the suspense of Hitchcockian elements as 50 years ago.  This is a must for film fans.

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