It took me until I was 28 to see Hitchcock’s Psycho. Because of that, it’s hard to write about, because I see it now having seen thousands of other movies, many of which were inspired by this one. It’s not a bad thing to catch up on canon films, to be sure, but its hard when a movie is as ubiquitous and over-discussed as Psycho is. Watching it was the most ‘cultural vegetables’ experience I think I’ve ever had, which lead to my impressions being skewed in ways they shouldn’t have.
I didn’t even know there was a plot about missing money. It’s the big surprise about Psycho as someone going into it, that the whole Norman Bates plot is a total misdirection that doesn’t even show up until well into a different movie about a woman who takes off with some money her boss told her to deposit into the bank. It’s the classic red herring, of course, but Hitchcock is a master of red herrings, and honestly watching Janet Leigh drive around in increasing states of paranoia was (because of the aforementioned lack of knowledge) more interesting than any of the slasher stuff or the mystery of Mrs. Bates. It seems ridiculous to say it, but that’s my gut reaction, because I was surprised by how surprised I was by the thing they probably sold the movie on when it first premiered. I’m sure the second half was all kept secret, but that’s the stuff that’s been talked to death.
And honestly, it’s hard to feel much about that sort of thing anyway. I once tried to do a project where I watched and wrote about every one of Hitchcock’s films and got about twenty movies in before I had to bail out. Hitchcock is a strange director, a master of maneuvering plot beats but totally inhuman when it comes to expressing actual genuine emotions or creating empathy. And I think that comes back to bite him in Psycho. The Norman Bates stuff is appropriately creepy, don’t get me wrong, but the whole thing then begins to destabilize when they try to explain it in both psychological terms or in Norman’s own feverish rationalizations. It’s just boring, a lot of dated psychology and really wooden character insights. The interior lives of his characters are never Hitchcock’s strong point, minus a few exceptions that prove the rule, and the movie suffers for it.
But what am I even talking about? It’s Psycho. It’s one of the most impactful movies ever made, influenced a ton of people, and is seen as a classic. Sadly, it’s one of those classics that’s hard to come to from the other end and really appreciate. There’s no tension and no mystery, only filling in the gaps of the bits you haven’t seen and haven’t been talked to death, between the stuff that became so iconic. Psycho, at this stage, to someone who hasn’t seen it, feels completely bled dry.