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Psycho (1960)


Thou shalt not take the term ‘genre-defining’ in vain. How many movies, after all, really define a genre? That is, besides Psycho?

Alfred Hitchcock’s first real horror movie not only set off a raging controversy and alarming threats of censorship, but it also ruined the morning shower for a generation of Americans. The shower scene, now one of the most famous and replayed moments in movie history, was just the knife’s edge of this masterpiece of fear-dredging, Freudian obsession, and sadistic humor.

Although Psycho has inspired and influenced several decades of movie killers murdering pretty young objects, not that many people actually die at the Bates Motel. But oh how artfully they bite the dust.

The primary target of Psycho‘s lust and slaughter is Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), an embezzler from Phoenix driving west to reunite with her paramour in California. A storm forces Marion into a late-night check-in into the remote Bates Motel, where manager Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) offers up ’12 cabins, 12 vacancies.’

Bates’ timidity and gentleness to Crane belies a noisy and abusive relationship with his mother, a toxic shut-in who taunts him from their creepy Victorian house uphill from the motel. Mom’s not happy that her boy’s been talking to a pretty lady, so she fixes to do something about it. Meanwhile, a detective seeks Crane and her stolen cash, and unfortunately for him, he’s looking in the right place.

Yes, the twisty ending may seem predictable to seen-it-all modern audiences, but Psycho still delivers a rope-a-dope of chills that has inspired two generations of horror filmmakers.