What are some film techniques used in the film Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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While Orson Welles's Citizen Kane initiated new techniques in cinematography, the 1960 release of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho set new precedents for film making, especially breaking new ground for horror films. While the use of black and white film placed upon Hitchcock many of the restraints he had had with his Alfred Hitchcock Hour, it was selected by Hitchcock because he felt that color would be too distracting. Also, the contrast of black and white is especially effective for films whose themes are dark themselves. 

Here are some of the film techniques employed in Psycho:

  • The variation of long shots and short "cuts" with the camera, some of which are without sound is effective in creating suspense. In one short sequence, Marion packs to leave with the money and there is no sound. In another scene which has long and short sequences, Marion's sister Lila and her husband take a room at the Bates Motel, hoping to learn what has happened to Detective Argogast. When Lila approaches the Bates's Gothic house on the hill (modeled after a painting by Edward Hopper), there is a long shot of it against the sky. This disarming pattern of long/short shots is repeated.
  • The use of what are called "subjective shots" is also very effective. For instance, as she nears the Bates house, there is a close up of Lila; then, Hitchcock has the house and porch come into view as Lila would see them, and there are "subjective close-ups" as her hand pushes the door as though the viewers were looking through her eyes. This perspective of the character narrows the view of the audience, inviting them into the mind of character for them to share the apprehension of Lila. Then, in the shower scene, there are 90 splices of split-second shots from different angles that are extremely unnerving for audiences.
  • The soundtrack is especially innovative and effective. Bernard Hermann's hair-raising music certainly sets the audience on edge, also, particularly in the famous shower scene. The intensity of this music parallels the vicious stabbings and becomes very nerve-wracking for audiences.
  • Black and white film contributes to the ominous tone of the film as shadows and small views of lighted objects create disturbing contrasts while also focusing the audience's attention where the director desires it to be.
  • Substitution is used in the shower sequence. Hitchcock hired Anne Dore to double for Tony Perkins as the mother so that audience's would not discern who the mother really was as Hitchcock worried that Perkins's slim silhouette would be detected.
  • Black comedy. Director Alfred Hitchcock intended for his film to be ‘tongue-in-cheek’ and a dark comedy. He was ‘horrified’ that audiences were truly disturbed by the film, BBC interviews with him have revealed.