(Sir) Alfred Hitchcock Ernest Callenbach - Essay

Ernest Callenbach

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Hitchcock is said to be very pleased with [Psycho], and well he might be. In it he has abandoned the commercial geniality of his recent work and turned to out-and-out horror and psychopathology. The film begins with a drab, matter-of-fact scene in a hotel bedroom…. It imperceptibly shifts to a level of macabre pathology, unbearable suspense, and particularly gory death. In it, indeed, Hitchcock's necrophiliac voyeurism comes to some kind of horrifying climax…. So well is the picture made, moreover, that it can lead audiences to do something they hardly ever do any more—cry out to the characters, in hopes of dissuading them from going to the doom that has been cleverly established as awaiting them. (p. 47)

To allow the personae involved to become human beings would destroy everything, in the usual Hitchcock film. Psycho is better: the people are acceptable, at any rate; there is no need to make excuses for them. Still, it is the film itself that grips one—in these times, a remarkable achievement, and a hint that "realism" in the cinema is perhaps not so important as people think. Psycho is full of jokes, twists, pieces of nastiness that one would think gratuitous in any other film-maker. Hitchcock forces one to realize that these things are the point….

Psycho is surely the sickest film ever made. It is also one of the most technically exciting films of recent years,… perhaps an omen…. (p. 48)

Ernest Callenbach, "Film Reviews: 'Psycho'," in Film Quarterly (copyright 1960 by The Regents of the University of California; reprinted by permission of the University of California Press), Vol. XIV, No. 1, Fall, 1960, pp. 47-9.