Guest Editorial: The Legacy of Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho'


With the Halloween season fast approaching, it's a lot of people's favorite time of year for horror. In that spirit, Timeout London recently composed a thorough and wonderfully written list of the 100 best horror films of all time. In this piece we want to look into the legacy of the film that kicked off that list's top five: Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 masterpiece Psycho.

For those who may need a little bit of a refresher, Psycho told the story of a lone young woman who steals money from her employer so that she can run off and be with her boyfriend. The woman, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), eventually ends up stopping at the Bates Motel, where she meets the seemingly friendly owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), who lives in a nearby home caring for his troubled mother. Soon thereafter, however, Crane is murdered in her motel room, and an investigator hired by Crane's sister and lover is done away with as well. When the sister, Lila (Vera Miles), and the lover, Sam (John Gavin), make their way to the Bates Motel, it becomes clear that Norman is the culprit. He's preserved his dead mother in his basement, but an evil version of her psyche has taken over his mind, causing him to dress as a woman and commit his horrific crimes.

As is noted by Timeout, the film is credited with establishing a lot of new, and some might say modern, twists on cinema and the horror genre. At that point, the idea of a thieving adulterer as a protagonist was certainly unusual, and a murderer who could be viewed through at least a mildly sympathetic lens was even stranger.

But Psycho's impact on cinema and the horror and thriller genres is difficult to define. What's clearer to discuss is the film's own legacy.

The first thing that comes to mind is the string of sequels and other follow-ups that came in the wake of the 1960 original. Today we think of long franchises and distant reboots as new phenomena; it's remarkable to people, for instance, that Harrison Ford and others jumped back in for a Star Wars sequel, or that Tom Cruise will still be doing Mission Impossible films more than 20 years after the original debuted in 1996. But the same thing happened with Psycho. In 1983, 23 years after the original, director Richard Franklin premiered Psycho II, with actors like Perkins and Miles reprising their roles from the original. Psycho III followed in 1986, and Psycho IV: The Beginning in 1990 (with a telefilm spin-off titled Bates Motel falling in between). There was even a remake of Psycho in 1998, directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Vince Vaughn as Bates and Anne Heche as Marion Crane. The remake didn't get a lot of good press, though Film Blather's review cited it as improving upon the original, and it wasn't alone. Many critics simply weren't open to a new twist on Hitchcock's material, but others recognized a faithful, appreciative remake.

Aside from this rather impressive lineup of sequels and spin-off projects, Psycho has also left a somewhat lesser-known legacy in gaming. The only officially licensed content related to the original film can be found at Gala Bingo. Instead of being composed a bingo room, like some other games at this particular site, "Psycho" is instead a digital slot reel featuring the haunting backdrop of the Bates Motel and Norman Bates' home. With creepy imagery of characters and symbols from the film, it's actually a fairly effective tribute. However, for those looking for a more dynamic gaming experience based on Hitchcock's work, there's also "Gates Motel," a PC game that you can download on Steam that is directly based on the film despite the lack of officially licensed content. That game is more of a puzzle mystery solver, but it can creep you out about as much as the film does.

Finally, it's worth noting that the success of Hitchcock's original film has made the novel upon which it was based more noteworthy over the years. Robert Bloch wrote Psycho in 1959, but it's fair to say that Hitchcock's swift adaptation quickly became the better known project of the two. But those who fell in love with the film and the greater franchise have always had good reason to look back on Bloch's thriller and its own sequels as well.

All in all, it's pretty clear that Psycho has become one of the most iconic and influential horror films of all time. It's a great one to bring out again this Halloween season.

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