How Hitchcock's 'Psycho' Changed Cinema and Society

A look back on the suspenseful masterpiece

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50 years ago today, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho debuted in midtown Manhattan. At its first showing, the suspenseful thriller enthralled the audience, and since then not a lot's changed. In honor of its 50th anniversary, critics are exploring how Psycho changed cinema. Read their remarks after the jump:

  • It Shattered 1950s Conformity, writes Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly: "When the movie came out. It took place in an atmosphere of dark and stifling ’50s conformity, when an afternoon tryst had the musky, sinful air of secret depravity, and Marion Crane, stealing that $40,000, was like Doris Day taking a walk on the wild side. Norman Bates’ knife was the primal force that tore through the repressive ’50s blandness just as potently as Elvis had. Sure, Norman was a maniac serial killer dressed in his mother’s Victorian rags, but when he slashed that knife, he brought down a world of civilized propriety that needed to be brought down."
  • Psycho Spawned the Slasher Flick, writes Adam Rosenberg at MTV: "On June 16, 1960, 'Psycho' premiered in New York City. On that night, the world saw the birth of the slasher genre and one of the earliest examples of graphic violence in film... There are many works of 'classic cinema' which, while important, seem unimpressive by today's standards. Hitchcock stands apart; his work endures and his influence is still felt whenever a movie pushes you to the edge of your seat with tension."
  • Pioneered 'Quick Cutting,' writes Nate Jones at Time: "The shower scene in Psycho never actually shows most of things we think we see. (Except for two split-seconds, the knife never even touches flesh.) But through a series of quick edits -- over 90 cuts in a span of 45 seconds -- Hitchcock is able to suggest the illusion of graphic violence. Whenever an aging action star magically kicks butt in a series of quick shots, he should give thanks to Hitch."
  • The Musical Score Changed Everything, writes Kevin Zimmerman at Splice: "That score’s most famous piece, the stabbing, shrieking violins that accompany the murders, has of course been an influence all its own, not least on John Williams’ Jaws theme (which the Beastie Boys memorably pointed out by juxtaposing the two on 'Egg Man'). An intriguing feature on the Psycho DVD allows you to play the shower sequence without the music; with on ly the sounds of the blade entering the flesh, it makes for a much blunter and disturbing effect."
  • Rendered Previous Horror Films Obsolete, wrote Village Voice critic Andrew Sarris. The magazine republished his review from 1960: "Hitchcock is the most-daring avant-garde film-maker in America today. Besides making previous horror films look like variations of 'Pollyanna,' 'Psycho' is overlaid with a richly symbolic commentary on the modern world as a public swamp in which human feelings and passions are flushed down the drain. What once seemed like impurities in his patented cut-and-chase technique now give 'Psycho' and the rest of Hollywood Hitchcock a personal flavor and intellectual penetration which his British classics lack."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.