On August 25, 1960, only 12 days after the director’s 61st birthday, Alfred Hitchcock released his last black and white film. Psycho is not only his scariest film to date, but it was also his most controversial. The movie shocked audiences for a number of reasons, the first of which was the infamous shower sequence. After seeing the movie and recognizing how vulnerable people are in the shower, Janet Leigh reportedly took baths for the remainder of her life. The power of Psycho doesn’t come from the music (although it may contribute). The primary reason that we are still frightened by it today is because Hitchcock shows the characters being attacked in the moment when they are most defenseless.
Alfred Hitchcock first had the idea to make Psycho after seeing the success of William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill. He wanted to make his own low-budget thriller. It just so happened that it ended up being so good that it is arguably his best film. The movie did not have the star power of his previous projects, North by Northwest and Vertigo. Hitchcock instead used actors and actresses that required a smaller paycheck. Each of the players ended up moving on to other notable films such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Manchurian Candidate, and Bullitt.
The final shot of Psycho stands out in my mind as one of the most haunting that I have ever seen. I won’t spoil the ending for those who have yet to see it, but I promise that it is one worth checking into. In fact, the whole movie is a rewarding experience. This is one of my three favorite Hitchcock films (the others being Vertigo and Rear Window), and without a doubt, my favorite horror film. It is a masterpiece, low-budget or not, and it contains the most shocking thrills that the Master of Suspense ever gave us. And if you don’t believe me, watch the trailer below:
During his sixty-three years on earth, William Castle made movies that had no other purpose than to entertain. The best of his mostly-forgotten works were a series of horror pictures released during the late ’50s and early ’60s. While they admittedly were not very well-made, their appeal to the audiences of that time made them hits at the box office. (One of these cheaply-made successes, House on Haunted Hill, even inspired Alfred Hitchcock to make his own low-budget classic, Psycho.) Castle was not a great filmmaker, but instead, an excellent showman. The gimmicks that he created for a small number of his films gave the audience an experience in the movies that they had never had before or since. One such example is his campy horror flick, The Tingler.
During showings of this Vincent Price vehicle, certain viewers experienced short electrical shocks due to small vibrators planted on the bottom of their seats. Not only did this deepen the audience’s fear, but it also helped to sell tickets. Thanks to clever advertising, many moviegoers were intrigued to see the new Castle film because it featured the director’s newest gimmick called, Percepto. Today however, Percepto no longer exists, and those watching The Tingler at home will not have any reason to jump. The fright that this film inspired of its audiences in 1959 has not survived either, yet there are still reasons to see it.
Despite being completely in black-and-white, there is one one memorable scene in the last half of the picture that displays a small splash of bright red. This brief image of blood is surprisingly effective. Perhaps the most significant landmark that The Tingler reaches lies within the scene in which Price’s Dr. Warren experiments alone in his lab. Earlier in the film, Warren discovered a centipede-like creature called the “tingler” that lives clinging to the spinal cord of every human being. This horrid creature grows larger at the sign of fear in their host, making it medically possible to die of fright. At the beginning of his experiments, the doctor does what no other movie character in cinema history had done before. Warren used LSD for the purpose of experiencing fear and ultimately, the full impact of the tingler.
With a combination of Percepto and a desperate scene in which the tingler enters a movie theater full of unsuspecting watchers, Castle produced interactive entertainment. His gimmicks and his amusing references to his viewers treat us as one of the characters. Even though it has many visible flaws, it adds up to a film that B-movie fanatics should not miss.