The Critics' Corner: PSYCHO
Psycho premiered in New York on June 16, 1960. Although critical reception was decidedly mixed and often downright hostile, the movie was a box office sensation. Produced for only about $800,000, it earned more than ten times that on its initial release ($14 million by many accounts) and by 2004 had reportedly made at least $50 million worldwide. It was the highest grossing film for Paramount - which initially wanted nothing to do with it - and the second-highest box office champion for 1960 behind Ben-Hur.
The film was marketed with a highly successful campaign prohibiting anyone from entering the theater once the picture started and an audience plea not to reveal the ending to anyone who hadn't seen it.
Psycho received Academy Award nominations for Best Director, Supporting Actress (Janet Leigh), Art Direction-Set Decoration, and Cinematography.
It also received:
- Golden Globes Best Supporting Actress Award to Janet Leigh.
- Directors Guild of America nomination for Hitchcock.
- Writers Guild of America nomination for Best Written American Drama to Joseph Stefano.
- Winner of Edgar Allan Poe (mystery writers) Award for Best Motion Picture to Joseph Stefano and Robert Bloch.
In 1992, Psycho was chosen by the National Film Preservation Board to be preserved in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.
The Critics' Corner: PSYCHO
"More miserable than the most miserable peep show I have ever seen."
Jympson Harmon, Evening Standard (London), 1960
"Psycho is sicko."
Picturegoer (UK), 1960
"Producer-director Hitchcock is up to his clavicle in whimsicality and apparently had the time of his life in putting together Psycho. He's gotten in gore, in the form of a couple of graphically-depicted knife murders, a story that's far out in Freudian motivations, and now and then injects little amusing plot items that suggest the whole thing is not to be taken seriously. ... Perkins gives a remarkably effective in-a-dream kind of performance as the possessed young man."
"That's the way it is with Mr. Hitchcock's picture-slow buildups to sudden shocks that are old-fashioned melodramatics, however effective and sure, until a couple of people have been gruesomely punctured and the mystery of the haunted house has been revealed. Then it may be a matter of question whether Mr. Hitchcock's points of psychology, the sort highly favored by Krafft-Ebing, are as reliable as his melodramatic stunts. Frankly, we feel his explanations are a bit of leg-pulling by a man who has been known to resort to such tactics in his former films."
Bosley Crowther, New York Times, June 17, 1960
"[Hitchcock] has very shrewdly interwoven crime, sex and suspense, blended the real and the unreal in fascinating proportions and punctuated his film with several quick, grisly and unnerving surprises."
Paine Knickerbocker,San Francisco Chronicle, August 11, 1960
"Psycho continues to work as a frightening, insinuating thriller. That's largely because of Hitchcock's artistry in two areas that are not as obvious: The setup of the Marion Crane story, and the relationship between Marion and Norman. Both of these elements work because Hitchcock devotes his full attention and skill to treating them as if they will be developed for the entire picture."
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, December 6, 1998
"This film is really a meditation on the tyranny of past over present. It's an indictment of the viewer's capacity for voyeurism and his own potential for depravity. It's also a statement on the American dream turned nightmare, and there's a running concern for the truth that physical vision is always only partial and that our perceptions tend to play us false.... Psycho is also...a ruthless exposition of American Puritanism and exaggerated Mom-ism. ... In method and content, in the sheer economy of its style and its brave, uncompromising moralism, it's one of the great works of modern American art."
Donald Spoto, The Art of Alfred Hitchcock (Anchor, 1991)
"No introduction needed, surely, for Hitchcock's best film, a stunningly realised...slice of Grand Guignol...The cod-Freudian explanation offered at the conclusion is just so much nonsense, but the real text concerning schizophrenia lies in the tellingly complex visuals. A masterpiece by any standard."
- Geoff Andrew, TimeOut Film Guide
"Curious thriller devised by Hitchcock as a tease...despite effective moments of fright, it has a childish plot and script, and its interest is that of a tremendously successful confidence trick, made for very little money by a TV crew."
- Halliwell's Film & Video Guide
"Probably the most visual, most cinematic picture he has ever made."
- Peter Bogdanovich
"I think the film is a reflection of a most unpleasant mind, a mean, sly, sadistic little mind."
- Dwight MacDonald
"Certainly Psycho is Hitchcock's most visually involving film and his most successful in terms of audience participation."
- Georges Sadoul, Dictionary of Films
"No film conveys - to those not afraid to expose themselves fully to it - a greater sense of desolation, yet it does so from an exceptionally mature and secure emotional viewpoint. And an essential part of this viewpoint is the detached sardonic humor. It enables the film to contemplate the ultimate horrors without hysteria."
- Robin Wood
"..How is it possible to still watch Psycho long after its secrets have been spilled? The answer is that beneath the shocker is a profoundly despairing film, a work as redolent of contemporary desolation and isolation as Eliot's Preludes...Beginning in a desert and ending in a swamp, Psycho is a film in which the aridity of sex, work, family, and routine strands its two main characters in the quagmire of their private traps."
- Charles Taylor, The A List
"Psycho lures its audience into a vortex of horror from which only the final shot grants issue...This is not only Hitchcock's greatest film: it is the most intelligent and disturbing horror film ever made."
- Peter Cowie, Eighty Years of Cinema
by Rob Nixon