9. Psycho (1960)
The grand daddy of all horror films, no list of scary movies would be worth it’s weight in fake blood (or in this case Hershey’s syrup) without Alfred Hitchcock’s black and white masterpiece present. If Sinister gets praise for it’s use of horror movie cliches, it’s only because Psycho created them.
It’s hard to appreciate just how shocking Psycho was to audiences back in 1960. You simply didn’t see characters brutally stabbed and murdered on the big screen back then. And surely not the main character. Not in the first twenty minutes of the film. And definitely not a woman. A naked woman. In the shower. Hell, to put it even further into perspective, Psycho was also the first film to ever show a toilet flushing on screen. Those were the much simpler times upon which Hitchcock released his thriller.
If you haven’t seen it in awhile go back and watch the shower scene. It’s a masterpiece of film making.
The audience, a peeping tom themselves, watches Marion enter the shower and strip naked to bathe in the cool water. For a few seconds we watch as she enjoys herself under the stream of water. Your heart rate begins to increase from the naughtiness of it all. Until the dark silhouette of a figure appears behind the curtain. It approaches closer. Marion still showers, obvious. A pause. Until the curtain is torn open and the knife plunges down, over, and over, and over, again amidst Marion’s helpless screams. 70 takes and 45 seconds later Marion lies dead on the floor, her blood flows through the water until it circles the drain and disappears just as Marion’s life has.
Yes, the iconic shower scene gets a lot of credit, but the film is so strong across the board. One of the most overlooked, yet still iconic, features of the film is the entirely string musical score. It fits perfectly. The shrill shrieks that repeat over and over during the shower scene are acoustic knives that stab us repeatedly alongside Marion Crane. The frantic and hurried theme is a spot on match for the film’s mood that keeps you on your toes, alert, and always worried at what might come next. Hitchcock himself credits composer Bernard Herrman for Psycho’s success claiming, “33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music”, and promptly doubled his salary upon hearing it.
And I haven’t even touched upon the creepiness of a cross dressing hotel clerk who stuff birds, peeps on women and slashes them to death in order to deal with his mommy issues.
Often imitated but never duplicated, Psycho is a horror movie classic.