Hitchcock creates atmosphere Essay
Hitchcock creates atmosphere
“Psycho” is arguably the most controversial film in the history of cinema. Directed by Alfred Joseph Hitchcock and released in 1960, “Psycho” pushed and broke the boundaries of the horror genre, creating a whole new level of fear, atmosphere and tension. By the time he made “Psycho”, Hitchcock was already renowned as a superb director, and had earned the nickname of “The Master of Suspense”. “Psycho” was Hitchcock’s forty seventh film, and caused a lot of controversy among critics and censors alike. The name itself, “Psycho”, brought burning questions to people’s minds; who is the Psycho? Why are they Psycho?
What can they possibly do to be thought of as psychotic? Audiences flocked to view Hitchcock’s masterpiece to see what had caused such a stir, and were both shocked and amazed. The film itself only cost $800,000 to make, yet has earned more than $40,000,000 worldwide, mainly due to the fact that it caused such a commotion for breaking the limits of fear and tension in its time. Probably the most well known scene in “Psycho”, if not the entire horror genre, is the infamous “shower scene”, in which the film’s apparent heroine is brutally murdered by the proprietor of the Bates motel at which she is staying.
The scene itself is only forty five seconds long, yet took seven days and seventy different camera positions to shoot. To create tension and suspense in the scene, Hitchcock places his victim in a sense of unawareness, but in contrast, the audience are all too aware of what’s happening. The scene is already set for suspense with the use of pathetic fallacy, which is the use of the weather to set the scene. Outside it is dark and raining heavily. Hitchcock creates this atmosphere of dramatic irony by showing Marion, the victim, in a state of contentment, with her eyes closed.
She is also naked, which emphasises her vulnerability whilst she is in the shower. The use of the diegetic sound of the shower drowns out any sounds of the approaching intruder. When the shadow of the murderer appears at the shower curtain, the audience are on the edge of their seats. The murder weapon, a large kitchen knife, is plainly visible in the villain’s hand, which means that the audience don’t have any doubts over what will happen. This also gives the audience the perception of being helpless, which helps to create a deep tension within them.
Hitchcock uses many techniques in the scene which create an atmosphere that can change the audience’s disposition in a matter of seconds. Hitchcock’s original plan was to have no music in the scene, but he was approached by Bernard Hermann with a musical score that would strike fear and terror into the audience. Hermann used “shrill, stabbing thrusts of the strings”, which created a stabbing effect. Although strings were typically associated with romance, Hermann felt that they would match the black and white photography and therefore created a ‘black and white sound’.
The music anchors meaning onto the images, and the pitch becomes lower and slower to emphasise Marion’s demise. It also causes the audience to ‘jump’ considerably because it starts as suddenly as the killer appears. In the scene, the director uses over seventy camera shots which give a feeling of panic and confusion because they are in quick succession and from seventy different angles. Hitchcock makes good use of the high angle shot because it shows what is happening and makes the victim look smaller and consequently weaker and more exposed. He uses mid-close up shots which concentrate on the victim’s mouth to show the audience her fear.
There are shots of Marion’s hand on the plain white bathroom tiles, slowly slipping down them and representing the victim trying to cling on to her life which is slowly slipping away. Another example of this is when she makes one last swipe at the shower curtain, which then bursts from its fitting and falls to the floor bringing Marion with it. The murderer themselves is shown in shadow to add an aura of mystery and fear to their character. Hitchcock’s concluding scene of the film “Psycho” is, like the ‘shower scene’, very well known and lets the audience leave the viewing still feeling fearful and tense.
Just how the director wanted. The scene has a narrative resolution and starts with Marion’s sister and lover in the police station, having the night’s occurrences and the “Psycho”‘s story explained to them by a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist explains that Norman Bates, Marion’s murderer, killed his mother, but part of her lived on in his mind. Norman then killed young girls whom he found himself attracted to because he believed that’s what his mother would want, so he wore her clothes and a wig whilst committing his homicides.
Over time, the Norman part of his brain had been overcome by the ‘mother’ part until there was no Norman left, only ‘mother’. These were very taboo issues in the time of “Psycho”. Matricide, the murder of ones own mother, was unthinkable and transvestism was also a forbidden subject. These were a few of the reasons why “Psycho” was an R rated movie. The end of the scene is probably the most tense for the audience. Norman Bates is pictured sitting on a chair in a plain white room, all alone. His face is blank and emotionless.
Then a voice speaks, which belongs to Norman’s mother. The voice itself is that of a twisted old woman; sweet and innocent, but evil and sinister at the same time. There is also non diegetic music in the scene which is off-beat and ominous and puts the audience on edge. The camera pans in as the voice reveals itself and concentrates on Norman’s face. The ‘mother’ explains how it has taken over Norman’s mind, and tells the audience how, “I’m not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching. They’ll see. They’ll see, and they’ll know, and they’ll say…
“(as he slowly raises his eyes to meet the audience’s, smirking) “Why, she wouldn’t even harm a fly! ” The way the line is given is extremely disturbing, and proves that the ‘mother’ is responsible for the murders committed by the unaware but faithful Norman. In the final seconds of the scene, Norman bows his head, keeping eye contact with the audience, and gives them a spine-chilling smile. The shot then fades the skull of Norman’s mother into the face of Norman, which does not only create fear and tension; it signifies the final change from Norman into ‘mother’.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 5 July 2017
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