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Master of Suspense Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 12 July 2017

Master of Suspense

Alfred Hitchcock has been called ‘the Master of Suspense’, considering ‘Psycho’ state how effectively he achieves the element of suspense in this film. Alfred Hitchcock is known as the master of suspense. After the shocking triumph of his 1960 masterpiece ‘Psycho’, there was much demand for the classic ‘stalk and slash’ horror film. The real question is: What is Suspense? The dictionary definition of suspense is:- ‘1. The condition of being insecure or uncertain 2. (i) Mental uncertainty (ii) anxiety 3. Excitement felt at the approach of a climax’ – Collins English Dictionary

Suspense can be shown in many ways. Music can psychologically affect the way we think of this. The pitch and line frequency of music affects the way that our brain thinks about certain situations. For Example: If you were watching a horror film, such as, ‘Psycho’ you would be more afraid if the background music was a high pitch shrieking sound rather than if it was a calm pleasant tune. We associate different sounds with different moods. A piece of music played in a minor key is considered sad, compared to the same piece played in a major key which would then be considered happy.

Hitchcock selected high pitch, shrieking music, which is mostly played in minor keys. This promotes the audience to become terrified as the shrieking symbolizes screaming. By choosing such dramatic and emotional music Alfred Hitchcock has created a gripping and beguiling film. Hitchcock’s film ‘Psycho’ is about a young girl called Marion who steals $40,000 in hope to pay off her boyfriends debts. She stays the night in ‘The Bates Motel’ and is brutally murdered by an anonymous killer. The story line quickly changes from a thriller about Marion stealing the money to a ‘stalk and slash’ horror film.

Marion’s disappearance is investigated by private detective Arbogast who is murdered later on in the film by what looks like an old woman. Marion’s sister then sneaks into the house to investigate. She snoops round the rooms until she comes across the fruit cellar where she finds Norman Bates’s mother’s corpse which had been down there for at least a decade. Norman Bates turns out to have a spilt personality of which he plays both himself and his mother. He is then locked in a mental institution. The shower scene is probably the key scene in Hitchcock’s movie.

This is the point were the movie starts to divide itself into two separate story lines. Hitchcock’s moral beliefs are reflected in his films. At the beginning of the film, Marion is seen in white underwear, which symbolizes purity and innocence. During the shower scene this is changed to black underwear, which means to the audience that she has committed a crime and will be punished. ‘In truth, Janet Leigh should not have been wearing a brassiere. I can see nothing immoral about that scene and I get no special kick out of it. But the scene would have been more interesting if the girl’s bare breasts had been rubbing against the man’s chest.

‘ – Alfred Hitchcock 1962 This quotation shows that there are huge moral differences between today and back in 1962 and it tells us that censorship at the time was very strict and were not able to have blur effects to conceal any unwanted images. Alfred Hitchcock used 70 different camera set-ups for 45 seconds of footage. These sharp and short images create an effect to which the audience doesn’t know what they’re going to see next. This effect creates an enormous amount of suspense for the audience. The shrieking music yet again adds to the feeling of suspense that is created during the scene.

Throughout the scene the killers face remains carefully concealed thus increasing fear and suspense as the true nature of the scene is left in the audience’s imagination. During the footage each cut of the knife seems to coincide with cut in the film. The effect of this on the audience is intriguing. It draws the audience into the film thus creating a visual effect on the viewers mind. Hitchcock’s intention for the shower scene was to suggest and not to show. During the stabbing incident you never actually see the victim (Marion) being stabbed.

You assume that she is being stabbed due to the movement of the knife and the blood dripping in the bath and the stabbing sound, which is actually a knife being stabbed into a melon. ‘… and not an actual bare breast or plunging knife is to be found in the final cut, just illusion through montage. ‘ – The Hitchcock Collection Hitchcock used thousands of different camera shots. In Arbogast’s murder he used a High Angle shot when the killer approached Arbogast and murdered him; this stopped the audience seeing the killers face, making the scene more exciting and intriguing.

When Arbogast is walking up the hill towards the house, the background music continuously goes up an octave each one or two steps he takes up the hill. This effect simulates walking. You could listen to the film and not watch it and still know that there was a ascending camera shot.. Hitchcock had to make the house and the surroundings look disturbing in order to convince the audience that the film and the overall setting is disturbing. The weather coincides with the setting and the mood of the act.

Each time when something grim or bad was about to happen, it would either rain or a storm could be heard in the background. This builds tension into the audience The architectural contrast between the vertical house and the horizontal motel makes a pleasing sight to the eye. It adds to the eeriness of the house and shows how disturbing the house is compared to a basic structure such as the motel. ‘I chose that house and motel because I realized that if I had taken an ordinary low bungalow the effect wouldn’t have been the same. I felt that type of architecture would help the atmosphere of the yarn. ‘

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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 12 July 2017

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