Yesterday was Halloween and marked the end of the period in which so many people watch horror films religiously. At the turn of the clock at midnight I could almost hear Christmas carols playing in the distance. However, since Halloween was only yesterday, why not take a quick look at a classic horror film scene? One last hurrah for the Halloween season! So let’s take a look at 1960’s “Psycho”. Potential spoilers lay ahead!
Hitchcock is one of the best film directors of all time. This is a point that most film lovers and filmmakers will agree upon. He’s made so many films which are held in such high esteem. He must have been doing something right. His film “Psycho” is one of his most famous. The simple string music that plays during the shower scene has been used since to signify something scary. When you hear it, you know.
In “Psycho”, he uses color values a lot. Just because a film is black and white doesn’t mean the director can’t fool around with color values. For example, in the beginning of the film when Marion is in her hotel room, she is wearing a black bra. Black represents something dark and sinister. She wears this color when she has the idea in her mind that she is going to steal a bunch of money. Later in the film, when she decides to reverse the wrong she has done, she is now wearing a white bra. White is the color of purity. Hitchcock even admitted to using the color of her bra for these reasons.
The scene in question, however, is the famous shower scene. The scene where Marion, after finishing up her plans to return the money, goes and takes a shower. As she is taking a shower she is murdered by an unknown assailant. Using mise-en-scene we can delve into what the director, Hitchcock, was trying to achieve in this scene visually. The first thing that stands out to me is the use of the color white. There is almost no contrast in this scene until the blood appears in the tub near the end. It’s almost washed out in white. The lighting is also high contrast, rather, very bright. Taking these two elements together, we can see that Marion is pure, at least in these fleeting moments. The washout of white, however, also serves to help contrast the dark blood which drops into the bathtub as she is stabbed to death.
The tiles of the bathroom create a crisscross pattern behind Marion’s head. This can signify that she is trapped in a cage. The lines represent that cage. This could represent that she has trapped herself by committing this crime, but it could also represent her demise. She has no place to go and is therefore trapped. The perfect place to be murdered by someone, at least from the murderer’s point of view.
Sound is another important aspect of this scene. Before and after the murder, there is no sound except that of the shower. Almost silent. When the killer arrives, and throughout the murder, the string motif plays, heightening the action happening on screen. The music makes us jump and realize what we are seeing.
This is only the beginning. We could pull apart this scene second by second if we wanted to. This is, however, a great starting point. This is how we can start to pull apart any scene in any movie.