For a film routinely rated as one of the scariest of all time, it’s strange how few actual scares there are in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. There’s the shower scene of course – a 45-second, 70-shot slasharama that freaked out a generation. There’s the scene where private investigator Arbogast (Martin Balsam) gets surprised on the staircase, not to mention the big reveal in the basement with its double whammy of extreme taxidermy and transvestism.
For the most part, though, Hitchcock’s classic isn’t about scares at all. It’s more about dread: a lurking, pervasive terror that steeps even its most innocuous moments in pure fear. It’s there in Janet Leigh’s eyes as she makes off with $40,000 of stolen bills, and in Anthony Perkins’ anxious nail biting as he waits for her car to sink into the swamp. It’s there in the F shadows, in the sunlight, in the shades of the traffic cop who becomes Marion’s implacable stalker. It’s even there in the scene where Arbogast makes a phone call – a simple bit of plot-advancing exposition turned by John L Russell’s chiaroscuro photography and Bernard Herrmann’s insistent, all-strings score into an interlude full of menace and malevolence.
Chances are you know Psycho as well as we do. So the big question is: why get it on Blu-ray? Well, the first thing you notice is the pin-sharp visuals that highlight a host of little details – the serial numbers on those pilfered dollars, the lampshade illustration in Marion’s motel room, the beads of sweat on Norman’s brow – you might have missed before.
There’s also the soundtrack, a 5.1 digital mix so painstakingly assembled by the whizz kids of French company Audionamix from the original mono elements, they even managed to isolate the sound of birds roosting in the rafters of the recording studio.
But the main draw is the wealth of extras that puts this 50th Anniversary Edition miles ahead of the two-disc special edition released on Region 2 in 2005. Mostly taken from the superior Region 1 DVD released in 2008, these include Laurent Bouzereau’s feature-length The Making Of Psycho doc, an audio commentary from film buff Stephen Rebello, a featurette examining Bernard Herrmann’s showerscene soundtrack and In The Master’s Shadow, which sees the likes of Martin Scorsese, John Carpenter and Guillermo del Toro waxing lyrical about the Master of Suspense.
Saul Bass storyboards, vintage newsreels and Hitch’s six-minute, self-hosted trailer up the added-value quotient further. Strictly speaking, however, the only really fresh item here is a 10-minute featurette on the remastered sound.