Psycho (Universal, 1960)
The legend at the bottom of the cover says it all: “An Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece.” Boasting one of the most legendary scenes ever filmed and decades of the kind of cineastic devotion that inspires both a shot-for-shot remake (Gus Van Sant’s 1998 homage) and kneejerk rage in response (Camille Paglia famously quipped that the only reason to watch the Razzie-winning ’98 edition was for the pleasure of seeing star Anne Heche assassinated), Psycho is required for any film lover’s library. Don’t own a copy yet? Good news — Universal is celebrating the film’s 50th anniversary by bringing it to Blu-ray.
Synopsis: Phoenix officeworker Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is fed up with the way life has treated her. She has to meet her lover Sam (John Gavin) in lunch breaks and they cannot get married because Sam has to give most of his money away in alimony. One Friday Marion is trusted to bank $40,000 by her employer. Seeing the opportunity to take the money and start a new life, Marion leaves town and heads towards Sam’s California store. Tired after the long drive and caught in a storm, she gets off the main highway and pulls into The Bates Motel. The motel is managed by a quiet young man called Norman (Anthony Perkins) who seems to be dominated by his mother.
Video: Psycho is only the second Hitchcock classic to make its way to Blu-ray — unfortunately for Universal, the first was North by Northwest, still my personal gold standard for spare-no-expense hi-def transfers. Make no mistake, Psycho looks great — this 1.85:1 VC-1 encoding boasts noticeably improved clarity and detail, right down to the pockmarks on the face of the highway patrolman who finds Leigh sleeping by the side of the road. There are visible flaws, however, such as Frank Albertson’s big scene as overbearing businessman Tom Cassidy — the pattern on his jacket looks like it’s about two seconds away from shorting out your screen. It’s an acceptable transfer, but not one that raises the bar for catalog reissues — basically the kind of thing you’d expect for a title that’s shipping in a clamshell and listing for $26.98.
Audio: The one truly new feature that Psycho‘s 50th Anniversary Edition comes with is its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, which adds some extra distance to the original, intentionally claustrophobic soundtrack. Yes, it’s messing with canon, and if you’re a purist, you may want to switch it off in disgust by the time Leigh gets caught in the rainstorm that leads her to the Bates Motel. As these things go, however, it really isn’t bad, and if you prefer a little added dynamic in your soundtracks, it’ll likely feel like an improvement.
Special Features: Little here is new — most of the bonuses have been ported over from earlier DVD releases — but there’s plenty of it. You get the feature-length The Making of Psycho, whose title should be self-explanatory; Psycho Sound, which details the steps involved in creating the new 5.1 mix; In the Master’s Shadow: Hitchcock’s Legacy, a featurette that does exactly what its title promises; audio clips of the famous Hitchcock/Truffaut interview; original Psycho newsreel footage focusing on the movie’s “no late admittance” policy; side-by-side comparisons of the shower scene, with and without music; shower scene storyboards; a selection of stills; audio commentary from Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho author Stephen Rebello; and more. Nothing to complain about here at all.
Bottom Line: If there’s a real beef to be had with the Psycho 50th Anniversary Edition, it’s that you can see Universal leaving plenty of room for an eventual Deluxe Ultimate Supremo Edition, and the collectors who won’t be able to keep themselves from buying this — after a pair of dreadfully crappy DVD editions, mind you — are probably going to find themselves soaked again five, ten, or 15 years from now. But hey, that’s the nature of the reissue market — and on the bright side, the 50th Anniversary Edition gives you a reasonably priced, extras-stuffed version of a classic film that looks and sounds great. Find it on sale (it’s currently going for less than $18 at Amazon) and start the countdown to the next go-round.
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