Convention Confusion In Psycho

Psycho (1960)

Psycho contains a confusing hybrid of differing genre conventions and traditions, these are all exhibited within the scenes that lead towards the famous/infamous shower scene. At first you are shown conventions of melodrama. The trapped lovers, who by fate, are obstructed by society from legitimating their relationship. This creates the expectation in the audience that the narrative will unfold around how these two star-crossed lovers will be united in their love. The narrative however switches to the moralistic Thriller genre. This happens when Marion Crane (Janet Heigh) attempts to escape the law, and may be even the rules of film convention, which she has broken by stealing $40,000. This switch creates an anti-climax, this is because it leaves loose ends; the audience is left with questions unanswered. The romantic partnership between Marion and Sam Loomis (John Gavin) has been co-opted by the new moralistic Thriller narrative: emotional and romantic engagement is now an impossibility for Marion and Sam. The audience is brought towards the seemingly conclusive nature of her being caught as a police officer trails her. But once again the audience is left with an anti-climax in relation to the Thriller narrative as Marion enters the exaggerated Horror realm of the Bates’ motel. Hitchcock exaggerates every convention of Horror: the house is darker, the rain heavier and a city motel is left entirely empty of contemporary society as if located in Death Valley and not within the space of regular civilization. The climax, anti-climax – sped up with the use of exaggerated generic characterisations and conventions – imbues the audience and the film with a sense of doubt. A doubt which infects how the audience sees the narrative’s direction. As the Thriller elements transmogrify into Horror the audience again gets a sense of anti-climax. This raises questions about the nature of appearance and characterization in films. It questions the accepted dramatic conventions of cinema. Hitchcock’s Psycho is overtly inter-textual: this builds up a sense that the audience has seen elements before, a sense that “We should know what’s going to happen”. However because of the continued use of anti-climax we do not. Psycho’s narrative plays with the history and conventions of cinema and story telling; the combination and hybrid of genres creates a parody, or critique of the conventional form of Horror, Thriller and Melodrama. This affect is important when seen in relationship with the shower scene…

Published by

A.R. Duckworth

South Yorkshire England

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