- May 9, 2003
50TH Anniversary Edition
Studio: Universal (Film Originally Released by Paramount)
Original Release Year: 1960
Length: 1 hr 49 mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
BD Resolution: 1080p
BD Video Codec: VC-1 (@ an average 30 mbps)
English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 4.0 mbps, up to 5 mbps in the shower scene)
English DTS 2.0 Mono
French DTS 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Film Rating: R (Violence, Suggestive Situations, Inappropriate Use of a Shower)
Release Date: October 19, 2010
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire and Janet Leigh
Based on the Novel by Robert Bloch
Written by: Joseph Stefano
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Film Rating: 4 ½/5
It’s a bit odd to be trying to write an evaluation of Psycho, given its status as one of the most famous and infamous horror films of all time. It’s pretty much impossible to discuss the film without spoiling key details about it, so let me first say that I highly recommend this Blu-ray for purchase, given some conditions I’ll get into after the next paragraph. (We need to discuss the title’s extensive history on laserdisc and DVD, as I believe this will be one of the major factors in deciding whether or not to buy the new disc.) I’ll also say that if you have never owned this film before, and have wanted to do so, this disc is pretty much the best bet in terms of presentation and special features. If you already own a DVD or laserdisc of this title, then we need to discuss the matter a bit further.
Now, if you have not seen the film before, I must warn you that in this paragraph, HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. Watching the film again has been a kind of revelation for me, particularly when coupled with the generous bonus features on the disc. If you watch the movie from the start, you may start wondering what’s going on when the frenetic titles and scraping music doesn’t line up with the story you see in the offing. At first glance, Psycho appears to be a “Girl Gone Wrong” or “Girl on the Run” movie, with Mariion Crane (Janet Leigh) impulsively stealing a large sum of cash and running out of town. For quite some time, we are literally put in her shoes, as she worries about the police catching her and drives on through a night storm. Then she stops for the night at a quiet motel nestled beneath your typical big dark house on the hill and shares a sandwich with the shy manager, who seems to be at the beck and call of his fairly unpleasant mother. At this point, just when Marion decides to turn the money and herself in, she is viciously murdered in a shocking sequence that still has a fair amount of power even today. Alfred Hitchock’s filming style goes from steady and careful to a frenzy of cuts and odd angles, and then returns to his regular, steady ways in a painfully long shot that makes very clear Marion is indeed dead and gone. And at this point, the viewer is left completely untethered – the only character to follow now is Norman the motel manager in his grim work of disposing of his mother’s victim. Things begin to spiral from there as Marion’s sister comes looking for her, and Hitchcock reveals one more twist that sends things into a completely unsettling place. The film’s final sustained shot, containing an almost subliminal double exposure, serves both as a final summation of the horror that has gone on, and as a reminder from Hitchcock that he is fully aware of the impact and effect of his choices in the film. Granted, this film has some creaky moments, and some places where it feels a bit dated. But the overall effect is shockingly frank for a 1960 film, and that “R” rating is actually quite appropriate. It is understandable why many people (including Janet Leigh) had serious issues with showers for years after seeing this film.
Now, this is absolutely not the first time Psycho has been released on DVD, but this is the first time it’s been available in high definition on disc. I’m going to try to be brief about the list here, but there are no less than 3 prior DVD incarnations, not to mention a major laserdisc, all of which have had considerable extra content included. Depending on which version you already own (if you already own it), you’ll need to decide whether you want to upgrade to high definition. Going back to the first significant edition, there is the 1998 Signature Laserdisc, which includes Laurent Bouzereau’s wonderful “The Making of Psycho” documentary along with some archives, newsreel footage and other odds and ends. One major feature on the laserdisc is a track that isolates Bernard Herrmann’s score – this feature has never been duplicated on any subsequent home video releases. The laserdisc also lists a “Censored Scene” in its contents, which I believe is a single shot of Janet Leigh removing her bra, and which I believe is really contained within the Bouzereau documentary. (Readers who own the laserdisc are invited to comment here to correct me.) The first DVD edition of the film, released as a “Collector’s Edition”, essentially ports over all the laserdisc content except for the isolated score and the censored scene, assuming that this scene was ever presented in any separate manner. The first DVD, it should be noted, does not have an anamorphic transfer. In 2005, a “Masterpiece Collection” of Hitchcock DVDs was released, including a disc of Psycho, this time sporting a new anamorphic transfer and carrying over the Bouzerau documentary. In 2008, a 2-disc “Legacy Series” edition of Psycho was released, this time carrying over all of the “Collector’s Edition”/laserdisc content save the isolated score track, including an anamorphic transfer and adding a commentary track, a new featurette, an excerpt from Truffaut’s 1962 interview with Hitchcock, and an episode from Alfred Hitchcock Presents, “Lamb to the Slaughter”. Up to now, the “Legacy Series” DVD was certainly the one to own, given that it pretty much had everything, again except for the isolated score track.
The new Psycho: 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray carries over all the content from the 2008 “Legacy Series” DVD except “Lamb to the Slaughter”, this time using a 1080p VC-1 transfer and a newly created DTS-HD MA 5.1 sound mix, for which ADX, a French company, apparently was able to use the original mono mix in its work. I should note that the original mono mix is also included, so you’re not being asked to rely on the new work. There is also a brief featurette in HD about this new mix and how it was created. So here’s where we get to the choice for the viewer: Should you upgrade to the Blu-ray or stick with a prior DVD? I would say that it’s a no-brainer if you only have the laserdisc or the DVDs from before 2008. If you have the “Legacy Series” DVD, this gets a little more complicated. If you have a large enough HDTV to be able to really see the 1080p transfer, then this will likely be worth your time. If not, I’d recommend at least renting the Blu so you can evaluate it for yourself. Either way, this Blu-ray is Highly Recommended.
VIDEO QUALITY 4/5
Psycho is presented in a 1080p AVC 1.85:1 transfer that does very well for much of the film in presenting a variety of textures and shades of gray. There are some hiccups here – particularly an early shot of Frank Albertson’s suit – the shot of him over Janet Leigh’s shoulder shows that even this 1080p transfer could not handle the pattern without having a digital anxiety attack. But the overall transfer is quite good – I certainly did not see the kinds of issues that caused major problems on Spartacus. I should note that I am watching the film on a 40” Sony XBR2 HDTV. If anyone is watching the film on a larger monitor and is having issues, please post them on this thread.
AUDIO QUALITY 4/5
Psycho is presented in ADX’s newly-minted DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English, along with standard DTS mono mixes in English and French that preserve the original sound mix. The new mix is quite subtle – there are places where atmosphere goes into the surrounds in a quiet but satisfying manner, and there is some panning at times. But this is still really an effective front channel mix, and the dialogue and music remain clear. When the infamous shower scene comes up, the mix really jumps to life, and the music fills the room.
SPECIAL FEATURES 4 ½ /5
The Blu-Ray presentation of Psycho preserves pretty much all of the extra features that have been available on prior DVD editions, with two exceptions. One exception is the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode “Lamb to the Slaughter”, which I seriously doubt anyone will fret about. The second exception is puzzling to me, though. The Signature Laserdisc did have that isolated score track, which I would think would be a no-brainer to include here. For whatever reason, it has not been included, and for that reason I have withheld a ½ point from what is otherwise a thrilling array of materials. The Blu-ray also includes the usual BD-Live functionality.
Feature Commentary with Stephen Rebello (FROM THE “LEGACY SERIES” DVD) – Stephen Rebello, author of “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho”, provides a scene-specific commentary where he expounds about the production and everything connected to it. This remains a solid commentary and a great example of a DVD functioning as a “Film School in a Box.”
The Making of Psycho – (1:34:12, 480p, Full Frame) (FROM THE SIGNATURE LASERDISC) This feature-length documentary by Laurent Bouzereau, continues to hold up as a really thorough and fascinating examination of the making of this film. We’re lucky that he made it when he did, as he was able to include extensive interviews with Janet Leigh and writer Joseph Stefano, as well as Hitchcock assistant Peggy Robertson, all of whom have passed away since then. The documentary covers everything from Hitchcock’s attempts to get the movie financed to Saul Bass’ infamous attempt to take credit for directing the shower scene. The stories about Hitchcock’s manner of dealing with the censors at the time are hysterical. (“That’s not a breast, that’s just your dirty mind!”)
Psycho Sound – (9:58, 1080p) (ONLY NEW FEATURETTE ON THE DISC) This featurette deals with the creation of the new 5.1 mix by ADX. According to their people, the mix was generated from the elements in the original mono mix, using computer software to separate out each part. Some examples are given of the placement of atmospheric sounds into the surround channels, as well as the use of panning to realistically show cars going across the screen. The mixers note that they did not want to create an aggressive 5.1 mix but rather a very subtle compliment to the picture, without distracting from the content of Hitchcock’s work. In my opinion, they succeeded at this.
In the Master’s Shadow: Hitchcock’s Legacy – (25:58, 480p) (FROM THE “LEGACY SERIES” DVD) This featurette really just compares shots from various Hitchcock films to similar setups in more recent movies, and includes interviews with current filmmakers about Hitchcock’s influence on them. Some more obvious ideas are included here, from the dolly-zoom lifted from Vertigo for Jaws,to various shots in Martin Scorcese films like Casino that have clear origins in Hitchock’s work. Scorcese actually goes on at length about how he edited a major boxing sequence in Raging Bull to line up with the shots and rhythms of the Psycho shower scene. The most sage voice in the bunch winds up being John Carpenter, who openly acknowledges the debts all directors owe to Hitchcock.
Hitchcock/Truffaut Interview Excerpts (15:20, 480p, Anamorphic) (FROM THE “LEGACY SERIES” DVD) – A section of Francois Truffaut’s 1962 interview with Hitchcock is included here, touching on this film. It is accompanied by an anamorphic series of clips from the film.
Newsreel Footage (Pressbook on Film) (7:45, 480p, Full Frame) – (FROM THE SIGNATURE LASERDISC) Here we have what was essentially EPK footage from the time of the film’s premiere, going into the ways that Hitchcock was making sure that audiences did not enter the theater after the film had begun. This section begins with its title card from the laserdisc.
The Shower Scene, With and Without Music (2:30, 480p, Full Frame) (FROM THE SIGNATURE LASERDISC) – The shower scene is presented twice on its own. The first time, we hear Bernard Herrmann’s scoring. The second time, we see it without music, in the way that Hitchcock originally thought he wanted the sequence to play. (Hitchock admitted at the time that Herrmann was right to score the scene and kept the music in.) This section begins with its title card from the laserdisc.
The Shower Scene: Storyboards by Saul Bass (4:10, 480p, Full Frame) (FROM THE SIGNATURE LASERDISC) – Saul Bass’ storyboards for the shower scene are included here in full, showing off his artistry, and the many options he provided Hitchcock in the creation of this scene. It should be noted that nobody has disputed the fact that Bass contributed in a great way to this sequence. The dispute only happened when the idea was put forth that he actually directed it. This section begins with its title card from the laserdisc.
The Psycho Archives: Publicity Stills (FROM THE SIGNATURE LASERDISC) – An extensive gallery of publicity stills are included here, and you’ll need to manually advance through the pile. This section begins with its title card from the laserdisc.
Posters & Psycho Ads (FROM THE SIGNATURE LASERDISC) – A second gallery is presented here, this time of poster art from multiple countries. Again, you’ll need to manually advance through the pile. This section begins with its title card from the laserdisc.
Lobby Cards (FROM THE SIGNATURE LASERDISC) – A third gallery is presented here, of the various Lobby Cards used for the film, and again, you’ll need to manually advance through them. This section begins with its title card from the laserdisc.
Behind the Scenes Potos (FROM THE SIGNATURE LASERDISC) – A fourth gallery is presented, of various on-set moments with Hitchcock and the cast. You’ll need to manually advance through it, and it begins with its title card from the laserdisc.
Production Photos (Publicity Shots )– (FROM THE SIGNATURE LASERDISC) – The final gallery shows staged photos of the scenes in the film. You’ll need to manually advance through it, and it begins with its title card from the laserdisc.
Theatrical Trailer (6:35, 480p, Full Frame) – (FROM THE SIGNATURE LASERDISC) Here we have the original, and lengthy, trailer to the movie, with Hitchcock himself bringing the viewer on a droll tour of the Bates Motel and house. Things conclude with a visit to the shower, where you’ll see a different face than you might expect, if you’re paying attention. This section begins with its title card from the laserdisc.
Re-Release Trailers (1:50 Total, 480p, Full Frame) – (FROM THE SIGNATURE LASERDISC) Two re-release trailers for the film, loudly proclaiming that this is the uncut version you couldn’t see on television, are included here. Essentially, they jump right to the shower once they’re done telling you how shocking this will be. This section begins with its title card from the laserdisc.
BD-Live - The more general BD-Live screen is accessible via the menu, which makes various online materials available, including tickers, trailers and special events.
My Scenes - The usual bookmarking feature is included here.
The film and special features are subtitled in English, French and Spanish. The usual pop-up menu is present, along with a complete chapter menu. Further, when you first put the Blu-ray in the player, you’ll get the usual Blu-ray trailers, etc.
IN THE END...
Psycho is a movie that still has the power to shock and unsettle a modern audience, which is no mean feat given that most people already have some idea what the film is about. For its 50th Anniversary, Universal has released a fine Blu-ray that is absolutely worth your time to see. If you’ve never seen it before, it’s a great way to get acquainted. If you’ve already got the 2008 “Legacy Series” DVD, you may want to rent it first. But I Highly Recommend you see it one way or the other.
October 16, 2010.