I saw Psycho for the first time recently, and I was actually pretty surprised with how little of the movie I was aware of. Basically, the only knowledge I had going into it was the shower scene and the fact that the Bates Motel was important. After watching it, it’s easy to see how Hitchcock got to be so famous.
The editing of this movie in particular struck me, because several shots managed to do a multitude of things at once. For example, the excessive cuts of close-ups in the shower scene did [some] things. First, it provided the audience with a sense of panic. If there was a single shot that showed the murdered stabbing the victim several times, it wouldn’t have held any suspense. Since the audience couldn’t quite see what was going on, but could very easily understand, it ramped up the tension. The cuts also make a point not to show the murderer, so even when you “know” who it is, not seeing the assailant makes it scarier. Lastly, the shots obviously have to be strategic, as Hitchcock didn’t really want to show a nude woman. So he took this handicap and made the scene all the more engaging for it.
At the end of this scene, there is a graphic match from the shower drain to Marion’s lifeless eye as the camera zooms into one, transitions, and then zooms out from the other. This shot does a lot of things, but I’d say it’s primary purpose is probably to give the audience a chance to breathe and take in what just happened, as well as provide a very clear transition to the pacing and “goal” of where the movie is going next. This was the moment that I became invested in the movie, because Marion had pretty much been the only important character thus far, and while I expected her to die, I didn’t think it would be until towards the end of the movie, and it got me far more interested in what might happen next. I’d hazard to guess that many first time viewers would feel the same way.
The last important edit I want to mention is the fade in of Norman’s mother’s skull at the end. It was pretty subtle, but I think all the implication that edit provided can speak for itself. I think it also serves as something of proof that the weird monologue after the climax was injected into the movie after the fact to give the audience more time to breathe and process. That fade in shot, I think, was all the explanation an audience would have needed.
I think the movie was great. The shots and cinematography of the entire movie did an amazing job at grabbing and maintaining suspense without wearing the audience out. It’s also not a modern horror movie in that you’re (probably) not going to lose any sleep after having watched it.