Psycho appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A flick of need of a clean-up, Psycho presented a mediocre transfer.
Overall, the picture looked decently sharp, though softness interfered with the image more frequently than I’d like. Some of that related to the moderate edge enhancement I noticed through the flick, but some of it simply appeared for no discernible reason. The movie never became terribly ill-defined, but it also lacked consistently solid delineation.
No issues with jagged edges occurred, and only a little shimmering appeared. The print used for the transfer displayed quite a few flaws. I saw marks, hairs, grain, and white spots. These problems seemed to dominate the first third of the film more than the rest; for reasons unknown, the image looked cleaner for the movie's final 70 minutes or so. I found black levels to be passable but not great, and shadow detail looked too gray to me at times. The film never quite looked bad, but it wasn’t ever anything impressive.
Psycho featured a perfectly adequate monaural sound mix. It seemed typical of efforts from the era. The audio was somewhat dull and lacked detail, but I found it to also be clear and easily comprehensible. Music lacked much punch, as dynamic range appeared limited. Speech was a little reedy but seemed intelligible and without edginess. I was pleased to note that no distortion occurred during the track. The soundtrack lacked spark and life, but it's acceptable based on the age of the movie.
When we head to the extras, the main attraction comes from an excellent 94-minute documentary simply called The Making of Psycho. This program is created mainly from a combination of modern interviews interspersed with production photos and clips from the movie itself. We hear from actor Janet Leigh, writer Joseph Stefano, assistant director Hilton Green, wardrobe person Rita Riggs, Hitchcock's daughter Pat and his assistant Peggy Robertson. Although he didn't work on Psycho, editor Paul Hirsch also appears; he relates some anecdotes about his experiences working with composer Herrmann and also tosses in an interesting story that relates to his experience on Star Wars. In addition, filmmaker Clive Barker tosses out a few thoughts.
Although this method has some limits due to the deaths of many of the film's creators - most notably Hitchcock and Anthony Perkins - it works very well and offers a nicely complete picture of the creation of the film. Despite the absence of so many main figures, I can't imagine that the piece would offer any more complete a picture of how the film was made. We start with issues connected to the adaptation of the original novel and then go through script development, casting, the shoot, post-production and the flick’s reception. All of these areas receive a lot of attention, and we learn a ton of great details. It's an absolutely terrific program that entertains as it informs.
Speaking of terrific, the Psycho DVD also includes Hitchcock's fabulous trailer. This is one of the most unusual trailers I've ever seen; actually, it probably is the most unique promo reel I've witnessed. The trailer clocks in at more than six and a half minutes in length and it shows literally no clips from movie itself. Instead, it's composed of Hitchcock's droll little walk through the set as he discusses all of the terrible events that "happened" there. It's tremendously amusing and entertaining and is unquestionably one of the greatest trailers ever made.
In addition to that little masterpiece, the DVD includes five re-release trailers. All of these are very similar; essentially they just promote the fact that the television version of Psycho is edited so you'd better see it in the theaters or else you'll miss some of it. These clips are interesting, but not in a league with the original trailer.
The DVD features what it refers to as newsreel footage of the film's release, but that's not really accurate. Instead, it appears to be a promotional piece assembled to send to prospective exhibitors. The film originally opened only in the biggest markets first and then spread out across the country from there. As noted in this program, Hitchcock insisted on a very unusual exhibition practice whereby no one would be admitted to the film after it had begun. This film shows how that method worked and demonstrates the way things went at a New York cinema for these possibly jittery theater owners. I liked this piece quite a lot, for although it's somewhat redundant - many of the same points are repeated over and over again, kind of like in one of my reviews - it's a fun little look back in time. It runs for about seven minutes and forty-five seconds and it's well worth a watch.
One other video segment shows the infamous shower scene both with and without music; in total, this piece lasts for about two and a half minutes. The clip runs the shower scene twice back to back, the first time with Bernard Hermann's noted score, and the second time without. While this demonstration clearly shows the impact his jarring strings have, I think the scene is actually more horrible without accompaniment. Of course, that may not have been the effect wanted; the shocking nature of the act comes out more clearly with the music, and it's more likely to set the audience on edge in a way different from that desired by Hitchcock. I just think that doesn't make the scene a failure without the music; in that incarnation, it seems more real and actually is more unsettling in many ways. (But I also like the music, so please don't flame me!)
Psycho contains a very extensive supplement of still photographs. In all we see about 200 pictures, but they're rather confusingly organized. The "lobby cards" and "posters and Psycho ads" chapters are exactly what they say they are; we see eight lobby cards and about 13 posters/ads in these areas. However, the 101 "production photos" shown in that section are actually promotional shots; some of these are taken on the sets, some aren't, but all are clearly staged for the photographer and intended to promote the film.
We also have 44 photos in the "Psycho Archive" and 48 pictures in the "Behind the Scenes" area. These are all actual production photos of the cast and crew working on the set, and they probably should have been all placed under one heading. Anyway, I most enjoyed the "production photos;" I found the staged promotional shots to be very interesting and entertaining. Real production photos don't do a lot for me, but the ones shown here are pretty good.
One final "visual" heading depicts the storyboards created by Saul Bass for the shower scene. I don't much care for storyboards, but I thought it was somewhat interesting to compare how the scene was conceived opposed to how it was executed. Universal should have run the film alongside the storyboards in a split-screen configuration, though, so we could more directly make that comparison.
That old DVD standby, the cast and crew biography section, also makes an appearance here. We see histories of six of the actors and Hitchcock. As is usually the case for Universal DVDs, these biographies are decent but unexceptional. If you enjoy these kinds of pieces, they're worth a look.
Finally, the DVD contains some pretty good production notes. These aren't a replacement for the terrific documentary, but they do supplement it well. The DVD's booklet replicates the notes found on the disc itself and it includes a significant amount of additional information as well, so don't bother with the "on-disc" text; just read it from the booklet and you'll be all set.
Recommendation time, and this one's easy: Psycho is a must-have in any film buff's DVD library. The movie itself still earns its status as a classic, largely due to Anthony Perkins' enduringly amazing performance as Norman Bates. The picture and sound quality of the DVD are mediocre, but we get a very nice set of extras. Psycho earns my recommendation.