Psycho appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A mix of good and not-so-hot, this was an erratic transfer.
For the most part, sharpness looked solid. A few slightly soft images materialized, but not a lot. Instead, I thought the majority of the flick boasted nice clarity and delineation. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement remained insubstantial.
Source defects continued to be a concern. I saw marks, abnormally prominent grain, grit and white spots. They varied in intensity, and some scenes emerged without any concerns at all; portions of the flick looked quite clean. However, the dirty ones popped up more than a few times and made this image up and down in terms of flaws.
Black levels were pretty solid. At times they could seem a little inky, but usually they presented good depth and dimensionality along with nice contrast. Shadows were also fine except for the usual “day for night” scenes; those came across as too dark. Otherwise the low-light elements appeared clear. Overall, the image was too dirty for better than a “B-“.
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 substantial distortion occurred during the track. The soundtrack lacked spark and life, but it's acceptable based on the age of the movie.
How did the picture and audio of this 2008 Psycho Special Edition compare to those of the last DVD from 2005? I thought both discs offered identical audio, but the visuals showed slight improvements. And I do mean slight. It was clear that this was a new transfer, as some source flaws from the 2005 release failed to appear again. However, both images still looked a lot alike. I felt the 2008 presentation was just a bit sharper and gave us mildly superior blacks, but the differences remained modest.
This 2008 Psycho SE includes the supplements from the prior versions along with some new components. I’ll mark exclusive elements with an asterisk. If you fail to see a star, then the piece already appeared on the prior releases.
On DVD One, we open with an *audio commentary from film historian Stephen Rebello. He provides a running, screen-specific chat that looks at themes and storytelling, the script, visual elements, cinematography and the opening sequence, the score, editing, cast and crew, the nature of the production, and a few other aspects related to the flick.
Rebello appears to know his stuff, and he contributes a lot of good notes related to the film. Unfortunately, he goes silent a little more often than I’d like, so the track sags at times. Despite that concern, Rebello presents enough useful material to make this a worthwhile listen.
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 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 two and a half minutes. The clip runs that sequence twice back to back, the first time with Bernard Hermann's noted score, and the second time without the music. 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!)
We remain in the water with 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.
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 Archives” 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.
The DVD contains some pretty good production notes. These aren't a replacement for the terrific documentary on Disc Two, but they do supplement it well.
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 shows 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.
Over on DVD Two, the main attraction comes from an excellent 94-minute and eight-second 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.
*In the Master’s Shadow: Hitchcock’s Legacy runs 25 minutes, 57 seconds and includes comments from Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto, The Films of Alfred Hitchcock author David Sterritt, Hitchcock’s Music author Jack Sullivan, and filmmakers William Friedkin, Guillermo Del Toro, John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese, Mark Goldblatt, Eli Roth, John Murphy, Gary Rydstrom, Bill Pankow, Craig McKay, Joe Carnahan, Nathan Barr, and Ruth Myers. “Shadow” examines the various filmmakers’ personal experiences with Hitchcock movies as well as an appreciation for Hitchcock’s work and notes about his influence.
This kind of show inevitably becomes something of a lovefest. Of course, one can easily argue Hitchcock was the greatest director ever, so if he doesn’t deserved praise, who does? Though that side of things can get a little thick at times, the filmmakers nonetheless offer some good insight into Hitchcock’s importance and influence. I especially like the comparison shots that show how Hitchcock directly inspired some shots in Scorsese’s Cape Fear.
For a chat between legendary directors, we go to the 15-minute and 21-second *Hitchcock/Truffaut. This provides an audio excerpt of Francois Truffaut’s extensive 1962 interviews with Hitchcock. They discuss the source novel and what attracted Hitchcock to it, some aspects of cinematic storytelling, and a few aspects of the flick. While it’s cool to hear from Hitchcock, I can’t say the chat provides any great insights. It also offers relatively little information for its length; the time for translation – exacerbated by the fact Hitchcock speaks slowly to facilitate that – means that we probably only get about eight minutes of actual discussion. The piece is worth a listen, but don’t expect greatness from it.
Finally, we get an episode of *Alfred Hitchcock Presents. 1958’s “Lamb to the Slaughter” (26:06) shows what happens to jerk husbands who cheat on their - apparently - mousy wives. Barbara Bel Geddes - who played a somewhat similar turn as Jimmy Stewart's devoted wannabe girlfriend in Vertigo the same year - offers nice work as the wife who finally snaps under pressure. The traditional "surprise" ending is decent and leads an interesting piece to a satisfying conclusion.
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.
However, it seems likely this release will disappoint fans who already own the prior DVD. This one tightens up its predecessor’s picture by a little, but it doesn’t come across as substantially improved in that department. Sound remains the same, and only a few new extras appear, none of which prove remarkable. This is the best Psycho DVD on the market, but it’s not stellar, and it’s probably not worth the “double-dip” for fans who already own the 2005 release.
To rate this film, visit the Collector's Edition review of PSYCHO