Psycho appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While usually pleasing, a few mild problems made this a less than ideal presentation.
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 edge haloes, and only a smidgen of shimmering occurred in a shot with some curtains.
Source defects presented a bit of a concern. I saw occasional examples of specks and grit. Though these weren’t major, they created periodic distractions.
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. While I thought most of the movie looked quite good, the various concerns left this as a “B-” presentation.
In addition to the film’s original monaural audio, the Blu-ray provides a new DTS-HD MA 5.1 remix. This opened up the spectrum in a fairly subdued manner. Music spread across the front and also demonstrated some minor reinforcement from the rear. I didn’t get the impression that the score boasted genuine stereo delineation, but it used the various channels in a satisfactory manner.
As for effects, they usually offered gentle ambience. The showiest sequences involved vehicles that moved from channel to channel or a rainstorm that filled the spectrum. The elements stayed fairly low-key, which I thought was appropriate. After all, this wasn’t a big slam-bang action movie, so really active effects wouldn’t have made sense.
Audio quality was fine for its age. The score lacked great dimensionality and wasn’t especially natural; the music tended to favor high or low end, without much in the middle. Still, given the vintage of the recording, I felt it was more than adequate; the accentuated highs and lows didn’t come across as terribly out of whack.
Effects seemed good. Again, they didn’t have a lot to do here, but they showed fair accuracy and clarity. Speech appeared reasonably concise and distinctive, without any edginess or other concerns. Nothing much excelled here, but the track held up fine for something recorded 50 years ago.
How did the picture and audio of this Blu-ray Psycho Special Edition compare to those of the last DVD from 2008? The biggest change came from the sound, as the DVD only included the original mix, not the reworked 5.1 track found here. I thought the 5.1 edition offered a bit better vivacity, but I was fine with the old mono track. Whichever you prefer will depend on your taste.
On the other hand, the visuals demonstrated a nice upgrade. The Blu-ray looked tighter and smoother than the Blu-ray, and it also suffered from fewer source flaws; even though the Blu-ray still had some specks, these decreased from the DVD’s defects. Even though the Blu-ray wasn’t a stellar transfer, it improved on its predecessor.
Most of the 2008 DVD’s extras repeat here, and 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.
Next comes an excellent 94-minute, 12-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.
For something newer, we go to a featurette entitled Psycho Sound. In this nine-minute, 58-second piece, we hear from re-recording mixer Larry Walsh, supervising sound editor Richard LeGrand, Audionamix CEO Olivier Attia, and Audionamix Head of Production Fabrice Benoit. They discuss the creation of the Blu-ray’s new 5.1 mix. They include some decent details, but mostly they simply tell us how wonderful their work is. That makes it a fairly dull program much of the time.
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 merits a listen, but don’t expect greatness from it.
The disc 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, forty-five seconds and it's well worth a watch.
One other video segment shows the infamous shower scene 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.
Under The Psycho Archives, we find a compilation of stills. The piece runs seven minutes, 48 seconds and includes production photos. It’s a nice collection of shots, but I’d prefer a standard still gallery to the running montage.
In the same vein, we get three minutes of Posters and Ads as well as 90 seconds of Lobby Cards. Further collections show Behind the Scenes shots (8:00) and more Production Photos (8:30). As with the “Archives”, these are good to see, but the format doesn’t excite me.
The Psycho Blu-ray also includes Hitchcock's fabulous trailer. This is one of the most unusual ads I've ever seen. 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 disc 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.
Does the Blu-ray lose anything from the 2008 DVD? Yup. It omits some decent text production notes as well as an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The latter is a disappointment, as the episode in question was pretty entertaining.
Recommendation time, and this one's easy: Psycho is a must-have in any film buff's library. The movie itself still earns its status as a classic, largely due to Anthony Perkins' enduringly amazing performance as Norman Bates. The Blu-ray provides erratic but generally good picture and audio as well as a quality set of supplements. This isn’t quite the slam-dunk Psycho I’d like, but it’s the best presentation of the film to date.
To rate this film, visit the Collector's Edition review of PSYCHO