The cinematic masters of the thriller-diller, the chop-‘em-up, the anxiety-arouser, the old fashioned spook fest, are indeed legion, ever expanding, and always keeping the creaking door open for any savvy art house director or pulpy filmmaker to step in for a one-timer, and try their hand in entering the ongoing (and perpetual) big screen fear fest. Names get bandied about, names like Polanski, Lewton, Lynch, Raimi, Carpenter, Argento, De Palma, Browning, Whale, Murnau, Romero, Cronenberg, and a whole passel of too-many-to-recount newbies, yet one truly stands above the rest: Alfred Hitchcock.
Hitch is the guy, the king of the fear swing, the cinematic svengali who continually wielded assorted degrees of voyeurism and sadism along with a blanket of Kafkaesque determination, bookending that filmic stew with ever eroding nerve endings and narrative uncertainty, all under the spell heavy duty moral implications, all in the glorious name of both art and commerce. Hitch was one filmmaker who, again and again, achieved a meaningful symbiosis between image, editing, camera movement, plot, character, tone and theme, and did most of it in the name of suspense. Much has been written about the films of Hitchcock, his sublime techniques, and his ability to layer a box office hit with overriding questions of guilt and morality. Hitchcock, with the possible exception of his late effort Frenzy (1972), didn’t do gore, didn’t do guts, and steadfastly refrained from all things Grand Guignol.
It was all about the power of suggestion, about the lights and shadows of both the visual palate and, yep, the soul. The ultimate Hitch film, as far as the fear factor goes is 1960’s Psycho. Not enough space allowed to re-sing its many virtues: taut, virtuosic, spine-tingling, exquisitely crafted, suggestive, lurid, flamingly Freudian, plus the cast, the score, the cinematography, the shower sequence. Years later, many would argue that Psycho, because it unleashed the first semblance of unimaginable but almost gleefully delivered overt violence--that knife against that bare skin under that deluge of sprayed water capped off by the black and white image of a splash of blood circling down the drain-- despite its indefensible stamp of artistry, set the dynamics of a whole brave and bold new cinema of unease. Hitch, what has thy wrought?