Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal suspense thriller “Psycho,” had its New York City premiere on June 16 in 1960. That was 50 years ago. It was released nationwide that August.
It’s daunting to think back through five decades of psychological thrillers to ask yourself whether any of those that followed can rival this one. Many filmmakers have dared to imitate Mr. Hitchcock’s instinct and flair; Gus Van Sant was delusional and egotistical enough to remake “Psycho” itself several years ago. There are some stories that just ought never be tampered with.
So you gotta wonder: if you’re gonna reminisce about the best, most unnerving who-dun-it films, where do you start?! But wait. Before you lunge toward an answer, consider that approximately two generations, and a very different aesthetic, separate us from that which makes “Psycho” special. The best thrillers emphasized suspense, not gore. They are mind games. A viewer’s patience was very important. The experience is about foreshadowing, wondering, and worrying about that which lurks behind dark corners or overly gentle smiles. The editing wasn’t nearly as fast with “Psycho” as we expect it to be in the 21st-Century. It’s unfair to compare any film to Hitchcock; No filmmaker’s work wins against his.
There are those titles that you might dare to compare with “Psycho,” but which are so renown that there’s barely a point in doing so. You could name Jonathan Demme’s “Silence of the Lambs,” from 1991, but it’s not like that had to crawl its way to a profit or renown. Practically everybody knows it. The film’s inspiration and source material shares common threads with the novel on which “Psycho” was loosely based. Still, “Silence of the Lambs” is strong and distinct enough to stand on its own mind games with the audience.
I can help you catch him, Clarice.
David Fincher’s “Se7en,” from 1995, is in a similar situation. While it may have earned fewer column-inches in newspapers and magazines back then, it won’t take many people very long to recall that film’s creepy and utterly grotesque crime scenes.
All you have to do is utter “the shower scene” to start a conversation about “Psycho.” And that’s not necessarily the most gringe-worthy scene. But there are a couple suspense stories that deserve your attention.
“Presumed Innocent” was adapted in 1990 from Scott Turow’s profitable 1987 novel. It’s the tale of a sometimes happily married chief deputy prosecutor whose colleague and former mistress is found dead. When his boss names him to prosecute her murderer, then all roads seem to point to him. The truth is more complex, surprising, and shocking – it presents an ethical and moral dilemma that jeopardizes his family.
Here’s the trailer:
“One False Move,” written by Billy Bob Thornton and directed by Carl Franklin, is about Los Angeles police detectives cooperating with a small town Arkansas sherriff, in pursuit of a deadly and unstable trio of murderers. The killers themselves are on the trail of a drug score. This is a thoughtful and smart take on a crime film that calmly considers questions of “race.” At the time, this film’s major actor was Bill Paxton, who plays the sheriff, Dale. He’s one of the most subtle and interesting protagonists. He’s key to the pacing and the story’s simplicity. “One False Move” is a little film. It’s a subtle psychological thriller that grows far smarter and more complex, and more engaging than you expect.
While you can probably name good solid suspense thrillers, they might lack the taught pacing and well-developed narrative that these ones offer.