Norman Bates we all know by now, is the proprietor of the Bates Motel, a run down open-faced motel that the interstate left behind. This is where Marion Crane (Vivien Leigh) finds herself one rainy night. Marion has recently stolen $40,000 from her boss and is headed to see her lover. Her paranoia-fueled escape leads her astray in the rainstorm where she finds the Motel, and finds lonely Norman, a curious man with a taxidermy hobby that borders on strange. Hell, it is strange. Things seem to be headed one way at the Bates Motel but soon they take a nightmarish turn for Marion, and for the picture itself. Everything the audience had known up to this point in the film is upended, and even after knowing the early twist in the narrative, the fact that Hitchcock had the gumption to pull it off is the stroke of a genius. The narrative rug has never been pulled out from under an audience the way it is in Psycho.
The rest of the film involves uncovering the disappearance of Marion, an investigation headed up by her lover, her sister, and an unlucky detective on the case of the missing money. But the most important character in Psycho is, of course, Norman Bates himself. Anthony Perkins plays Bates with an easy bit of unease, a squirrelly discomfort in his own skin – albeit for good reason we find out. Perkins is a deft mixture of squirmy nerves, anxiousness, and eventual madness unleashed as Bates. His work with Hitchcock, a master of suspense, buildup, and payoff the likes of which we have never seen. Hitchcock uses unique camera angles, shadows and light, and quiet tension to create some of the most memorable, iconic scenes in horror film history. That first murder in the shower at the Bates Motel, despite the fact that it is fifty years old this year, exists forever as one of the five or six most memorable scenes in film history not only for its technical mastery, but for that memorable score and brilliantly suggestive violence.