Like most other directors Alfred Hitchcock had a certain stylistic feel to his movies. He was arguably one of the greatest directors and most definitely the king of suspense. Whether you enjoyed his movies or not they were still intriguing pieces of art that at the time left audiences walking out of the theatre in a sense of hysteria. His films have rained terror on his audiences for decades and two, in particular, have especially caused a level of frenzy, Psycho and Vertigo. While being two completely different pictures they both strongly follow the famous “Hitchcockian” approach creating nail-biting suspense sequences as well as the shocking horror sequences.
Hitchcock was an idol for many filmmakers and what made him such a successful artist re-occurs in many of his movies. Alfred Hitchcock was revolutionary known for introducing a number of different techniques to film making, one of them being the use of the camera. He used the camera more like a set of his own eyes rather than a simple tool. He didn’t let audiences view his movies; he made audiences participate in them. By using the collective unconscious he would force his audience into viewing his films within a selective light.
The secret to Alfred Hitchcock’s success was his subtly. In today’s current horror and thriller films, the directing is very visual. If a subject is to get stabbed we will see the blade penetrating the victim's skin as they expel a shrill scream. In Hitchcock movies, he left the most gruesome and horrific part of the imagination of the viewer. We don’t see the blade hitting its victim in the famous shower scene in Psycho but we are quite aware she is being massacred. In Vertigo we do not see Kim Novak’s character getting physically pushed or hitting the ground yet we still close our eyes and look away expecting an image of flesh hitting the concrete. Yes, these techniques and scenes look very dulled down in today’s horror genre but for the time there was an immense level of revolution and taboo in Hitchcock’s work. His camera work was legendary in these two pictures and is still idolized today.
Alfred Hitchcock used the camera in ways, other directors, currently and back then couldn’t even have imagined. He used everything to his advantage to maximize the level of suspense and fear he could endure on his audience. With Psycho he used longer shots to establish a tense feeling and then would suddenly have quick cuts to convey shock. In Vertigo there were slow, long, suspenseful shots such as when Scottie is following Madeleine to the tower but the second he reaches the tower and begins to run after her the shots speed up. This sudden jolt of slow to quick shots leaves the audience on edge and these sequences are particularly nail-biting scenes. Not only were these tense shooting techniques new at the time, but he also crowned remarkably revolutionary camera techniques to even further send the audience fleeing from their seats.
The “dollying back while zooming in” technique was considered a special effect when it first aired in Vertigo. He used this shot to communicate dizziness and shot it in point of view to convey the message that this character was realistically scared of heights. He used quick cuts in Psycho to literally imitate the action of stabbing. The knife would go down, he’d cut to a shot of Ms. Crane gasping for breath, another shot of the knife going down, yet another shot of Ms. Crane struggling to stand. This technique and these shots literally gave the effect of someone getting assaulted and without careful analysis, it would seem as if we saw the blade literally dig into the actress’s skin. It was shots such as these that elevated, Alfred Hitchcock, as a director and although his movies at the time were not for the faint of heart they were largely praised for their pure genius. The music was Hitchcock’s cherry topping for his lovely Sundays of art. His movies could potentially be just as shocking if the audience was viewing them with their eyes closed. The sound effects, as well as the literal soundtrack, were nothing short of greatness.
In a time where sound quality wasn’t at its prime, Hitchcock created a euphoric soundscape in all of his movies. In psycho, the sound of the knife carving its way through the carcass of Marion Cranes carcass sent shivers down the spines of people that were shocked this picture was even being shown. In Vertigo the shrieks of Madeleine Elster were more gruesome than the fall itself. Not only were the sound effects but the soundtrack itself was remarkable. It is said that the music in a movie can either make or break the movie and in Hitchcock’s case he prepared the music to be part of the movie, not simply an add on. The slow, curious musical sequences combined with the long shots created a sense of anxiety that could cause a heart attack. Suddenly, there would be silence to prolong the suspense and with the sharp high pitched string sounds, the murder in psycho would apprehend the life of another victim. In a scene in Vertigo, the audience sees Scottie chasing after his lover. The music is quick, exhilarating, yet precise. Scottie is running after Madeleine up the stairs when suddenly he looks down and his vertigo symptom kicks in.
The floor beneath him swirls and twirls as the music follows much of the same action. It was combinations such as these that made Hitchcock’s movies even more classic. Alfred Hitchcock was a blissful man in person while his movies depicted much of a different sense. He could flawlessly command his actors to prepare scenes that could sweep audiences off their feet or send them storming out of the theatre in outrage his movies which were shockingly explicit at the time were milestones in film making history and were nothing short of pure genius. With his shooting techniques and special effects, he was very ahead of his time as a director and unfortunately no new Alfred Hitchcock’s have surfaced in current years. Arguably one of the greatest directors ever, Alfred Hitchcock knew exactly how to put the fears of his audiences onto the screen and blatantly rub them in our faces. The master of suspense did have and will have his audiences at the edge of their scenes for as long as his movies are shown.
“There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it” - Alfred Hitchcock