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‘Hitchcockian’: The legacy of the ‘Master of Suspense’

Written by Film

On the 60th anniversary of Psycho one of contributing films to gaining Sir Alfred Hitchcock his name ‘Master of suspense’ we celebrate the man and his impact on modern cinema.

Creating what is now seen as its own subgenre (Hitchcockian), there is no doubt of the undeniable changes that the 53 films of Hitchcock’s, had on what we see in our cinemas today. From the plot twists to voyeuristic themes it is these any many more things that make Hitchcock’s films so distinctive.

His half a century career began with the short film The Great Day a now lost film which kicked started his cinematic reign in 1920. His career only sky-rocketed from here making him the director of his time. It was his unique directorial style that made him the trail blazing icon we still reference today. This was characterised by use of camera movement that mimicked a character’s gaze, truly immersing you in the world of the film. Along with innovative editing and shots that maximised fear and a deep anxiety that settled in the stomachs of his audience.

The manipulation of the audience to greater fears is exploited by Hitchcock

It is too simple to boil down his films to a few cinematic tools, however these were the defining motifs that appeared time and time again making him a household name. Not only do these appear repeatedly they also are enduring in modern cinema with many films now just mimicking the tools that Hitchcock invented. Some of the films you may know that do this are: Shutter Island (yes even the great Scorsese is inspired by Hitchcock). Or maybe Femme Fatale a film which plays on the same Voyeuristic qualities that Hitchcock was also obsessed by.

It’s not just within the cinematic world that Hitchcock is referenced; it’s by us too. Tell me you’ve never screeched and re-enacted that infamous shower scene from Psycho? Exactly. There are some cinematic moments we don’t forget whether we’ve seen the film or not.

Psycho is not however the only famous film that gained Hitchcock his acclaim. Throughout his career Hitchcock gained 5 Oscar nominations for Best Director, one of these for Rear Window. A wheelchair bound photographer uses his equipment to spy on his neighbours and as he increasingly gets concerned about one of them is a murderer, the tale accelerates and ties itself into tighter knots. The manipulation of the audience to greater fears is exploited in this film particularly and it’s a skill that hasn’t quite been seen in the same way since Hitchcock.

The pioneering director not only popularised visual motifs in cinema but also plot devices such as a ‘MacGuffin’ which were objects/device essential to the story, but otherwise irrelevant in life. This is seen in The Lord of the Rings (the ring) and Titanic (the necklace). These enduring ideas are used in films today all around the world including the first foreign  language film to win Best Picture: Parasite, a gripping thriller saturated with Hitchcockian influence.

He has left a legacy to last an epoch and as Psycho runs up to its anniversary I only wish the man himself were he to see his lasting impact on the cinema we watch today. As we applaud the achievements he made it’s crucial to remember what he held dear in cinema. Pure emersion; he famously forbade and latecomers to enter Psycho. Next time you sit down to watch a film, truly watch it and enjoy only that, experience the full experience and take in every scene, image and word; for all you know the ideas you’re watching now may well have been taken from Hitchcock himself.  

Last modified: 13th March 2020

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