“How does Hitchcock create Suspense and shock?”

Alfred Hitchcock is known as the ‘master of suspense’ and a great innovator. He has three films in the Top Ten of the American Film Institute’s top thrilling films. ‘Psycho’, made in the year 1960, was number one. Hitchcock always uses suspense and tension to shock his audience. He does this by using cinematography very well by the way he uses the camera position, angles, movement and shots. He also uses scary music and lighting when he wants to shock his audience or create suspense.

Hitchcock misleads his audience to create shock in ‘Psycho’. At the beginning of the film, we see Marion Crane and Sam Loomis in the bedroom together. By seeing this, we think this is a love and romance story. After steals the money from her boss, we then believe the genre of the film is about crime. However, the genre of this film is not about romance or even crime. In fact, this movie is a thriller and the main character, , dies a third way through the film. This is unexpected because she is the main character of the film and not a bad person. Another shock is when we discover that Norman Bates dresses like his “mother” in women’s clothing, which the audience finds strange and weird.

False suspense makes shocks more shocking because we never know what will happen. Hitchcock creates false suspense in a number of ways. When has been sleeping in the side of the road in her car, a cop comes and wakes her up. The audience feels tense and wonders if she is going to get caught with the $40,000. is very nervous and we are afraid if the cop is going to search her bag. Her uneasy behaviour adds to the tension. The cop’s sunglasses also add to the tension because he is staring right at ’s face, and feels guilty and anxious.

Another moment of tension is when the cop follows . We think that he realises that is up to something. There is a slight low angle close up of the cop’s car in the rear-view mirror of ’s car where she nervously watches him following her. The eyelevel medium shot of the car in the rear-view mirror, allows you to see him following, which is a reflection of the cop’s car. Hitchcock builds tension by cutting between Marion and the cop.

Hitchcock also creates false suspense when goes to a second-hand car dealer. The cop has an eye on , but she does not know that he is there. We do see the cop so there is a moment of tension. She is doing things that you will not usually expect, such as being panicky and in a rush, which all builds to tension. While the mechanic pulls her car in to inspect it before selling her a different car, she is shocked when she spots the suspicious cop. Although she is aware that the new car she will be buying could be identified, quickly and foolishly decides to buy it. Her nervous behaviour makes the surprised, car dealer wonder why she is forcing him to sell the car to her. She nearly leaves her bag behind, which is a false shock. We expect that is going to be stopped by the cop, but luckily, she does not get caught with the cash.

Another false shock is when, Lila, ’s sister, screams when she sees her own reflection in the mirror in “mother’s” bedroom. She screams when she sees herself in many reflections in an opposite long mirror, but is relieved that the frightening image is only of herself.

You can only have a limited number of shocking moments to shock people because the few shocks give more impact. If there are too many shocks, then the audience gets used to it.

There are only three shocks in ‘Psycho’: when is killed in the shower; Milton Arbogast, the detective is stabbed by “mother”; and the discovery of “mother” by Lila. Hitchcock creates suspense and shock when Arbogast tries to interview “mother”. He quietly enters the front door of the house, takes off his hat, and then stands for a moment in the hallway. He begins to climb up the long steep staircase to the second floor. We feel a bit tense and afraid that something may happen to Arbogast because he is inside a sinister-looking house on top of a hill. Using a tracking shot, the camera follows him from behind to a tracking, high-angled shot in front of him as he climbs up the stairs so he looks vulnerable and small. A cut to the top landing, using an eyelevel close up shot to show a crack of light appear on the floor through the slowly opening door of a bedroom, creates tension as if “mother” is behind the door who will see Arbogast and attack him. When he reaches the top step, Hitchcock cuts to a birds-eye-view shot and the high-pitched, screeching music starts to create a shock when Arbogast is attacked at the top of the stairs, in a bird's-eye-view shot, by “mother” coming from the bedroom. He is stabbed to death in the face and blood flows out of his face when Arbogast falls backwards down the stairs to the floor. “Mother” chases after him and gets on top of him; the knife goes up into the air for another strike before the scene fades to black. However, this is not the first shock of the film.

In the shower scene, we experience the first big shock in ‘Psycho’. At the start of the shower scene the audience follows into the bathroom. We see her undressing to have a shower. It is very quiet and we can just hear her taking off her gown. The shot is an eyelevel medium close up which makes us feel uncomfortable because we are close behind a naked woman and following her, which seems like we are intruding into this private space. We are looking straight at ’s bare back and upper body which makes us feel like , when he was watching her undress through a hole in the wall. Like , we are voyeurs and are intruding into this private space. Hitchcock then cuts to an eyelevel medium close up of in the shower and we watch her cleansing and washing herself, like she is washing away her sins and guilt. We notice that is very relaxed and happy because she is going back to to pay back the money she has stolen. Hitchcock cuts to a low angle close up from Marion’s point of view of the water which looks like it is coming down at us, straight and sharp from the shower head which creates a moment of tension because, at the moment we cannot hear anything except for the running water, and this may distract us and Marion if someone is nearby. However, Hitchcock then cuts to an eyelevel medium close up in which we see rinsing herself. This is a realistic shot because the camera is on the bathroom floor on the side of the shower watching and we can see her calm facial expression, so we relax as well as . We think nothing bad is going to happen to her because no one else is in her room and the bathroom and everything seems quiet except for the running water. This is also a private hotel.

Hitchcock then creates suspense by using dramatic irony. He uses an eyelevel medium long shot in which there is a dark shadow on the left, or dominant, side of the screen. is in a completely private place, but in this shot we know that there is someone behind her, while does not. The camera is in front of her, placed inside the wall, and Hitchcock makes us feel uncomfortable and tight as if we are trapped in the shower with . As she is showering, through the translucent shower curtain, we see the door open. With her back to the shower curtain, we can spot a shadowy figure coming from behind. does not hear the killer because of the water falling on her and her hair is soaked by the water so she appears to be small and vulnerable on the right side of the screen with her back to the shower curtain. We see the bathroom door open and we spot a shadowy figure coming from behind. We feel tense because the figure may harm . The shock comes when the dark figure suddenly tears the shower curtain and shrill high-pitched music begins from sharp shrieking, violin strings. The shrill music plays a large part in creating absolute terror as does the silhouette of the figure that is revealed because the face is shadowed and we cannot see it. The killer is on the left or dominant side of the shot and is very dark; light can only be seen on the right side. The killer is holding a knife towards the right bottom corner of the frame where we last saw , so we feel tense and terrified for her.

The shock continues with a close up of screaming. The blurring of the image by the water makes appear less human and everything happens fast. The close up shows her first reaction to the murderer and to intensify this Hitchcock cuts to an extreme close up of Marion’s mouth as she is screaming loudly. Next, Hitchcock uses a low angle medium shot of the killer who is dominating the centre of the screen. Hitchcock uses shadow to make the killer appear dark and horrific. The killer then starts to attack and we hear sound effects of stabbing. In reality, the sound was made by stabbing a melon. Hitchcock then cuts to a high angle medium shot of to make her look weak and vulnerable. She is in one corner of the frame and the knife is in the space. The knife is blurry because it is moving very fast and is in the corner backing away. The tile wall is trapping her behind and she is very exposed. The attack goes on and on and we keep hearing stabbing sounds of the knife. Hitchcock then uses a high angle close up of ’s feet so we can see the blood being washed away from ’s body, which creates the impression that is dying because she is losing large amounts of blood and looking very weak. The killer leaves and slowly dies. Hitchcock uses an eyelevel close up of ’s hand trying to hold on to the tile wall. She is trying to hold on to her life. This is the aftermath of the shock but there is still tension because there is nothing we can do and slow and low-pitched music starts to create a sad atmosphere.

slowly slides down with her back against the wet, slippery shower wall, while looking up and the camera follows her slow fall. We feel guilty because we are unable to help. We then see stretch her hand out to grab the shower curtain but it comes across as if she is stretching her arms towards us, for help. We want to help but it is impossible so we must just watch her fall so we feel powerless. Then Hitchcock cuts to a bird’s-eye-shot where the shower pole divides the screen in half, which seems like we are directly watching what is happening down in the bathroom. holds onto the shower curtain and pulls it down from its hooks one by one onto herself, which is a diegetic sound and now the slow and low music stops. Then we can just hear the water running from the shower, which tells us that the attack is over and falls to the floor, dead. After that, Hitchcock cuts to a high angle extreme close up of the dark plughole, which is sucking up the water and ’s blood which suggests that 's life has gone down the drain. The shot dissolves to an extreme close up of ’s eye where we can see drops of water which seem like she is crying, which creates an atmosphere of sadness. There is great difference between 's 'peeping tom' eye and 's dead eye because ’s eye looks completely innocent, but Norman was using his peeping eye to watch her undress. Then the camera zooms out to her upper body which becomes a tracking shot where the camera turns and tilts as if we are standing up. We feel sorry and very guilty for ’s death as we were unable to stop this terrible attack, so when we leave the bathroom we are basically leaving .

In comparison, in ‘The Birds’, Hitchcock uses several shocks, perhaps maybe ten or more. Some of them are shocks with no suspense such as when the gull pecks Melanie’s head; the attack by the birds at the children’s party; and when the sparrows come down the chimney and attack Mitch’s house. There are also shocks with suspense: the school attack; when Annie is dead; the gulls peck the farmer’s eyes; the petrol station scene; the attack on Melanie in the attic and the huge number of still birds at the end of the film. He does this to shock his audience again and again.

Hitchcock also creates dramatic irony and tension in ‘Psycho’ when we see the shadow of “mother” in the shower scene. Hitchcock also creates dramatic irony in ‘The Birds’ in the climbing frame scene. Here, we see Melanie smoking outside the school, sitting on a bench in a medium long shot. She is calm. There is a long shot of the school and an establishing shot of birds in the sky. We can hear children singing, which sounds normal. There is then a cut to a medium long shot left of the climbing frame behind Melanie’s head (in the right corner of the frame) that dominates the shot to show it is empty. We see one bird land, and Hitchcock builds suspense as he cuts between Melanie looking relaxed and a shot of the climbing frame with four to five birds. Then he cuts back to Melanie before cutting to the climbing frame with fifty birds. Then again he cuts to Melanie still smoking and watching the birds. A cut to the climbing frame which is now full of birds creates shock which Hitchcock develops shock when Melanie looks behind her and sees them. Hitchcock cuts to a high angle long shot as she rushes to the school, which makes her seem vulnerable because then there is a cut to a low angle as the birds start to attack. Both of these attacks are extended and constant.

Hitchcock also uses slow suspense such as when Arbogast and Melanie climb up the stairs in ‘Psycho’ and ‘The Birds’ respectively. He also uses the stillness of the birds as a collective and then shock. There is the shock of sharp objects in a close up, for example, the knife in ‘Psycho’ and the beaks in ‘The Birds’.

In ‘Psycho’, Hitchcock creates tension by mainly using music which sounds unnatural, and also shock with the exception of the diegetic sounds in the shower scene. In contrast, he only uses diagetic sounds in ‘The Birds’ such as when the birds are squawking and making noise for tension, Hitchcock also uses silence (the absence of sound) to make the audience feel uncomfortable, for example when we see the broken cups in the farmer’s house. The sounds during the attacks in both films are sharp, harsh, strange and disturbing which build shock because they make the audience’s heart beat.

At the end of ‘Psycho’, there is a resolution. The killer, , is in prison and is punished. However in ‘The Birds’, there is a cliffhanger as the birds win and the humans flee. The film is unresolved, so it creates tension among the viewers. ‘Psycho’ is in black and white, which makes it more sinister and frightening for example, the blood in the shower scene looks realistic, even if it was chocolate syrup. Also lighting is used to create shock. For example, in the fruit cellar, the body of '”mother” is brought to life, revealed by the dead body’s crazily laughing face, with its eyes moving, lively and brought back to life by the light. The eyes of the corpse that stare at Lila’s direction appear realistic but they are indeed dead. This can only happen in black and white, as it involves shadow. In contrast, ‘The Birds’ is mostly in colour so it seems less scary and happier at first. However, the blood looks artificial to us because it is bright red. A better use of how Hitchcock used colour was the fire which looks extremely terrifying and dangerous because it is bright orange and yellow, which would not have the same effect in black and white. However, there is a change of the use of colour at the end of the film when it is mainly black and white because of the colour of the birds and also because it is night which creates tension and a sinister atmosphere.

The killers in both films were realistic but strange and unexpected. The story starts in the city, but mostly set in a small rural town where the character is unfamiliar so the audience has sympathy for them. Also the small town is supposed to be safer, but is surprisingly dangerous. The main characters in both films are blond, stylish beautiful women, both motivated by a love interest. Hitchcock uses experts for both films. In ‘Psycho’, there is a psychologist who comes at the end and explains ’s condition, which is the resolution. The car is pulled out. There is no more tension. In ‘The Birds’, an ornithologist woman gives information about birds and their behaviour. In ‘Psycho’, 's hobby is stuffing dead birds and other animals. The birds are, of course, a constant image in ‘The Birds’.

At the beginning of ‘The Birds’, we think this is a romantic comedy, when Mitch flirts with Melanie and the lovebirds move side to side in the car, while Melanie is driving in her car. This seems funny as birds do not normally do that. ‘Psycho’, however has nothing to do with comedy. In ‘Psycho’ is serious and poor whereas Melanie is cheerful, spoilt and rich. Both films are misleading because it starts as a romance. In ‘Psycho’, Sam has left his ex-wife and now wants to stay with , but he cannot afford to support her economically, so they are both unhappy. In ‘The Birds’, Mitch too had a previous lover, Annie but now lives with his mum, and younger sister, Cathy. Both films are a thriller and become dark and sinister. Hitchcock misleads us to make the shocks more shocking.

Hitchcock creates suspense and shock in the way he uses cinematography: camera position, angles, shots, colour, lighting, sound and music. For example, in ‘North by Northwest’, Hitchcock creates a scene of suspense and shock in the plane scene. There is an extreme long shot of the sky and cornfield and Cary Grant who looks small and helpless, stands waiting. Then a plane tries to attack him. There is a long silence, and he looks for the plane engine. A truck approaches and Hitchcock uses the camera from ’s point-of-view of the truck coming closer until it is an extreme close up of the grill of the truck. This creates shock as the grill is coming towards Grant’s face and ours. There is a point-of-view shot of the plane. A close up of Grant shows us he is shocked and a cut to a long shot of the plane coming towards him builds tension. Grant dives under the truck and then there is a great big shock, when the plane crashes into the truck which is leaking petrol and there is a terrific explosion.

In my opinion, I believe Alfred Hitchcock was outstandingly excellent at creating suspense and shock in a number of ways especially in the shower scene, as we know “mother” is coming from behind, but Marion doesn’t since her back is facing the shower curtain. I preferred the film ‘Psycho’ as it was more successful in creating suspense and shock, since the film was made in black and white. This made it seem darker, scarier and creepy.
I loved this essay. I'm writting my own essay on The Birds and Vertigo at the monment and although yours is much longer than mine has to be, it was very helpfull, Thank you very much!
Just so you know, the dominant side of the screen is the right side. Also try and use more sophisticated words. Apart from that a good essay well done
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Todays university profs actually prefer simpler words. if you use 2 words where 1 would do you will lose marks. The easier the essay is to read the higher your mark will be
That is not true. The subject of this essay isn't mentioned but I would take an educated guess that to pass, creativity and writing play a big part. If a student has to dumb down an essay for a professor; he/she isn't a very good one.
. You might want to brush up on your grammar, adjectives and overall sentence consruction. Avoid re-telling the story. and thank you for giving us ideas for our AP English exam today. Emotion: smile
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nope, dominant characters are always to the left of the screen. the left side is always a hard edge, while the right side is permeable and weak characters are usually seen leaving thru to the right. its the way the eye works when reading and looking at most things, from left to right. also above = strength, low = weak.
it seems repetitive. dont use "another form of shock" so much...