We all go a little mad sometimes…
…Hi. Hello. The people of 2020 would tend to agree with that revered quote from one of the most influential horror films in history, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. And it’s true, we do! I went a little mad when I heard that Universal Pictures Home Entertainment would be releasing a collector’s set of some of Hitchcock’s greatest work, including a never before released, UNCUT version of Psycho! To say I screamed like Janet Leigh in the shower scene would be an understatement.
Let loose an indescribable cackling that sent thousands of birds fluttering into the sky would be more accurate.
Now available from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, the 4K UHD Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection collects four of Hitchcock’s most beloved, and frightening, films, including Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho and The Birds, all given the 4K treatment, with a horde of special features to go along with these beautiful restorations. And you know what the crazy thing about calling this the Hitchcock “classics” collection is? All four of these films came out within ten years of each other, yet all four came towards the end of Hitchcock’s career, with The Birds being the last of these to release, a little over ten years before Hitchcock’s final film, Family Plot (1976). Think about that. By the time Rear Window was released, Hitchcock had already made a plethora of excellent films, which he continued after first coming to the states with Rebecca, and then going on to do Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, and Dial M for Murder, just to name a few.
Even more out of the ordinary, if you ask almost anyone, Psycho is the film most immediately associated with Hitchcock…but it was his 47th film! How many directors do you know of that not only made 47 films, but have such a late entry in their career thought of as their masterpiece? The point is, over half of Hitchcock’s filmography could be considered a “classic” of his, because the master of suspense was exactly that: a master. A genius. A frumpy magician mesmerizing you with moving pictures. However you think of him, he was one of the best to ever work in film, and this collection feels like a love letter to him, bleeding hearts and all.
With Psycho being the penultimate Hitchcock film, one that would haunt him for years after with every sequential work being compared to the seedy terror, the main draw with this collection is of course the previously unreleased, uncut version of Psycho. When Psycho was made, uptight America was even more uptight than it is now, believe it or not, and Psycho was the first film in America to have a sequence showing a toilet. A toilet! How risqué! But that was the time, as the commentary by Stephen Rebello (author of “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho”) goes into, along with various other interviews, and for Hitchcock, Psycho was all about pushing boundaries. You couldn’t really show women showering. Bathrooms were taboo. Bloody murder of course wasn’t widely accepted. And you bet your ass no one talked about dissociative identity disorders, and so everything about Norman (Anthony Perkins) was terrifying to them. Hitchcock had to do a lot to get around the MPAA in that time, so you would think there would be a ton of never before seen footage included in this uncut version, right?
Sorry, weary traveler, but no.
With the original theatrical cut of Psycho running at 1:48:51 and the uncut version running at 1:49:04, there’s roughly about thirteen seconds of new footage, with the only bit that really stands out being an extra focus on the blood on Norman’s hands after he offs Janet Leigh. A great shot, but highly disappointing for anyone that was hoping for a bit more seediness to sink their teeth into.
Still, even though there’s very little bonus material aside from that that is “new” in this set, the transfers make watching each of these films like discovering a new gem all over again.
We always talk about how Hitchcock was the master of suspense, and he was, but something we discuss less is how the man had a keen eye for color. Rear Window, Vertigo and The Birds all pop off the screen like never before. In particular, Vertigo is a practically all new, magical experience, as this was one of Hitchcock’s most colorful, visually interesting films. It’s said that he regarded this strange mystery starring James Stewart as his favorite of the films he made, and it’s easy to see why. Presented in glorious 4K Ultra HD, every frame of Vertigo glows like a water color painting. I still can’t get the image out of my head of something as simple as Kim Novak sitting by that window and awash with green light from the streets outside like an emerald jewel.
Hitchcock was also a master of sound (as the doc Breaking Barriers: The Sound of Hitchcock goes into), highlighted better than ever in The Birds, which actually features no music, instead filled with nothing but the sound of the birds to build suspense. Just thinking of that scene where Tippi Hedren and the others are trapped inside the house with a cacophony of screeching birds pecking at the doors was and is still enough to give me nightmares. Many of the features on The Birds’ disc delve into how Hitchcock created his “monster movie” with this film, getting into the manipulation of the birds with the audience, offering nuggets like how meat would be placed by the camera to get the birds to fly at screen, or how one crow in particular hated and stalked star Rod Taylor.
Maybe it just wanted your autograph, Rod!
Aside from the careful details put into restoring these films, Hitchcock fans will likely appreciate how many of the features contain interviewees who make it a point to argue against the idea that Hitchcock hated actors, citing details like how much Hitchcock appreciated Anthony Perkins and let him try things with Norman, such as always eating candy. Of course, we hear some of the opposite of that, such as how pissed Hitchcock was when he found out Vera Miles was pregnant and couldn’t do Vertigo, but hey, we’re not all perfect, and Kim Novak nailed that role anyway.
On its own, each disc in this set is worth owning, with an overwhelming amount of insight from various commentaries, documentaries, and perhaps most precious to fans, snippets from filmmaker Francois Truffaut’s interview with Hitchcock, in which audio of the two is played over film clips and stills from each film. The main draw of the uncut version of Psycho may not be the special secret hidden in the basement that you or I hoped it was, but this is a set worthy of any master, and essential for any Hitchcock fan if you don’t already own collector’s editions of these films. We all go a little mad sometimes, so if you’re even the least bit curious, indulge your darkest desires and pick this up. You can trust me. After all, a reader’s best friend is the writer.
The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection 4K UHD set is now available from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
By Matt Konopka