The great movie scenes: Hitchcock’s Psycho and the power of jarring music

Bernard Herrmann’s music for the final scene in Psycho fragments and breaks down, echoing the psychotic episode experienced by the character Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). Graphics: Emil Jeyaratnam/The Conversation; Image: Still from 'Psycho' (1960)

The great movie scenes: Hitchcock’s Psycho and the power of jarring music

What makes a film a classic? In this column, film scholar Bruce Isaacs looks at the contrasting uses of music to convey emotion in Lord of the Rings and Psycho.


Psycho, 1960.

Music has a strong presence in many of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. He was a director who obsessed about the score, and realised the importance of the relationship between music and film.

For his psychological horror film Psycho (1960), Hitchcock asked the great Bernard Herrmann to compose the music. Herrmann’s experimental score became an instantly recognisable classic that had a huge influence on the horror cinema of the 1970s and 1980s.


Read more: The great movie scenes: Hitchcock's Vertigo


In this episode of Close-up, I compare and contrast one of my favourite pieces of music from Psycho with Howard Shore’s score for Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001). Both are compelling and evocative, but elicit dramatically different emotions and reactions from the viewer.


See also:

The great movie scenes: Hitchcock’s Vertigo
The great movie scenes: Antonioni’s The Passenger
The great movie scenes: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The great movie scenes: Steven Spielberg’s Jaws
The great movie scenes: The Godfather
The great movie scenes: Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey