The Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, made a career and a lifetime of playing with his audiences’ emotions, from his long-running television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents to his dozens of feature films. Earlier this fall, Universal Home Entertainment compiled four of Hitchcock’s all-time classics, Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho, and The Birds, spanning arguably the most successful decade of the director’s stories career. In doing so, the films have been brought up from the Blu-Ray standard 1080p to a 4K resolution of 2160p for the first time ever, allowing these cinematic gems to shine brighter than ever before.
The best part? You don’t have to choose between one or the other, as both the 4K Blu-Ray and standard Blu-Ray are included for each film, making for eight total discs. Add to this digital copies of all four films, at a price point around $70 USD, depending on where you’re shopping from, that’s a damn steal. It may make one feel like they’re getting away with murder. Don’t worry, we all go a little mad sometimes, after all.
As if that wasn’t enough, Hitchcock’s 1960 classic Psycho now has a special uncut version, restoring four minutes of previously unreleased footage, giving fans the full experience sixty years after the original film horrified moviegoers for the first time. Add to this hours upon hours of special features and commentaries, and this collection makes a strong case for being the definitive release of one of the most important directors in not just horror history, but all of film history.
What exactly is different about the uncut version? You could make the argument that the biggest differences come in the infamous shower scene, when Marion Crane bites it in one of the most talked about and dissected scenes in all of film. This scene famously had the piss taken out of it for being too shocking or excessive for its time, and in the uncut version, you could see that there’s more skin visible in certain cuts. If you’ve come expecting a nip slip from Janet Leigh, first off, ew, and second off, you’re not getting it. True to the old story and the recreation from the biopic Hitchcock, Hitch was precise in shooting this scene, and even in the uncut version, the original poster’s promise of no on-screen violence or nudity remains true. Even in its original form, this scene hits on the censorship of horror, an issue that has plagued many films since this shocker.
With this in mind, I’m electing not to waste time reviewing or breaking down each individual film. Even the newest of these films is older than my own mother, so if you haven’t seen any of them, do yourself and the world a favor and fix that. Hell, even Vertigo, my least favorite of the four here, was a bonafide classic, a sweeping romance forged in forbidden love and duty. Rear Window stands up as a slow-burn, tension-mounting thriller right up until its stunning final confrontation. Psycho is still one of the defining motion pictures in all of horror history, and aside from the visual treat the remaster grants us, Bernard Herrmann’s score sounds sharper and cleaner than ever before. The Birds, widely considered to be Hitchcock’s monster movie, still is a feast on the eyes after all these years, and feels like a film that could conceivably happen, especially in this roulette table of a year known as 2020.
Of course, bringing every single thing up to 1080p or 2160p, for the Blu-Ray and 4K, respectively, means that some of the minute imperfections come through or translate as well in higher definitions. A couple of the “don’t look down” sequences in the first two films see their special effects exposed a bit, but not to the point where a viewer gets taken out of the film by any means. While the hallucination sequence in Vertigo looks even better, one of the climactic scenes gets overexposed to the point of unease. There is no such thing as a perfect transfer, sure, but these are a couple of instances where age does not do the remasters justice, or vice versa, for that matter. Perhaps it sounds like I’m nitpicking here, but the iconic scenes from these films, including the eye gouging aftermath in The Birds, the aforementioned psychedelic scene in Vertigo, and of course that damn shower scene in Psycho all look incredible in these new remastered versions.
Going back to the subject of added value, the special features for the box set are as follows:
Rear Window Bonus Features:
Audio commentary by Hitchcock’s Rear Window: The Well-Made Film author John Fawell
Rear Window Ethics – 2000 documentary
Conversation with Screenwriter John Michael Hayes
Pure Cinema: Through the Eyes of The Master
Breaking Barriers: The Sound of Hitchcock
Masters of Cinema
Hitchcock/Truffaut – Audio recording from filmmaker François Truffaut’s in-depth interview with director Alfred Hitchcock about Rear Window
Production photo gallery
Re-release trailer narrated by James Stewart
Vertigo Bonus Features:
Audio commentary by filmmaker William Friedkin (The Exorcist)
Obsessed with Vertigo: New Life for Hitchcock’s Masterpiece
Partners In Crime: Hitchcock’s Collaborators
Saul Bass: Title Champ
Edith Head: Dressing the Master’s Movies
Bernard Herrmann: Hitchcock’s Maestro
Alma: The Master’s Muse
Foreign censorship ending
100 Years of Universal: The Lew Wasserman Era
Hitchcock/Truffaut – Audio recording from filmmaker François Truffaut’s in-depth interview with director Alfred Hitchcock about Vertigo
Restoration theatrical trailer
Psycho Bonus Features:
Original uncut and standard re-releases version of the film
The Making of Psycho
The Making of Psycho audio commentary with Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho author Stephen Rebello
In The Master’s Shadow: Hitchcock’s Legacy
Newsreel Footage: The Release of Psycho
The Shower Scene: With and Without Music
The Shower Sequence: Storyboards by Saul Bass
The Psycho Archives
Hitchcock/Truffaut – Audio recording from filmmaker François Truffaut’s in-depth interview with director Alfred Hitchcock about Psycho
Posters and ad gallery
Lobby card gallery
Behind-the-scenes photo gallery
Production photo gallery
Psycho theatrical trailers
Psycho re-release trailer
The Birds Bonus Features:
The Birds: Hitchcock’s Monster Movie
All About The Birds
Tippi Hedren’s screen test
The Birds is coming (Universal International Newsreel)
Suspense Story: National Press Club hears Hitchcock (Universal International Newsreel)
100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics
100 Years of Universal: The Lot
Hitchcock/Truffaut – Audio recording from filmmaker François Truffaut’s in-depth interview with director Alfred Hitchcock about The Birds
If you’re not sold on this box set by now, you’re not going to be. Period. End of discussion. This is an essential piece of a cinephile collection. Is it a complete compilation? No, but hopefully that will be coming sooner rather than later. But for the watershed period of the career of the Master of Suspense, accept no substitute.
The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection is available now via Universal Home Entertainment.