What in the world can that be?
We all know 1960’s Psycho is Alfred Hitchcock’s most infamous movie. Even those who haven’t seen the film feel like they have because that shower scene has been parodied and referenced ad nauseum over the past sixty years. Here’s a famous example (one of several just in Simpsons history):
Psycho is full of distractions. Those who have seen the film know what I’m talking about. Those who haven’t, well, you know what to do, because Hitchcock is an OG. Heck, he’s credited with coining the term, “macguffin.” While I could go into the plot of the movie, and it does have a plot, the less known about it, the better (More on that in a bit).
All I’ll say is this: Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) skips her town of Phoenix with $40,000, checks into the Bates Motel outside of Los Angeles, California and things happen. Lots of things. There’s a creepy mansion and creepy voices, as well as stuffed birds and torrential rain.
Since I’m not about to give spoilers, I thought I’d compile a few fun facts. Some might be familiar, and others, not so much. Off we go…
The original Robert Bloch novel is much gorier than the movie.
Marion, who’s called Mary in the novel, is not stabbed in the shower. She’s beheaded. For obvious reasons this would have been a bit too much for both Hitchcock and discerning movie audiences, plus its relative quickness makes it anticlimactic though horrifying.
By coincidence, two years before Bloch’s novel hit shelves, Ed Gein went on his Silence Of the Lambs-esque murder spree in Plainfield, Wisconsin, and Bloch was a little unnerved to find out how much his novel resembled such real-life horror. Hitch must have thought so, too, because Psycho also draws a tiny bit of inspiration from Gein.
Norman Bates got the glamour treatment. Kind of.
Marion’s manner of expiration wasn’t the only change made in Hitchock’s film. Norman Bates was originally short, pudgy, middle-aged, and not the nicest guy. Hitchcock and his crew preferred to smarten things up a bit for reasons I won’t reveal, casting Anthony Perkins as a young Bates.
It was shot for under a million dollars using a TV crew.
Psycho is proof that a film doesn’t have to cost big bucks to look big budget, and it’s a safe bet no one noticed how simply everything was done unless they were told. There was money saved in other ways as well, as there were no press tours or ballyhoo; not even from the film’s stars. The one big expense was a six-minute trailer in which Hitchcock told everything and nothing at the same time.
Paramount didn’t mind saving money, or at least they thought that’s what would happen. However, Hitchcock’s contract netted him sixty percent of the movie’s profits, which paid out way more than his regular salary ever would have. The executives at Paramount must have gone red-faced when the movie started doing well.
It was the first time a toilet was shown in a movie.
Leave It to Beaver brought the toilet to TV, and Psycho brought it to the movies. This was a big deal, as the mores of the time considered showing toilets to be indelicate, like leaving the bathroom door open when nature calls. We had toilets, but we didn’t want anyone to see them.
It put Janet Leigh off showers forever.
After the film premiered, Leigh was so freaked out by the shower scene that for the rest of her life she would only take baths. Amazingly enough, the scene took 78 setups and 52 cuts, using a nude model as a body double for Janet Leigh in order to mark where the footage (and any possible nudity) should be cropped. None of the actors or crew were prepared for how effective the movie would be.
(And anyone who’s seen Dawson’s Creek might remember Dawson coolly telling Capeside High’s film teacher, Mr. Gold that Hitchcock threw cold water on Janet Leigh to elicit bigger screams. It’s a widely-told urban legend that isn’t really true.)
Movie theaters were instructed not to run any private screenings or let anyone in after each showing had started.
Hitchcock wanted people to go into the film with fresh eyes so they would get the full impact. He also knew if they came in late they wouldn’t understand anything that was happening, so theaters were instructed not to let anyone come in late under any circumstances. Apparently a guy tried to get around this by sneaking in a pregnant woman, but it was still a no-go. The manager told her she could wait in his office until the next showing.
These instructions went for the critics as well, who had to watch the film with audiences at regular screenings instead of the usual press-only setup. A lot of them weren’t happy about this and a few of them gave the film bad reviews in retaliation, although some changed their minds later. Variety was impressed, though.
Psycho ended up being the number two film of 1960, and its reputation has only grown over the years. It casts such a big shadow that other films and filmmakers can only pay it homage. Those who haven’t seen it (and I was one of them before this review) are in for quite an experience, no matter how well they know the infamous shower scene.
For more daring distractions, marvelous macguffins, and rocking red herrings, please click here. Hope you enjoy all our great posts. Thanks for reading, all, and see you soon for the blogathon wrapup…
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The Making of Psycho (documentary). Dir. Laurent Bouzereau. Universal Studios Home Video, 2017.