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Psycho (1960 film)

Psycho is a suspense/horror film directed by auteur Alfred Hitchcock, from the screenplay by Joseph Stefano about a psychotic killer. It is based on the novel of the same name by Robert Bloch, which was in turn inspired by the crimes of Wisconsin murderer Ed Gein. The film depicts the encounter between a secretary, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), who is in hiding at a motel after embezzling from her employer, and the motel's owner, the lonely Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins).

It initially received mixed reviews but outstanding box-office returns, prompting a re-review which was overwhelmingly positive and led to four Academy Award nominations. Regarded today as one of Hitchcock's best films and highly praised as a work of cinematic art by international critics, Psycho is also acclaimed as one of the most effective horror films. It was a genre-defining film, and almost every scene is legendary, many having been copied or parodied. The film spawned several sequels and a remake, which are generally seen as works of lesser quality.

"The Shower Scene" has been studied, discussed, and cited countless times in print and in film courses much with debate focusing on why it is so terrifying and how it was produced, including how it passed the censors and debate over who actually directed it.

Plot

The movie opens in Phoenix, Arizona, where discreet lovers Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and Sam Loomis (John Gavin) want to marry, but cannot, as Sam is in debt and must also pay heavy alimony to his ex-wife. Unhappy and desperate to improve their situation, Marion steals $40,000 in cash from her office and drives to California, where Sam lives. All the while, Marion is nervous and apprehensive, and drives well into the night, eventually parking alongside the road to sleep.

She is awakened by a concerned highway police officer, who warns her that it is dangerous to sleep in a car and tells her in the future to find a motel. However, Marion's agitation and desperation to leave arouses his suspicions. The officer looks at her license and registration, taking note of the plate number. He allows her to go on, but follows her, which agitates Marion further. Realizing that he now knows her plate number, is suspicious of her, and that she can be tracked by the authorities when the money is reported stolen, she trades her 1956 Ford Mainline (and pays an additional $700) for a 1957 Ford Custom 300 before continuing to California. However, the same officer has been watching the exchange from across the street and gotten her new plate number. Marion leaves, worrying that the car trader will express suspicions of his own to the officer.

Marion becomes fatigued from stress and driving in heavy rain and decides to find a proper place to stay for the night, fearing a reprise of the incident with the patrolman. She turns off the main road without realizing it, and arrives at the Bates Motel, a twelve-cabin lodging, rather out-of-the-way with no other guests at present. The young, boyishly handsome and innocent-seeming owner, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), explains to her that business has decreased dramatically since the new road bypassed the motel. Norman does what little work is left, and also looks after his mother in a sinister-looking house on top of a nearby hill. Marion checks in under an assumed name, though she unwittingly gives her real name to him later.

It is still raining, Marion is very tired, and the nearest diner is ten miles away, so Norman suggests that she have dinner at his house. However, from her room, Marion overhears a heated argument between Norman and his mother, who seems to suspect that his meal with Marion is part of a sordid affair. The two eat in the office instead, where Norman keeps several stuffed birds (his hobby is taxidermy). While eating, they have a gentle conversation at first, but Norman loses his temper after she delicately suggests he gets help in looking after his disturbed mother. Norman recovers from his brief outburst and admits that he would like to leave, but can't abandon his mother. He compares his life to a trap and observes that this aptly describes most people. Marion leaves for bed, saying she has a long drive back to Phoenix in the morning and undresses in her room next door while Norman watches through a peephole in the wall of his office.

Marion concludes that she should make things right with the money before the trap that she has stepped in closes, and is relieved by her decision. Forgetting the problems that plague her for the time being, she takes a shower. Suddenly, a human figure enters the bathroom — shadowy through the shower curtain — and brutally stabs Marion to death. She dies shortly after grabbing the curtain, which collapses. Norman is horrified when he finds the bloody corpse, but he pulls himself together and wraps it in the shower curtain. He cleans up the room, then places the body and all of Marion's possessions (including the stolen money which is still hidden in a newspaper) into the trunk of her car before pushing it into a swamp, eliminating any incriminating evidence.

Shortly afterward, Marion's lover Sam is contacted almost simultaneously by Marion's worried sister Lila (Vera Miles) and by a private detective, Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam), hired by Marion's employer to find her and recover the money himself, as her employer does not want police involvement. Arbogast suspects that either of them could know Marion's whereabouts. However, he traces the missing woman to the Bates Motel and questions Norman, who lies poorly. Arbogast wants to speak to Bates's mother but the young man vehemently forbids it. Arbogast then calls Marion's sister from a public phone, and tells her that he is not satisfied with what he has been told. He sneaks into the old house to question Mrs. Bates, but is pushed backwards down a flight of stairs and stabbed to death.

Lila and Sam become concerned when Arbogast does not report again and decide to alert the local police. Deputy Sheriff Al Chambers (John McIntire) is puzzled that Arbogast has claimed to have seen Norman's mother, as she has been buried for the past ten years, having (apparently) poisoned herself and her lover with strychnine. Meanwhile, the Bates' house resonates with a conversation as Norman confronts his mother, urging her to go into hiding in the fruit cellar, as people are already searching for Marion and will eventually search for Arbogast as well. She rejects the suggestion, angrily mentioning the previous occasion when Norman convinced her to stay down there for a long time. She then orders Norman to leave the room. He refuses, picks her up against her will and carries her downstairs to the fruit cellar, with her yelling "Put me down! I can walk on my own!"

Sam and Lila decide to check into the Bates Motel, posing as a married couple. Norman assigns them to a cabin away from Marion's room. They sneak in anyway to investigate, and find that the shower curtain is missing. Lila looks into the toilet and sees a small scrap of paper caught at the edge. The sum of $40,000 is written on it, confirming that Marion had been there. Lila then sneaks into the house with the intention of talking to Norman's mother, while Sam distracts the young man. Sam suggests to Norman that he has killed Marion to get his hands on her stolen money. They argue until Norman realizes that Lila is not present. Furious and panicked, he knocks Sam unconscious and races to the house. Seeing him come through a window, Lila hides from him in the fruit cellar, where she discovers that Mrs. Bates is a semi-preserved mummified corpse. At that moment, Norman (wearing his mother's clothes and a wig) enters, screaming and holding a knife. However, Sam has regained consciousness and arrives just in time to save Lila. He rips Norman's wig and dress during their struggle.

At the end of the film, a forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Fred Richmond (Simon Oakland), explains to Lila, Sam, and the authorities that Bates's mother, though dead, lives on in Norman's psyche. Dr. Richmond explains that while growing up, Norman lived alone with his mother, as if they were the only two people in the world. ("A boy's best friend is his mother," Norman had told Marion early in the film.) Yet when his mother found a lover, Norman became jealous and murdered them both. He was so dominated by his mother while she lived, and so guilt-ridden for murdering her ten years earlier, that he tried to erase the crime from his mind by bringing his mother back to life. Physically, this was done by stealing her corpse ("a weighted coffin was buried," according to Richmond) and preserving his mother's body using his taxidermy skills. This process also created a dual personality in Norman; he incorporated the persona of his mother as a separate part of his psyche. When he is being his "Mother", he acts as he believes she would, talks as she would, and even dresses as she would, in an attempt to erase her absence and with it, his guilt. Because Norman was very jealous of his mother while she lived, he imagined that Mother would be equally jealous of any woman to whom he might be attracted, to the point of murdering them. Norman's psychosis protects him from (consciously) knowing about the crimes the mother figure commits, and it also prevents him from consciously knowing that his mother is long dead. Besides Marion and Arbogast, the sheriff recalls that the disappearances of two other young women in the area have gone unresolved.

The last scene shows Norman Bates seated in a cell. His mind is now completely dominated by the persona of his mother. We hear "her" internal voice as a voice-over. She blames Norman, and plans on demonstrating to the authorities that it was Norman who did the crimes, whereas she is utterly harmless. She knows that people must be observing her, and will show them what kind of a person she is. As a fly crawls on Norman's hand, Mother continues, "I'm not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching. They'll see, they'll know, and they'll say, 'Why, she wouldn't even harm a fly'". We see "Mother" give a smile of satisfaction, which shows through Norman's demented stare. (A double exposure shot of Norman's face over a bleached skull.) The film's final shot is of Marion's car being recovered from the swamp.

Production

Pre-production

The film is based on the novel by Robert Bloch, which was in turn based (although very loosely) on the crimes of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein. Hitchcock acquired the film rights anonymously through an agent for a very small sum of $9,000.

Hitchcock embraced Psycho as a means to regain success and individuality in an increasingly competitive genre. He had seen many B movies churned out by William Castle such as House on Haunted Hill (1958), and by Roger Corman such as A Bucket of Blood (1959) that cleaned up at box offices despite being panned by critics. There were also a series of competing directors who had tried their hand at typical Hitchcock fare in such films as When Strangers Marry (1944), The Spiral Staircase (1946), Gaslight (1944), and so forth.

Furthermore, both Hitchcock and Henri-Georges Clouzot had adapted two books by the same authors with very different results. Clouzot's Les Diaboliques (1955), based on a Boileau-Narcejac novel, was critically acclaimed and financially successful, earning him the title of the "French Hitchcock", while Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) based on the Boileau-Narcejac novel D'Entre des Morts, had failed both critically and financially. Hitchcock was also constantly reinventing himself (he once said "Style is self-plagiarism"), so, when Peggy Robertson, a trusted production assistant, brought Psycho to his attention, he seized on it not only for its originality but also as a way to retake his mantle as an acclaimed director of suspense.

Ned Brown, Hitchcock's longtime agent, explains that Hitchcock liked the story because the focus began with Marion's dilemma then completely turned after the murder. Hitchcock himself said in an interview with François Truffaut that "I think the thing that appealed to me was the suddenness of the murder in the shower, coming, as it were, out of the blue. That was about all."

James Cavanaugh wrote the original screenplay, but Hitchcock turned it down citing its dragging storyline that he believed read like a TV short horror story. Hitchcock reluctantly agreed to meet with Joseph Stefano, who had worked on only one film before. Despite his newness to the industry, the meeting went well, and Stefano was hired.

The screenplay is relatively faithful to the novel with a few notable adaptations by Hitchcock and Stefano. The book features Mary Crane, from Dallas, Texas as its heroine and protagonist. Since, at the time, a real Mary Crane existed in Phoenix, Hitchcock renamed the character Marion Crane. Stefano also changed Marion's telltale earring found in the bathroom after her death to a scrap of paper in the toilet. When developing the characters for film, Hitchcock asked Stefano why he did not like the Norman Bates character, to which Stefano replied that Norman was unsympathetic, unattractive, and a drinker. Hitchcock suggested Perkins as a sympathetic man, and Stefano agreed. Other changes Stefano made for the screenplay include the location of Arbogast's death from the foyer to the stairwell. He also changed the novel's budding romance between Sam and Lila to just a friendly relationship, and instead of using the two to explain Norman's mental condition he replaced them with a professional psychiatrist.

Paramount, whose contract guaranteed another film by Hitchcock, did not want Hitchcock to make Psycho. Paramount was expecting No Bail for the Judge starring Audrey Hepburn who became pregnant and had to bow out, leading Hitchcock to scrap the production. Their official stance was that the book was "too repulsive" and "impossible for films", and nothing but another of his star-studded mystery thrillers. They did not like "anything about it at all" and denied him his usual budget. So, Hitchcock financed the film's creation through his own Shamley Productions, shooting at Universal Studios under the Revue television unit. Hitchcock's original Bates Motel and Psycho House movie set buildings, which were constructed on the same stage as Lon Chaney's The Phantom of the Opera, are still standing at Universal Studios in Universal City near Hollywood and are a regular attraction on the studio's tour. As a further result of cost cutting, Hitchcock chose to film Psycho in black and white, keeping the budget under $1,000,000. Other reasons for shooting in black and white were to prevent the shower scene from being too gory and that he was a fan of Les Diaboliques's use of black and white.

To keep costs down and because he was most comfortable around them, Hitchcock took most of his crew from his television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including the cinematographer, set designer, script supervisor, and first assistant director. He hired regular collaborators Bernard Herrmann as music composer, George Tomasini as editor, and Saul Bass for the title design and storyboarding of the shower scene. In all, his crew cost $62,000.

Through the strength of his reputation, Hitchcock managed to cast Janet Leigh for a quarter of her usual fee, paying only $25,000 (in the 1967 book Hitchcock/Truffaut, Hitchcock said that Leigh owed Paramount one final film on her seven-year contract which she had signed in 1953). His first choice, Leigh agreed after having only read the novel and making no inquiry into her salary.Her co-star, Anthony Perkins, agreed to $40,000. Both stars were experienced and proven box-office draws.

Paramount did distribute the film, but four years later Hitchcock sold his stock in Shamley to Universal's parent company and his next six films were made at and distributed by Universal. After another four years, Paramount sold all rights to Universal. When the film became a major hit, the Hitchcocks received a much larger share of the profit than they would have otherwise.

Filming

The film, independently produced by Hitchcock, was shot at Revue Studios, the same location as his television show. Psycho was shot on a tight budget of $806,947.55, beginning on November 11, 1959 and ending on February 1, 1960. Filming started in the morning and finished by six or earlier on Thursdays (when Hitchcock and his wife would dine at Chasen's). Nearly the whole film was shot with 50 mm lenses on 35 mm cameras. This trick closely mimicked normal human vision, which helped to involve the audience more.

Before shooting began in November, Hitchcock dispatched assistant director Hilton Green to Phoenix to scout locations and shoot the opening scene. The shot was supposed to be an aerial shot of Phoenix that slowly zoomed into the hotel window of a passionate Marion and Sam. Ultimately, the helicopter footage proved too shaky and had to be spliced with footage from the studio. Another crew filmed day and night footage on Highway 99 between Fresno and Bakersfield, California for projection when Marion drives from Phoenix. They also provided the location shots for the scene where she is pulled over by the highway patrolman.

Green also took photos of a prepared list of 140 locations for later reconstruction in the studio. These included many real estate offices and homes like those belonging to Marion and her sister. He also found a girl who looked just like Marion and photographed her whole wardrobe, which would enable Hitchcock to demand realistic looks from Helen Colvig, the wardrobe supervisor.

Both the leads, Perkins and Leigh, were given freedom to interpret their roles and improvise as long as it did not involve moving the camera. An example of Perkins' improvisation is Norman's habit of munching on candy corn.

Throughout filming, Hitchcock created and hid various versions of the \\"Mother corpse\\" prop in Janet Leigh's dressing room closet. There were no hard feelings as Leigh took the joke well, and she wonders whether it was done to keep her on edge and thus more in character or to judge which corpse would be scarier for the audience.

During shooting, Hitchcock was forced to uncharacteristically do retakes for some scenes. The final shot in the shower scene, which starts with an extreme close-up on Marion's eye and pulls up and out, proved very difficult for Leigh, since the water splashing in her face made her want to blink, and the cameraman had trouble as well since he had to manually focus while moving the camera. Retakes were also required for the opening scene, since Hitchcock felt that Leigh and Gavin were not passionate enough. Leigh had trouble saying \\"Not inordinately\\" for the real estate office scene, requiring additional retakes. Lastly, the scene in which the mother is discovered required complicated coordination of Mother's chair turning around, Vera Miles hitting the light bulb, and a lens flare, which proved to be the sticking point. Hitchcock forced retakes until all three elements were to his satisfaction.

According to Hitchcock, a series of shots with Arbogast going up the stairs in the Bates house before he is stabbed were directed by Hilton Green, working with storyboard artist Saul Bass' drawings only while Hitchcock was incapacitated with a \\"temperature.\\" However, upon viewing the dailies of the shots, Hitchcock was forced to scrap them. He claimed they were \\"no good\\" because they didn't portray \\"an innocent person but a sinister man who was going up those stairs.\\" The scene was later reshot by Hitchcock, though a little of the cut footage made its way into the film.

Filming the murder of Arbogast proved tricky due to the overhead camera angle (to hide the film's twist). A camera track constructed on pulleys alongside the stairway together with a chair-like device had to be constructed and thoroughly tested over a period of weeks.

Shower scene

The film's pivotal scene, and one of the most famous scenes in cinema history, is the murder of Janet Leigh's character in the shower. As such, it spawned numerous myths and legends. It was shot from December 17 to December 23, 1959 and between 71 and 78 angles (the exact number is unknown). The scene "runs 3 minutes and includes 50 cuts." Most of the shots are extreme close-ups except for medium shots in the shower directly before and directly after the murder. The combination of the close shots with the short duration between cuts makes the sequence feel longer, more subjective, more uncontrolled, and more violent than the images themselves were they presented alone or in a wider angle.

In order to capture the straight-on shot of the shower head, the camera had to be equipped with a long lens. The inner holes on the spout were blocked and the camera placed farther back, so that the water appears to be hitting the lens but actually went around and past it.

The soundtrack of screeching violins, violas, and cellos was an original all-strings piece by composer Bernard Herrmann entitled "The Murder." Hitchcock originally wanted the sequence (and all motel scenes) to play without music, but Herrmann begged him to try it with the cue he had composed. Afterwards, Hitchcock agreed that it vastly intensified the scene and he nearly doubled Herrmann's salary. The blood in the scene is in fact chocolate syrup, which shows up better and has more realistic density than stage blood on black-and-white film. The sound of the knife entering flesh was created by plunging a knife into a Casaba.

It is sometimes claimed that Janet Leigh was not in the shower the entire time and a body double was used. However, in an interview with Roger Ebert, and in the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, Leigh stated that she was in the scene the entire time; Hitchcock used a live model as her stand-in for only the scenes in which Bates wraps up Marion's body in a shower curtain and places her body in the trunk of her car.

Another popular myth is that in order for Janet Leigh's scream in the shower to sound realistic, Hitchcock used ice-cold water. Leigh denied this on numerous occasions. Also, all of the screams are Leigh's.

Another myth was that Leigh was only told by Hitchcock to stand in the shower, and had no idea that her character was actually going to be murdered the way it was, causing an authentic reaction. The most notorious urban legend arising from the production of Psycho began when Saul Bass, the graphic designer, who created many of the title sequences of Hitchcock's films and storyboarded some of his scenes, claimed that he had actually directed the shower scene. This claim was refuted by several people associated with the film. Leigh, who is the focus of the scene, stated, "...absolutely not! I have emphatically said this in any interview I've ever given. I've said it to his face in front of other people... I was in that shower for seven days, and, believe me, Alfred Hitchcock was right next to his camera for every one of those seventy-odd shots." Hilton Green, the assistant director and cameraman, also denies Bass' claim: "There is not a shot in that movie that I didn't roll the camera for. And I can tell you I never rolled the camera for Mr. Bass." Roger Ebert, a long-time admirer of Hitchcock's work, was also amused by the rumor, stating, "It seems unlikely that a perfectionist with an ego like Hitchcock's would let someone else direct such a scene.

However, commentators such as Stephen Rebello and Bill Krohn have established that Saul Bass did contribute to the creation of that scene in his capacity as a graphic artist. Bass is credited for the design of the opening credits and also as 'Pictorial Consultant' in the credits. François Truffaut had asked Hitchcock during their famous interview to the extent of Bass' contribution to the film to which Hitchcock said that Bass designed the titles as well as provided storyboards for the Arbogast murder which he claimed to have rejected but Hitchcock made no mention of Bass' storyboards for the shower scene which he had either neglected or ignored altogether. Bass first claimed to have directed the scene, according to Bill Krohn's Hitchcock At Work in 1970 where he provided to a magazine 48 drawings used as storyboards as proof that he directed the scene.

Krohn's analysis of the production of Psycho in his book Hitchcock at Work while refuting Bass' claims for directing the scene notes that these storyboards did introduce key aspects of the final scene notably the fact that the killer appears as a silhouette and details such as the shower curtain being torn down, the curtain rod being used as a barrier, and the transition from the hole of the drainage pipe to Marion Crane's dead eyes which as Krohn notes is highly reminiscent of the iris titles for Vertigo.

Krohn's extensive research notes that Hitchcock shot the scene with two cameras: one a BNC Mitchell, the other a handheld camera called an Éclair which Orson Welles had used in Touch of Evil. In order to create an ideal montage for the greatest emotional impact on the audience, Hitchcock shot a lot of footage of this scene which he trimmed down in the editing room. He even at one time brought a Moviola on the set to gauge the footage required. The final sequence, which his editor George Tomassini worked on with Hitchcock's advice, as Krohn noted went far beyond the basic paradigms set up by Bass' storyboards.

It is often claimed that, despite its graphic nature, the "shower scene" never once shows a knife puncturing flesh. However, a frame-by-frame analysis shows that the knife does indeed visibly penetrate the skin by a fraction of an inch, albeit only once, and so briefly (just three frames of film, or about an eighth of one second) as to be subliminal. This was done by filming the knife being drawn away, and reversed.

According to Donald Spoto in The Dark Side of Genius, Hitchcock's wife, Alma Reville, spotted a blooper in one of the last screenings of Psycho before its official release: after Marion was supposedly dead, one could see her blink. The "making of" featurette on the Collector's Edition DVD also mentions the fact that Alma spotted a blooper in a late screening of the film; however, according to this account, the problem was that Leigh's character appeared to take a breath. In either case, the postmortem activity was edited out and was never seen by audiences.

Although Marion's eyes should be dilated after her death, the contacts necessary for this effect would have required six weeks of acclimatization in order to wear them, so Hitchcock decided to forgo them.

Anthony Perkins was not used for the filming of the scene because he was in New York preparing for a play.

Leigh herself was so affected by this scene when she saw it, that she no longer took showers unless she absolutely had to; she would lock all the doors and windows and would leave the bathroom and shower door open.

Janet Leigh and Hitchcock fully discussed what the scene meant:

Marion had decided to go back to Phoenix, come clean, and take the consequence, so when she stepped into the bathtub it was as if she were stepping into the baptismal waters. The spray beating down on her was purifying the corruption from her mind, purging the evil from her soul. She was like a virgin again, tranquil, at peace.

Film theorist Robin Wood also discusses how the shower washes "away her guilt." He comments upon the "alienation effect" of killing off the "apparent center of the film" with which spectators had identified.

Censorship

According to Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the censors in charge of enforcing the Production Code for the MPAA wrangled with Hitchcock because some censors insisted they could see one of Janet Leigh's breasts. Hitchcock held onto the print for several days, left it untouched, and resubmitted it for approval. Astoundingly, each of the censors reversed their positions those who had previously seen the breast now did not, and those who had not, now did. They passed the film after the director removed one shot that showed the buttocks of Leigh's stand-in. The board was also upset by the racy opening, so Hitchcock said that if they let him keep the shower scene he would reshoot the opening with them on the set. Since they did not show up for the reshoot, the opening stayed.

Another cause of concern for the censors was that Marion was shown flushing a toilet, with its contents (torn-up paper) fully visible. In film and TV at that time a toilet was never seen, let alone heard. This tradition became so well-known that later shows like All in the Family and Sanford and Son added a laugh track every time a flushing sound was heard.

Also, according to the "Making of" featurette on the Collector's Edition DVD, some censors objected to the use of the word "transvestite" in the film's closing scenes. This objection was withdrawn after writer Joseph Stefano took out a dictionary and proved to them that the word carried no hidden sexual context, but merely referred to "a man who likes to wear women's clothing".

Internationally, Hitchcock was forced to make minor changes to the film, mostly to the shower scene. Notably, in Britain the shot of Norman washing blood from his hands was objected to and in Singapore, though the shower scene was left untouched, the murder of Arbogast and a shot of Mother's corpse were removed.

Promotion

Hitchcock did most of the promotion on his own, forbidding Leigh and Perkins from making the usual television, radio, and print interviews for fear of them revealing the plot. Even critics were not given private screenings but rather had to see the film with the general public, which, despite possibly affecting their reviews, certainly preserved the plot.

The film's original trailer features a jovial Hitchcock taking the viewer on a tour of the set, and almost giving away plot details before stopping himself. It is "tracked" with Bernard Herrmann's Psycho theme, but also jovial music from Hitchcock's comedy The Trouble With Harry; most of Hitchcock's dialogue is post-synchronized. The trailer was made after completion of the film, and since Janet Leigh was no longer available for filming, Hitchcock had Vera Miles don a blonde wig and scream loudly as he pulled the shower curtain back in the bathroom sequence of the preview. Since the title, "Psycho," instantly covers most of the screen, the switch went unnoticed by audiences for years. However a freeze-frame analysis clearly reveals that it is Vera Miles and not Janet Leigh in the shower during the trailer.

The most controversial move was Hitchcock's "no late admission" policy for the film, which was unusual for the time. It was not entirely original as Clouzot had done the same in France for Les Diaboliques. Hitchcock thought that if people entered the theater late and never saw the star actress Janet Leigh, they would feel cheated. At first theater owners were up in arms claiming that they would lose business, but after the first day the owners enjoyed long lines of people waiting to see the film.

The film was so successful that it was reissued to theaters in 1965. A year later, CBS purchased the television rights for $450,000. CBS planned to televise the film on September 23, 1966, but three days prior Valerie Percy, the daughter of Illinois senate candidate Charles H. Percy, was murdered. As her parents slept mere feet away, she was stabbed a dozen times with a double-edged knife. In light of the murder, CBS agreed to postpone the screening, but as a result of the Apollo pad fire of January 27, 1967, the network washed its hands of Psycho. Following another successful theatrical reissue in 1969, the film finally made its way to television in one of Universal's syndicated programming packages for local stations in 1970. Psycho was aired for twenty years in this format, then leased to cable for two years before returning to syndication as part of the "List of a Lifetime" package.

Cast

  • Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. After Psycho had established itself, as well as jump-starting the careers of Perkins and Leigh, both suffered from typecasting. However, when Perkins was asked whether he would still take the role knowing that he would be typecast afterwards he replied with a definite yes.
  • Janet Leigh as Marion Crane. Until her death, Leigh continued to receive strange and sometimes threatening calls, letters, and even tapes detailing what they would like to do to Marion Crane. One letter was so "grotesque" that it was passed along to the FBI, two of whose agents visited Leigh and told her the culprits had been located and that she should notify the FBI if she received any more letters of that type.
  • Martin Balsam as Detective Milton Arbogast
  • John Gavin as Sam Loomis
  • Vera Miles as Lila Crane
  • Simon Oakland as Dr. Fred Richmond
  • John McIntire as Sheriff Al Chambers
  • Frank Albertson as Tom Cassidy
  • Patricia Hitchcock as Caroline
  • Ted Knight as Policeman

Norman Bates's mother was voiced by Paul Jasmin, Virginia Gregg, and Jeanette Nolan, who also provided some screams for Lila's discovery of mother's corpse. The three voices were thoroughly mixed, except for the last speech, which is all Gregg's.

Persistent rumors claim that actor George Reeves was originally cast as Detective Arbogast and that Reeves had actually begun filming. These rumors are false. Reeves died June 16, 1959, four months before the script to Psycho was completed and five months before filming began.

A young Ted Knight appears as the security guard outside of Norman Bates' cell in the end of the film.

Hitchcock's cameo

  • Alfred Hitchcock's cameo is a signature occurrence in most of his films. In Psycho, he can be seen (7 minutes into the film) through a window, wearing a Stetson hat, standing outside of Marion Crane's office.

Reception

Initial reviews of the film were thoroughly mixed. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times warned people that Hitchcock \"comes at you with a club in this frankly intended bloodcurdler\" and complained that the \"denouement falls quite flat for us. Other negative reviews stated, \"a blot on an honorable career\", \"plainly a gimmick movie\", and \"merely one of those television shows padded out to two hours.\" Positive reviews stated, \"Anthony Perkins' performance is the best of his career... Janet Leigh has never been better\", \"played out beautifully\", and \"first American movie since Touch of Evil to stand in the same creative rank as the great European films.\" A good example of the mix is the New York Herald Tribune's review, which stated, \"...rather difficult to be amused at the forms insanity may take... keeps your attention like a snake-charmer.\" The public loved the film, with lines stretching outside of theaters as people had to wait for the next showing. It broke box-office records in Asia, Japan, China, France, Britain, South America, the United States, and Canada, and was a moderate success in Australia for a brief period. It is one of the largest-grossing black-and-white films and helped make Hitchcock a multimillionaire and the third-largest shareholder in Universal. In Great Britain, it shattered attendance records at the London Plaza Cinema, but nearly all British critics panned it, questioning Hitchcock's taste and judgment. Reasons cited for this were the critics' late screenings, forcing them to rush their reviews, their dislike of the gimmicky promotion, and Hitchcock's expatriate status. Perhaps thanks to the public's response and Hitchcock's efforts at promoting it, the critics did a re-review, and the film was praised. Time magazine switched its opinion from \"Hitchcock bears down too heavily in this one\" to \"superlative\" and \"masterly\", and Bosley Crowther put it on his Top Ten list of 1960.

Psycho was initially criticized for making other filmmakers more willing to show gore, and indeed a scant three years later Blood Feast, considered to be the first \"gore film,\" was released. Psycho's success financially and critically had others trying to ride its coattails. Inspired by Psycho, Hammer Film Productions launched a series of mystery thrillers, most shot in black and white and all with twist endings, starting with Taste of Fear (1961), followed by Maniac and Paranoiac (1963), Nightmare and Hysteria (1964), Fanatic and The Nanny (1965), and Crescendo (1969). Other films inspired by the success of Psycho include William Castle's Homicidal, followed by a whole slew of more than thirteen other splatter films.

Awards and honors

Psycho was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress (Janet Leigh), Direction (Alfred Hitchcock), Black and White Cinematography (John Russell), and Black and White Art Direction-set decoration (Joseph Hurley, Robert Clatworthy; George Milo). It did not win any Academy Awards, though Leigh did win a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, and Perkins tied for best actor in an award from the International Board of Motion Picture Reviewers. Stefano was nominated for two writing awards by Edgar Allan Poe Awards and the Writers Guild of America, East; he won the former only. Hitchcock was nominated for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures by the Directors Guild of America. In 1992, this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry.

"No other murder mystery in the history of the movies has inspired such merchandising." Any number of items emblazoned with Bates Motel, stills, lobby cards, and highly valuable posters are available for purchase. In 1992, it was adapted scene-for-scene into three comic books by the Innovative Corporation. It appeared on a number of lists by websites, TV channels, magazines, and books including the following:

  • Its shower scene was featured as #4 on the list of Bravo Network's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.
  • The finale was ranked #4 on Premiere's list of "The 25 Most Shocking Moments in Movie History.
  • #11 in Entertainment Weekly's book titled The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time.

American Film Institute recognition

Innovations

In his novel, Bloch used an uncommon plot structure: he repeatedly introduced sympathetic protagonists, then killed them off. This played on his reader's expectations of traditional plots, leaving them uncertain and anxious. Hitchcock recognized the effect this approach could have on audiences, and utilized it in his adaptation, killing off Janet Leigh's character at the end of the first act. This daring plot device, coupled with the fact that the character was played by the biggest box-office name in the film, was a shocking and disorienting turn of events in 1960. The most original and influential moment in the film is the "shower scene", which became iconic in pop culture because it is often regarded as one of the most terrifying scenes ever filmed. Part of its effectiveness was due to the use of startling editing techniques borrowed from the Soviet montage filmmakers, and to Bernard Herrmann's intense and imaginative musical score.

Psycho is a prime example of the type of film that appeared in the 1960s after the erosion of the Production Code. It was unprecedented in its depiction of sexuality and violence, right from the opening scene where Sam and Marion are shown as lovers sharing the same bed. In the Production Code standards of that time, unmarried couples shown in the same bed would be taboo. In addition, the censors were upset by the shot of a flushing toilet; at that time, the idea of seeing a toilet onscreen - let alone being flushed - was taboo in American movies and TV shows. According to Entertainment Weekly, "The Production Code censors... had no objection to the bloodletting, the Oedipal murder theme, or even the shower scene—but did ask that Hitchcock remove the word transvestite from the film. He didn't." At one point, Hitchcock actually considered releasing the film without censorial approval. Its box office success helped propel Hollywood toward more graphic displays of previously-censored themes.

Psycho is widely considered to be the first film in the slasher film genre.

References in popular culture

Psycho has become one of the most recognizable films in cinema history, and is arguably Hitchcock's most well-known film. The iconic shower scene is frequently spoofed, given homage to and referenced in popular culture, complete with the violin screeching sound effects. The Simpsons in particular has spoofed the film on numerous occasions, while Principal Skinner's relationship with his mother is reminiscent of Norman Bates'.

  • The 1978 horror classic Halloween, starring Janet Leigh's daughter Jamie Lee Curtis, also features a character named Sam Loomis and a knife-wielding criminal. The 1998 sequel Halloween H20: 20 Years Later features more references to Psycho and even a cameo appearance by Janet Leigh herself.
  • The 1977 Mel Brooks movie High Anxiety features a shot-for-shot parody of the shower scene, with a bellhop delivering a newspaper rather than brandishing a knife, and newspaper ink instead of blood in the drain.
  • Director Brian De Palma has also referenced Psycho in his early films, borrowing Bernard Herrmann's famous shrieking violins for scenes in Carrie and (more briefly) in Dressed to Kill, a movie whose plot is heavily inspired by Psycho.
  • That '70s Show's Halloween special "Too Old to Trick or Treat, Too Young To Die" parodies a number of films from Hitchcock's oeuvre, including a scene in which Kelso and Laurie mimic the shower scene from Psycho using red raspberry shampoo.
  • In the survival horror video game Silent Hill, the protagonist Harry Mason visits a run-down Bates Motel, whose owner is identified simply as "Norman." Also, one of the streets in the town of Silent Hill is named Bloch after Psycho's author.
  • In an episode of the anime Kirby: Right Back at Ya!, the characters are being haunted, and Escargoon gets covered in red paint. Later, with a sepia tone, he is reflecting on the fact that it isn't blood, climbs into a shower, and relaxes. A figure appears behind the curtain, pulls it back, and repeatedly hits him with a hammer, until he falls back against the wall, and pulls back the curtain. Dedede is then shown, surprised it was Escargoon he was hitting.
  • In World of Warcraft, the innkeeper of the Sepulcher in Silverpine Forest is Innkeeper Bates. The innkeeper of the Undercity is also named Norman.
  • Puddle of Mudd made a music video in the Bates motel for the song "Psycho" which also makes references to Michael Myers and Leatherface.
  • In a special episode of Fear Factor the contestants are staying in the Bates Motel, with several stunts that were inspired by the movie.
  • In the 1999 video game Front Mission 3, a fictional serial killer named Anthony Barkins (also using the alias of Norman Bates) is mentioned throughout the game. His name is a reference to Anthony Perkins, the actor who played Norman Bates.
  • Samples from the soundtrack were used by the group Laibach on their 1985 album, Nova Akropola.
  • An ad campaign for Gibson's Robot Guitar features one where an unnamed obese male is in the shower, crudely singing the main riff from "Smoke on the Water". The scene then continues to the point where the Robot Guitar kills the man, with a version of the screeching violins played by overdriven guitars. The scene ends with the man's hand sliding down the shower wall, with the fender logo on his hand.
  • In the 2003 Pixar film Finding Nemo, Bernard Hermann's famous murder scene score is used when Darla, the dentist's niece, makes an entrance.
  • During the 72nd Academy Awards, one of the opening spoofs features Billy Crystal showering. A figure sneaks up behind him and rips the curtain open... revealing Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey's character from American Beauty), asking why Crystal is using his bathroom. Crystal nervously asks if this is the beginning of the movie (where Lester masturbates in the shower) to which Lester happily responds, "You bet", as he raises an industrial size bottle of lotion into the air like a knife. The shower music cues up as Crystal screams and they cut to the next spoof.
  • The 'Intro' theme from Sepultura' 1987 album "Schizophrenia" featured a synthethizer cover of Hermann's murder scene score, with a reversed scream from the bands vocalist Max Cavalera.
  • In the Histeria! episode "North America", Pepper Mills mistaking Wild Bill Hickok for Alfred Hitchcock signals a parody clip titled "Psicko"; the clip parodies the shower scene by having Froggo flushing the toilet while the World's Oldest Woman is in the shower.
  • In the 2003 live-action/animated film Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Bugs Bunny does a humorous parody of the shower murder piece complete with down to the dozens of odd angles and close-up shots, and using cartoon-appropriate chocolate syrup for fake blood. After playing dead for a few seconds, Bugs quips, "Doesn't anyone knock anymore?"

Interpretation and themes

The film often features shadows, mirrors, windows, and, less so, water. The shadows are present from the very first scene where the blinds make bars on Marion and Sam as they peer out the window. The stuffed birds' shadows loom over Marion as she eats, and Mother is seen in only shadows until the very end. More subtly, backlighting turns the rakes in the hardware store into talons above Lila's head.

Mirrors reflect Marion as she packs, her eyes as she checks the rear-view mirror, her face in the policeman's sunglasses, and her hands as she counts out the money in the car dealership's bathroom. A motel window serves as a mirror by reflecting Marion and Norman together. Hitchcock shoots through Marion's windshield and the telephone booth, when Arbogast phones Sam and Lila. The heavy downpour can be seen as foreshadowing of the shower, and it letting up can be seen as a symbol of Marion making up her mind to return to Phoenix.

There are a number of references to birds. Marion's last name is Crane and she is from Phoenix. Norman's hobby is stuffing birds, and he comments that Marion eats like a bird.

Psychoanalytic interpretation

Psycho has been called "the first psychoanalytical thriller." The sex and violence in the film were unlike anything previously seen in a mainstream film. "[T]he shower scene is both feared and desired," wrote French film critic Serge Kaganski, "Hitchcock may be scaring his female viewers out of their wits, but he is turning his male viewers into potential rapists, since Janet Leigh has been turning men on ever since she appeared in her brassiere in the first scene."

In his documentary The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, Slavoj Žižek remarks that Norman Bates' mansion has three floors, parallelling the three levels that psychoanalysis attributes to the human mind: the first floor would be the superego, where Bates' mother lives; the ground floor is then Bates' ego, where he functions as an apparently normal human being; and finally, the basement would be Bates' id. Žižek interprets Bates' moving his mother's corpse from first floor to basement as a symbol for the deep connection that psychoanalysis posits between superego and id.

Sequels and remakes

The film spawned three sequels: Psycho II (1983), Psycho III (1986), and the prequel Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990), the last being a TV movie written by the original screenplay author Joseph Stefano. Anthony Perkins returned to his role of Norman Bates in all three sequels, also directing part III, and the voice of Norman Bates' mother was maintained by noted radio actress Virginia Gregg with the exception of Psycho IV where the role was played by Olivia Hussey. Vera Miles also reprised her role of Lila Crane in Psycho II. The sequels were generally considered inferior to the original. Hitchcock did not participate in the making of any of the Psycho sequels (he died before any of them were made).

A spin-off of the Psycho series is Bates Motel (1987) a failed TV pilot turned TV movie. In it, the Bates Motel is bequeathed to Alex West (played by Bud Cort), a fellow inmate of the institution Norman Bates has been committed to. Because of Norman's death, it is not considered canon to the rest of the Psycho series. Anthony Perkins declined to appear in the pilot, so Norman's cameo appearance was played by Kurt Paul, who was Perkins' stunt double on Psycho II and III.

In 1998, Gus Van Sant directed a remake of Psycho. The film is in color and features a different cast, but aside from this it is a virtually shot-for-shot remake copying Hitchcock's camera movements and editing. A Conversation with Norman (2005), directed by Jonathan M. Parisen, was a film inspired by Psycho. It premiered in New York City just three days short of the 45th anniversary of the premiere of the original film. It starred Christopher Englese as Norman, Grace Orosz as Marion and Tom Loggins as Sam.

In 2009, a dramatic feature motion picture is scheduled for theatrical release based on the book by Stephen Rebello, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. Ryan Murphy will direct Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock.

Partial bibliography

The following publications are among those devoted to the production of Psycho:

  • Anobile, Richard J.; editor. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (The Film Classics Library). Avon Books, 1974. This volume, published before the proliferation of home video, is entirely composed of photo reproductions of film frames along with dialogue captions, creating a fumetti of the entire motion picture.
  • Durgnat, Ramond E. A Long Hard Look at Psycho (BFI Film Classics). British Film Institute, 2002.
  • Kolker, Robert; editor. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho: A Casebook. Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Leigh, Janet with Christopher Nickens. Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller. Harmony Press, 1995.
  • Naremore, James. Filmguide to Psycho. Indiana University Press, 1973.
  • Rebello, Stephen. Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. Dembner Books, 1990. A definitive "making of" account tracing every stage of the production of the film as well as its aftermath.
  • Rebello, Stephen. "Psycho: The Making of Alfred Hitchcock's Masterpiece". "Cinefantastique", April 1986 (Volume 16, Number 4/5). Comprehensive 22-page article.
  • Skerry, Philip J. The Shower Scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho: Creating Cinematic Suspense and Terror. Edwin Mellen Press, 2005.

See also

References

External links

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