Psycho, released in 1960, is based on the book of the same name by Robert Bloch and was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The famous shower scene remains to be one of the most iconic horror movie scenes of all time and yet the scene has conjured many different opinions and analytical interpretations over the years.
Hitchcock bought the rights to the book “Psycho” and purchased every copy he could find to prevent the ending of the book from being revealed before the movie was released.
Hitchcock gave theaters strict instructions that no one was to be admitted to the show after the movie had started. There were cutouts and posters of Hitchcock in theaters pointing to his watch as if to say you had to see the movie from the beginning or you would not be allowed to see it.
The close up of the flushing toilet shocked sensors more than the shower scene, and the movie terrified theater-goers everywhere.
Paramount pictures had originally protested the casting of Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates because of his age and the fact that audiences would not know who he was. Star quality was brought to the movie through the casting of Janet Leigh and the shower scene in Psycho is legendary with Janet Leigh getting stabbed until she cannot scream any more.
Here are some facts about the scene that few people realize…
1) Special Effects
The blood seen going down the shower drain in the scene was not the fake blood normally used at the time, but chocolate syrup because Hitchcock thought it would look better on the black and white film. A knife puncturing a melon was used for the stabbing sounds that viewers hear in the scene. What viewers see and what they think they see are two completely different things; the scene was designed to make the imaginations of the audience run wild which is far more terrifying than seeing and knowing exactly what happens at any given moment.
The scene was originally supposed to go without a sound track but Bernard Herrmann’s “Screaming Violins” was later approved by Hitchcock. Technicolor was widely used at the time of the filming but Hitchcock chose to film in black and white to get the film done on a low budget and add drama to the movie. The close up of the flushing toilet is showing paper being flushed but the swirling water of the functioning toilet caused much controversy with audiences and sensors.
2) December 17 to December 23, 1959
The famous shower scene is only three minutes long but took seven days to film. The entire movie was filmed in six weeks and so it’s easy to see the amount of attention to detail that was put into this famous scene. The scene’s extreme close ups and heart-stopping effects was created using seventy-seven camera angels and fifty cuts. The water was kept warm for Janet Leigh’s comfort due to the length of time spent filming to get the scene perfect, instead of being turned on ice cold to achieve the terrified screams that are heard coming from the actress – as many rumors had wrongly stated.
The standards of the decade did not allow for nudity so the entire scene had to create the illusion without showing a single body part such as buttock or breast, and the knife could not be shown puncturing the skin. The screams were both recorded during the filming of the scene and recorded screams from actress Janet Leigh were also added at a later day to increase the effect.
3) Camera Angles
The shower scene includes what appears to be water hitting the lens of the camera directly from the showerhead. The scene was shot using a long lens and the spout’s inner holes were blocked to create the effect. In reality the water is going past the lens without actually hitting it. Seventy-seven angles were used and scenes carefully cut to create the illusions of the scene. The scene was carefully choreographed and cut together to insure that only the illusion of nudity was created. The scenes of Leigh undressing and stepping into the shower caused enough controversy and left the rest was left to the imagination. You cannot actually see the face of the killer in the scene, only an outline of someone in a dress.
Marli Renfro was used as a body double in some of the shots. While Hitchcock and Leigh both spent years claiming that Leigh had shot the entire scene, “The Girl in Hitchcock’s Shower” by Robert Graysmith let the secret out. The shots where audiences did not see the face for were mostly completed by Renfro and Leigh claimed having problems as a result of shooting the entire scene in later interviews. Janet Leigh’s abdomen, hands and head were the only parts of her shown on film during the stabbing in the shower scene. Janet Leigh knew that her character was going to be murdered, despite rumors that stated she had not been told to make sure her reaction was authentic. Hitchcock himself directed the entire scene even though some rumors said that Hitchcock refused to direct this particular scene.
5) Reactions to the Scene
In 1988 Myra Jones, Leigh’s other stand-in that was used for lighting (not for live filming) was stabbed to death by a mentally disturbed handyman who had been targeting older woman.
Hitchcock famously received a letter from a man complaining that his daughter who had begun taking showers only after a scene in Les Diaboliques would not even shower after seeing the Psycho shower scene.
Ophthalmologists pointed out that Janet Leigh’s eyes were contracted instead of dilated after death in the scene. Hitchcock began the practice of using eye-drops for the dilation of corpse’s eyes in the rest of his films.
Psycho’s famous shower scene still terrifies audiences over four decades later, even without the ripping flesh and gore that has come to be known in the horror movie industry. The movie changed the setting of the story from that of the book to Phoenix, Arizona from Fort Worth, Texas. Compared to the book, Norman Bates was made more likeable for the movie and it was his heavy drinking that caused the blackouts which led to the murders instead of the physical and mental damage that Bates has in the book. In the book, Bates is also stubby and fat.
The flushing toilet before Leigh gets into the shower was the first one shown on film and it raised red flags from censors. Small parts of Perkin’s’ character were molded after Ed Gein, such as the over attachment to his mother.