What comes to our mind when we heard about “Psycho”.. the shabby image of the motel in the middle of nowhere.. by-passed by the characters who were introduced as weird, disturbing and antisocial characters… the brutal merciless killing of a psycho with a broad kitchen knife accompanied by the nerve-wrecking screeching sound of a violin. Does this sound like a cliché? For a contemporary audience, it’s more than likely. In the last three or four decades, most of these elements have been used in numerous movies in order to establish the primary motifs, and we’ve all probably seen someone make the second gesture, always with the infamous screech involved.
But When Psycho first came out in 1960, none of this had the misfortune of being labelled as cliché. The conditions where Hitchcock was allotted more than a modest budget, given the trajectory of his career in terms of genre and themes, given the fact that he was the only one who would even dare consider killing off his most bankable Hollywood star at the end of the film’s first act, Psycho completely caught everyone by surprise. More than a half century later, it is considered as “the turning point” in the history of horror genre, a brilliant Psychological thriller immersed immensely in dark humor and became a landmark film which made its way into the history of film making books not only with its brilliant screenplay by Joseph Stefano, but the screen excellence by its actors and the Hitchcock’s phenomenal direction and technicality made it to consider as one of the movies influenced the liberation of cinema. Psycho was one those movies which clearly showed us about what was acceptable for on-screen presentation. But most of all, Psycho was the ultimate proof of Hitchcock’s versatile talents in terms his toying skills with the audience’s expectations, his bravery in the form of pushing boundaries and scaling the film into a place where other artists in the business were simply too timid or even unimaginative to go.
Significance of the movie:
If anyone wants to understand fully about the significance of the movie, one must consider the circumstances on which the film was made. One of Hitchcock’s faithful assistants Peggy Robertson advised him to read Robert Bloch’s novel of the same name and after Hitchcock acquired the rights of the story less than ten grand. Initially, Paramount executives refused to finance the movie made Hitchcock to shoot the entire movie in black and white and hire his Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV crew to lower all the expenses, and on the terms of Hitchcock’s assurance to finance personally if the studio agreed to distribute it. Even Hitchcock exchanged his usual directing fee for a 60 percent stake in the film negative, to appease the stubborn Paramount people, a risky move taken by Hitchcock which eventually made him millions.
Hitchcock: Master of movie promotion & marketing:
Hitchcock went to greater lengths in order to promote and market the movie made him the master of marketing and promotion. The tricks followed by Hitchcock to attract the audience, later paved the way for other film makers to follow such as the actors of the movie were forbade from promoting the movie on talk shows and TV in order to stop ruining the surprise and shock offered by the movie. Even, Hitchcock initiated a “no late admission” policy, which promoted moviegoers to stand in long lines and overall intensified the public’s interest in the film, unaware of the all delightful shock s that Hitchcock had prepared.
Hitchcock took a massive gamble not only with the horrifying twist at the end of the film; but the fact that the lead actress’s name gets butchered from the opening credits in the infamous shower scene made the viewers to spend a solid half an hour getting to know her, utterly oblivious of the secondary nature of her role in the picture, later all these gambles ultimately paid off.
The methods followed by Hitchcock to make the film’s budget as low as possible; he hired the crew mostly comprised of his old TV collaborators, including cinematographer John L. Russel, first assistant director, set designer and script supervisor. Other important positions were covered by Hitchcock’s regular partners, such as the famous composer Bernard Hermann, editor George Tomasini and title and storyboard designer Saul Bass. Due to his reputation, Hitchcock managed to get actresses and actors for much less than their regular fees. The legend Janet Leigh agreed to make the picture without even inquiring about her remuneration. Leigh, along with Anthony Perkins, was proven to attract the audience to the theaters and practically secured its place at box-office success. Later, Vera Miles, Martin Balsam and John Gavin also joined the line.
The legendary artist Saul Bass was hired to design the title sequence, which was widely debated in the years that followed the film’s premiere later secured his place in almost all the famous scenes of Hitchcock such as “the shower murder”. It is claimed that bass provided the storyboard for the scene, while rumors that Bass directed it himself were soon buried by reliable witness, like Leigh. Another height of the brilliance of the movie is its music score by Bernard Hermann which was considered as a true master piece. Hitchcock initially didn’t even want any music to the shower scene and to the all motel-located scenes in general, but Hermann convinced him to give it a shot. At the end, it was Hitchcock who claimed that at least a third of the film’s appeal and effectiveness was due to Hermann’s music.
Famous Sound effects of “Psycho:
The impact Psycho made on film making and film-going world of the sixties was unimaginable. In short, thought the initial response was lukewarm, the film was enthusiastically received by the audience and became huge success at the box office. The earlier criticism shifted to accolades where the film garnered four Academy Award nominations, one of which was Hitchcock’s last as a director. Moreover, Robert Bloch, the author of the original novel, became a successful and popular horror film screenwriter in the sixties, Anthony Perkin’s career was also revived. On the other hand, Hitchcock suddenly became known as master in horror genre, even though Psycho was practically his first true effort in the genre. Most importantly for film making in general, Psycho is considered by many to be the first slasher movie, and the ultimate success of this movie spurred a whole series of slasher films in the coming ages, ultimately opening the door for the sub genre’s golden era, the extremely blood eighties of Hollywood.
Screenwriter must-read: Joseph Stefano’s screenplay for Psycho [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.
Other interesting facts of Psycho:
ONE LONG OPENING TAKE
As originally scripted, the opening shots of Psycho were intended to be one long, continuous take. Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
PRODUCTION CODE MEMO
The censorship issues with Psycho are legendary including the fate of Marion (originally named Mary), as seen in this Production Code memo. Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
This Psycho production sketch indicates the sinister, suffocating atmosphere to be found in the Bates household. Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Saul Bass reunited with Hitchcock for the opening titles for Psycho, as well as crafting these storyboards for the shower sequence. Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
It is one of the most notorious scenes ever filmed. Vashi Nedomansky edited the Saul Bass storyboards next to the final film version of Psycho. “It’s quite clear that the Saul Bass storyboards were followed explicitly to create the indelible images that made this spectacular scene.”
Janet Leigh and John Gavin share a steamy clinch while filming the eyebrow-raising opening of Psycho. Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The true nature of Mrs. Bates was kept heavily under wraps by Alfred Hitchcock during the production and promotion of Psycho. Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
In this fairly typical Hitchcock interview from 1960, the director adjusts his tie and sits down for a brisk promotional session for Psycho, describing the plot with typical drollery and running through some of his greatest soundbite hits: the oft-told story about how he was imprisoned briefly as a child at his father’s request, qualifying his statement that actors should be treated like cattle (“You mean you want to make them larger cattle than they are?”), and whether he’s ever wanted to be an actor himself (“Nothing so low as that”).Filmmaker Magazine
Various theories have been put forth regarding the origins of Psycho’s Bates Mansion. Author James Michener once claimed that it was based on a Victorian-era, reportedly haunted, house in Kent, Ohio. Another rumor maintains that it was based on the Hotel McCray of Santa Cruz, California. Wrong and wrong. The fact of the matter is that the architecture is more-or-less original. Continue reading at Alfred Hitchcock Geek.
‘THE CUT BECOMES A WEAPON’
A look at how Hitchcock uses editing. When does he cut?
The shower scene comprises of 78 shots edited into a 45 second segment and took 7 days to complete. Martin Scorsese analyses Hitchcock’s editing in Psycho.
Once you’ve sort of mined the classics and they become like logos that you see everywhere, the beauty of Hitchcock’s work is that the more subtle moments are even more powerful and more lasting, I think, ultimately, in the less bravura scenes in pictures like Psycho. In Psycho we have two or three very strong bravura moments which, of course, are the shower scene, the killing of Martin Balsam, the shocking ending… But the sequences that continually give me inspiration are the sequences in which she’s driving.Martin Scorsese
Alfred Hitchcock describes the process behind one of his most iconic scenes.
A retrospective on the entire movie, from start to finish. There are interviews with many of the principle cast and crew (including Janet Leigh and Joseph Stefano), who all talk openly and lovingly about entire process of making the film. The sessions with Janet Leigh are particularly involving, and she talks a great deal about shooting the now infamous shower scene.
THE SOUND OF HITCHCOCK
Join Academy Award-winning sound designers as they reveal how Alfred Hitchcock employed sound to make audience members leap from their seats in fright or crawl under them from excruciating suspense.
PURE CINEMA: THROUGH THE EYES OF HITCHCOCK
Director Martin Scorsese is our guide into the power and mastery of Hitchcock’s visual style, breaking down landmark sequences from Vertigo, The Birds and Psycho.
IN THE MASTER’S SHADOW: HITCHCOCK’S LEGACY
Martin Scorsese, Guillermo del Toro, William Friedkin and many others celebrate the enduring legacy of the man many consider the greatest filmmaker the medium has yet produced. Discover why Alfred Hitchcock’s movies thrill audiences and inspire filmmakers, who continue to employ his cinematic techniques to this day.
BERNARD HERRMANN: HITCHCOCK’S MAESTRO
Bernard Herrmann was perhaps the preeminent film composer of the 20th century. Holding a significant fan base throughout the years, he is one of the most talked about film composers, the subject of many discussions and scholarly papers. He worked with legendary filmmakers such as Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Ray Harry hausen, and composed historic films such as Citizen Kane, Vertigo and Psycho. His unique music certainly commanded attention, whether or not you are a serious fan of the music. It certainly was interesting and imaginative music that held substantial dramatic impact.The Nature of Bernard Herrmann’s Music
An illuminating portrait of one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most important collaborators, film composer Bernard Herrmann.
‘A TALK WITH HITCHCOCK’
Alfred Hitchcock takes us inside his creative process in this fascinating 1964 program from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. This interview of Hitchcock was part of the CBC television series Telescope with host-director Fletcher Markle. It was conducted during or immediately after the filming of Marnie and also contains interesting stories and comments from Hitchcock and his associates Norman Lloyd, Joan Harrison and Bernard Herrmann. There are clips from and during the making of several Hitchcock movies. Enjoy the master of suspense!
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Photographed by Eugene Cook, Bill Craemer & Jeanloup Sieff © Shamley Productions, Paramount Pictures. Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Intended for editorial use only. All material for educational and noncommercial purposes only.