Watch Hitchcock Explain How He Shot the Shower Scene in 'Psycho'

'Psycho'Credit: Universal Pictures
The master of suspense details his strategy in Hitchcok: Psycho

Alfred Hitchcock was one of the first directors who could sell a movie just based on his name alone. Movie studios around the town had all turned down the rights to adapt Psycho because the book was so salacious and disturbing. Hitchcock saw that as a challenge and took it on, revolutionizing the way we watch movies today upon its release. 

If you've seen the movie recently, you see that it still holds up. The end of Psycho is as chilling now as it was then. I would never go to the real life Bates Motel! 

This is a movie lauded by film critics and eventually turned into a TV show and was even remade. People are obsessed with how it changed horror films and cinema. And the shower sequence is at the heart of it, especially with the Bernard Herrmann score. 

So how did Hitchcock do it? And what was his theory behind it? Check out this video of him being interviewed by Dick Cavett, and let's talk after the jump. 

Alfred Hitchcock: Psycho 

If you're like me, you love the movie Psycho. It's a perfect film. It's one of the first slashers and a movie Hitchcock made on a shoestring budget after the insane success of North by Northwest

No one wanted to make a tawdry murder movie with the first scenes of a woman and man in bed...pre-marital sex implied. The horror! Lucky for us, Hitch was kinda sick in the head. 

The movie, based on the book of the same title, was an insane gamble by Hitchcock, who was (and still is) possibly the most famous director of all time. His name was a brand. It turned out millions if not billions of people to the box office. His movies were must-sees. Social events.

Watch Hitchcock Explain How He Shot the Shower Scene in 'Psycho'
'Psycho'Credit: Paramount Pictures

What Was Psycho About? 

Psycho is a 1960 psychological horror thriller film produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The screenplay, written by Joseph Stefano, was based on the 1959 novel of the same name by Robert Bloch.

The film stars Anthony PerkinsJanet LeighVera MilesJohn Gavin and Martin Balsam. The plot follows embezzler Marion Crane (Leigh) and shy motel owner and peeping tom Norman Bates (Perkins) - who have a chance encounter. A private investigator (Balsam), Marion's lover Sam Loomis (Gavin), and her sister Lila Crane (Miles) investigate her disappearance and question Bates. 

I don't want to give too many spoilers, but the movie is intense, frightening, and interesting. We see a split personality serial killer and lots of blood, albiet in black and white. In 1992, the Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and selected it for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

Watch Hitchcock Explain How He Shot the Shower Scene in 'Psycho'
'Psycho'Credit: Paramount Pictures

Watch Hitchcock Explain How He Shot the Shower Scene in Psycho

I could listen to Hitchcock talk all day. He's not only the master of suspense, but he's also manipulating and joking with the audience here. Letting us hang on his every word. And his words matter, since he's talking about crafting one of the greatest horror sequences of all time. 

The movie Psycho capitalizes on one very specific thing—it makes us terrified of what we think we've seen. Whether that's a murderous old lady who turns out to be a man in drag, or the illusion of someone being stabbed, which is actually 78 shots in 45 seconds, none of which have any blood, penetration, or nudity within it. The fear is from violence in your head. 

So how did Hitchcock shoot the Psycho shower scene? 

To make the shower scene so powerful, Hitch utilized some creative close-up shots. He shot parts of the body and the blade and threw them together because he knew we would picture ourselves being stabbed and knew how visceral that would be. 

But that tracks in Hitchcock's overall cinematography theory. He hates when directors put the camera somewhere humans cannot be—like in the fireplace, or from a perspective that feels foreign, or out of focus so that the sets don't matter.

Watch Hitchcock Explain How He Shot the Shower Scene in 'Psycho'
'Psycho'Credit: Paramount Pictures

His advice to young filmmakers? Always focus on the audience and their perspective. Take into account the human perspective over just a shot you think looks cool. The audience wants to be directed. It's in the director's title after all, and to do that well, you need to see the movie and the world through their eyes. Don't get fancy for fancy's sake. 

Put the camera in places that allow the audience to feel part of the story and become absorbed in the world. Then let your plot points pay off as you take them through the wringer. 

What was used for blood in the movie Psycho?  According to Marli Renfro, a 21-year-old Playboy cover girl who was Janet Leigh’s body double in the shower scene.  “They had a can of Hershey's syrup, which was watered down, and that's what they used for blood." 

What was your favorite part of this interview? Let us know in the comments.      

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1 Comment

Article never mentions the fact that Saul Bass was almost entirely responsible for the shot conception, supervision and storyboarding of the shower sequence.

August 3, 2021 at 4:29PM, Edited August 3, 4:32PM

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