Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Universal Pictures)

Film

Alfred Hitchcock on what made the 'Psycho' shower scene so scary

@jackwhatley89

“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” — Alfred Hitchcock.

If there is one man who can be described as an icon of cinema, then the all too familiar silhouette of Alfred Hitchcock will no doubt appear in your mind’s eye. The landmark director delivered a filmography that would not only stand the test of time but define cinema’s legacy for decades to come. The mere term ‘Hitchcockian’ should tell you all you need to know about his legacy.

Of course, there is one area where Hitchcock truly excelled; horror. Though he was a multi-faceted director capable of creating romantic dramas, stylish thrillers and much more, it was his iconic foray into horror in 1960 that he is most well-known for in contemporary cinema. Psycho was a psychological thriller that was years ahead of its time, a project that toyed with the structure of the genre and subverted audience expectations until its shocking, now infamous, final sequence.

From Hitchcock, ‘the master of suspense’, the 1960 film quickly found great success thanks to its impressive lead cast that included Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles and John Gavin. Under the strange domination of his mother, the film follows a young man named Norman Bates, who runs the everyday functioning of the ‘Bates Motel’. In this secluded hideaway, a young woman evading the law finds herself trapped with a murderous and deranged individual.

Hitchcock was a legend, and, before his death in 1980, he made sure to offer his knowledge to any would-be filmmaker who wanted to hear it. In particular, when speaking with Dick Cavett in 1972, as part of Cavett’s legendary TV show, the director provided some critical details about what made the Psycho shower scene such a seismic moment in the history of cinema.

“It was just this fast cutting from one thing to another,” Hitchcock told the show host. “The knife coming at the camera and so forth… the cutting of the knife, the girl’s face and the feet and everything was so rapid that there was 78 separate pieces of film in 45 seconds.”

Later, the director also noted that he asked the production team of Psycho to create a “lovely torso” filled with fake arteries and blood. the body remained unused as he never shot the knife entering the body, something Hitchcock has always attributed to the scene’s innate terror.

The other huge surprise in the middle of the film is the loss of the film’s lead Janet Leigh so early in the movie’s running time. Losing the star of the film within 40 minutes was not a common practice before Hitchcock came in. Watch Alfred Hitchcock explain why Psycho is so scary below.