Though Alfred Hitchcock 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 years ahead of its time, a project that toyed with the structure of the horror 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’, a secluded hideaway where a young woman evading the law finds herself trapped.
Elevating the horror genre that was considered somewhat trashy during the mid-20th century, Hitchcock’s masterclass in tone and sustained suspense validated its existence in cinema by toeing the line between a thrilling genre flick and well-constructed drama. With thanks to the film’s soundtrack that became influential in its own right following the release of Psycho, Hitchcock helped to re-energise the horror genre and make way for the slasher sub-genre of the 1980s.
Based on Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel of the same name, the first screenplay of the classic horror was written by James P. Cavanagh who was later replaced by Joseph Stefano after Hitchcock considered the film to drag like a television short story. Believing the film was “too repulsive” and too “impossible” to adapt for the big screen, according to the book Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller, Paramount want Hitchcock to head up the project, a fateful decision that ultimately led the director to finance the film himself through his own Shamley Productions.
After such an influential move for Hitchcock, the wheels were set in motion for the success of Psycho, a film that would be nominated for four Academy Awards in 1961 including Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction. Psycho’s infamous ‘Shower Scene’ would also go on to almost outweigh the fame of the entire film itself, having a major impact on the future of horror.
A hot property at the time of the film’s release, Hitchcock was known as one of the finest directors of the contemporary era thanks to the likes of films such as The 39 Steps, Rebecca and Rear Window, resulting in heavy media coverage of Psycho when its release rolled around in 1960. Speaking to multiple publications about his excitement of the brand new project, in a rare interview uncovered by the BBC, he stated: “I’m planning a psychological film, it’s called Psycho and it’s in the nature of a rather gentle horror picture”.
Though the clip itself is only short, Alfred Hitchcock also gets a chance to briefly discuss his history of playing practical jokes on the set of his films, as he told the interviewer, “The practical jokes I used to enjoy were always benevolent ones, they were never ‘burning the seat of another person’s pants’”.
As to why he gave up the puerile activity, he adds, “I gave it up as they were rather too generous, they were expensive, costly so I don’t do it anymore”.