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'Psycho' changed the thriller film industry

Janet Leigh in “Psycho,” the number one film of Alfred Hitchcock’slong career.

By KATE THURSTON - kthurston@newsexaminer.com

The shower scene: How can you forget it?

This was the first time in cinematic history that something of this volume happened. The camera angles, the sounds, the cutting with a giant knife over and over, the musical number and the blood flowing was something that had not been seen yet; of course Alfred Hitchcock had to be the first. That 45-second scene was a turning point in Hitchcock’s film career. 

“Psycho” hit cinemas in 1960. The film that turned corners in the thriller industry at the time. It twisted sex, adultery, a psychopath killer and introduced mental illness. No one can forget the unforgettable scene of blood flowing down the bath tub drain. Back then, producers of black-and-white films used chocolate syrup as blood, something you don’t see in color films.

Let’s back up and give a little bit of the story.

Marion Crane, played by Janet Leigh, is a secretary who is fed up with her boss and her life. She is caught up in a love affair with Sam, a man who wants to be with Marion but knows they can’t get married because of money reasons. They meet at lunch and make love, talk about a future that probably won’t ever happen and then they go back to their regular lives after their hour is up.

Once Crane heads back to work one day, she is asked to take $40,000 to the bank. Her mind goes into overdrive and she thinks about all the things that could change if she took the money and ran with it.

She does.

She leaves town and heads to California where Sam lives. She can’t wait to share the news with him that they can start their life together finally. After purchasing a new car and driving down the highway, Crane gets tired and gets caught in a storm and finds the small Bates Motel.

This is where she meets Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins. Let me remind you, Bates had dissociative identity disorder, assuming his mother’s (Norma) personality to repress his awareness of her death and to escape his feelings of guilt for murdering her over jealousy of her new fiance. You don’t find that out until the end of the movie.

Yeah, a little creepy if I do say so.

Long story short, Crane stays at the motel, chats a few with Bates about his mother, his passion for taxidermy and how people go mad from time to time. (Red flag, ya think?) She then decides to turn in for the night, does some bookkeeping and ends her evening with a hot shower. Bates pulls a photo off the wall in the room next door to spy on Crane. His blood begins to flow and the urge comes alive. Before you know it, Bates is in the bathroom, pulling the curtain open and brutally slashing Crane with a large knife over and over until you see her pull the shower curtain down and fall into the bottom of the bathtub.

Later, you learn he killed Crane because his Norman-side was attracted to her but his mother-side went into a jealous rage.

Crane and her car are disposed of and days later, Sam and Marion’s sister come looking for her. You learn a lot about Norman during this time and I mean a lot. Like how his dead mother is in his basement ... yeah, so there’s that ...

Hitchcock really wanted to make a statement with this film and I believe he did just that. Hitchcock said the film wouldn’t have been so big if it weren’t for the music. Bernard Herrmann is the mastermind behind the bone-chilling music played only by string instruments. Hitchcock was so pleased with the score by Herrmann that he doubled the composer’s pay to $34,501. Hitchcock later said, “Thirty-three percent of the effect of ‘Psycho’ was due to the music.”

The film was also Hitchcock’s highest grossing film of his entire career. “Psycho” cost only $800,000 to make and earned more than $40 million.

Kate Thurston is a reporter for the Connersville News-Examiner: kthurston@newsexaminer.com or 765-825-0588 ext. 222.