Every time I see Psycho,I am struck by just how little blood there is,to begin with,in that shower. And then you see the good red stuff,appearing black in the classic B&W frames,run down Janet Leighs legs in rivulets,and you know that the fearsome shadowy creature with that large knife is for real,that there is no way out for her other than in a body bag.
With that one horrific sequence,Alfred Hitchcock turned Psycho into the first slasher film,much before the term gained currency. Fifty years after it first hit theatres,Psycho was re-released last week,and there is enough in there to keep you riveted. Like all of Alfred Hitchcocks plots,it doesnt waste a single second in setting the scene,and taking you through the main plot points: the girl and her married lover in a tawdry hotel room,the growing desperation of never having enough money,the sudden arrival of greed,the attack of conscience and,then,the accidental,fatal meeting with a stranger.
Other directors,particularly Brian de Palma who has the same gift for creating bizarre situations with the utmost conviction,have made movies with similar elements,but its very hard to beat Hitchcock on his ground: he can put you in an enclosed space,like a motel room,train the camera for a few seconds on a few dead,stuffed birds,and make you want to scream.
Every note written on Psycho will trot out trivia on the shower scene: how it took upwards of a week to film,how everyone on the set was sworn to secrecy,including the leading lady who had both a body double,and a stand-in when the director was blocking the scenes. There were no advance screenings,and Hitchcock refused to talk about exactly how he achieved the effect,where you can come away without really seeing a bared breast or butt,just a naked body being hacked to death.
Such was the impact of that scene that Leigh went into depression,and never really recovered from it,according to her husband of the time,Tony Curtis. And it also puts into the shade the excellent all-round performance of the rest of the small cast: Vera Miles as the ill-fated Marions sister who pesters everyone to go after the missing girl,and Anthony Perkins as the supremely creepy Norman Bates.
And,of course,the shower cubicle,which out-stars everything else.