Tonight: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin and Martin Balsam in the Alfred Hitchcock horror classic Psycho.
It is difficult to remember the impact that this film had when it was first released in 1960.
For one thing, it was unlike anything Hitchcock had ever made before.
He was known as the Master of Suspense, not as Master of the Macabre.
In Psycho he combined the two genres!
And he did it in a way that changed the very nature of Hollywood horror films forever.
Hitchcock was at the very peak of his career. His two previous films were Vertigo (1958) and North By Northwest (1959).
Both critical and commercial successes—although Vertigo is more highly regarded today than it was at the time of its release.Why would a director so highly regarded and so highly popular risk his reputation on a film that broke so many taboos?
Including nudity, necrophilia, transvestitism, schizophrenia and murder—of a truly shocking and bloody sort?
After Psycho taking a shower would never be quite the same again.
Psycho was based on a novel by Robert Bloch, inspired by a real-life necrophiliac killer from Wisconsin named Ed Gein.
When Hitchcock told Paramount that he wanted to make a movie out of this sleazy, sensational story, the studio was appalled.
They agreed reluctantly, because it was Hitchcock, but insisted that the budget could not go over $800,000.
Hitchcock even used technical talent from TV production because it cost less than the usual Hollywood film crews.
Sensing that the studio expected this to be his first financial failure, Hitchcock offered to finance the film himself—as an independent production—in return for 60% of the profits.
Paramount readily agreed.
No one has ever explained what prompted Hitchcock to make such an unusual film, but I have a theory.
What made him one of the most famous directors in the world wasn’t just his movies.
He became a celebrity on television, hosting his own TV series — Alfred Hitchcock Presents that offered tales of suspense, mystery, murder and the macabre.
The series ran for a decade—beginning in 1955.
One of the writers who wrote for this series was Robert Bloch, the author of Psycho.
Throughout the latter ‘50s, a series of low budget horror films from England—films like Horror of Dracula (1958) and Horrors of the Black Museum (1959)—had been commercially successful by exploiting the macabre in a manner long associated with the Grand Guignol of Paris.
I think Hitchcock looked at those films and decided to show them how it could be done by a master.
And that is exactly what he did—creating a masterpiece of the genre!
It was hugely successful—and he never made another film like it.
But everybody else did. Or tried to.
All the horror films thereafter—from Halloween to Nightmare on Elm Street — owe more than a little to Hitchcock’s Psycho.
Anthony Perkins is unforgettable in the role of Norman Bates.
And Janet Leigh is unforgettable in the female lead. Although she never manages to make it into the second half of the film.
If only she had stayed out of the shower.
The shower sequence was designed, in part, by Saul Bass.
The nude body double in the shower scene was Chicago Bunny and Playboy cover girl Marie Renfro.
The magnificent score—all fiddles—is by Hitchcock’s favorite—Bernard Herrmann.
He also did the scores for Vertigo, North By Northwest, and oh so many other films.
Hitchcock got an Oscar nomination for Psycho—probably the first for a horror film.
There were also Oscar nominations for the Cinematography and Art Direction.
And now–from 1960—Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.