12 Things We Learned About the Psycho Shower Sequence from 78/52

IFC Films
IFC Films

The Psycho shower scene isn't just one of the most iconic sequences in horror film history, but in the history of cinema as a whole. While the scene only comprises a few minutes of the Alfred Hitchcock classic, its construction was complex enough that director Alexandre O. Philippe has created an entire 90-minute documentary around it, 78/52, which IFC Films will release on Friday, October 13.

Assembling both experts and filmmakers—including Danny Elfman, Guillermo del Toro, and Elijah Wood—the documentary picks apart the technical artistry and historical significance of Hitchcock’s groundbreaking direction. Here are 12 things we learned about the scene from 78/52.

1. IT TOOK AN UNUSUALLY LONG TIME TO SHOOT. 

Despite clocking in at under five minutes, the shower scene took seven whole days to shoot which, per Hitchcock (2012) producer Alan Barnette, was “pretty much unheard of.” Hitchcock’s granddaughter Tere Carrubba estimates that that seven-day span was about a third of the time Janet Leigh spent filming Psycho.

2. JANET LEIGH’S BODY DOUBLE WAS ONE OF THE FIRST PLAYBOY BUNNIES.

It wasn’t just Janet Leigh you saw getting slaughtered by Norman Bates in Psycho’s most famous scene. 78/52 director Alexandre O. Philippe managed to track down Marli Renfro, the then-21-year-old pinup model who served as Leigh’s shower scene body double. After shooting the scene, Renfro went back to Chicago, where she shot the September 1960 cover of Playboy and subsequently worked at the Playboy Club, which had just opened in February of that year.

3. LEIGH WASN’T INVOLVED IN SOME OF THE FILM'S MOST FAMOUS SHOTS ...

Two of the most famous individual shots in the shower sequence—Norman Bates’s knife against Marion Crane’s stomach and Marion’s hand grabbing the shower curtain—were of Renfro, not Leigh. For the latter shot, per Renfro, you can tell it’s her because “the ring finger is disfigured a bit. The nail is darker than a regular fingernail. When I was three years old, I reached down to help my brother on a [push] lawnmower and cut it off.” For the stomach shot, Hitchcock had a knife pressed against Renfro’s stomach and then pulled it away; in the film, the shot was reversed.

4. ... AND NEITHER WAS ANTHONY PERKINS.

All the footage of a bewigged Bates stabbing Marion wasn’t actually Anthony Perkins, who was in New York rehearsing the Broadway show Greenwillow at the time. Instead, it was a stuntwoman whose face was blackened in order to achieve a silhouette effect. When you see Perkins cleaning up the scene of the crime, it’s Renfro’s body he’s lugging around in a shower curtain.

5. MARION CRANE KNEW WHO WAS MURDERING HER.

Janet Leigh in 'Psycho' (1960)
IFC Films

“I talked with Janet Leigh a bit about what she thought she saw coming out at her, and she clearly saw Norman," Stephen Rebello, writer of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, explained in the documentary. "And that’s what she played. So the reality for her was ‘I’m going to die this way by this person who tried to befriend me and I tried to be polite to.’ It really does lend an extra air of horror and pathos to that moment.”

6. BERNARD HERRMANN’S SCORE HELPED SAVE THE FILM FROM TELEVISION.

“When my grandfather first saw the first rough cut of Psycho, he didn’t like it at all," Carrubba said. "He was just going to cut it down to an hour and make it part of [Alfred Hitchcock Presents]." It was composer Bernard Herrmann who convinced Hitchcock to add the iconic screeching violin score to the shower scene, which made the sequence work and resulted in the movie being the classic we know it as today.

7. THE SOUND OF MARION BEING STABBED IS SIRLOIN AND CASABA MELON.

Hitchcock had his sound team stab dozens of different types of melons to find out which one best replicated the sound of a butcher knife stabbing flesh. What he settled on was the casaba melon, the thick rind of which kept the sound from being too hollow. To supplement the casaba, Hitchcock used recordings of a giant slab of sirloin being stabbed over and over again. Per Rebello, after recording the necessary noises, “the sound man took [the sirloin] home and had it for dinner that night.”

8. IT CAUSED AUDIENCE MEMBERS TO FREAK OUT. 

Director Peter Bogdanovich recalled his experience as one of the first people to see the shower scene at the first New York screening: “The minute the curtain opens and [Norman] started stabbing, there was a sustained shriek from the audience. You couldn’t hear anything of the soundtrack. Through the entire shower scene … it was actually the first time in the history of movies where it wasn’t safe to be in the movie theater.”

9. HITCHCOCK WENT TO GREAT LENGTHS TO PREVENT SPOILERS.

It’s a well-known fact that Psycho changed the way movies were exhibited. Prior to Psycho, according to editor Walter Murch, “there was a tremendous … coming and going in movie theaters. And Hitchcock brilliantly said, ‘We don’t want anyone coming in after the beginning of this film.’” As Hitchcock explained later, he didn’t want people wandering in after the shower scene and wondering where Leigh was.

Secrecy around the shower scene dated all the way back to the trailers, which featured a shot of Vera Miles—not Janet Leigh—screaming in a shower.

10. THE PAINTING NORMAN BATES SPIES THROUGH IS SIGNIFICANT.

Hitchcock was all about attention to detail, and that extended to the painting Norman Bates pulls away to spy on Marion Crane in the bathroom. The painting depicts the morality story “Susanne and the Elders,” about a virtuous woman who’s bathing in her garden when she’s spied on by two men.

Over the centuries, that story was painted in several different ways, with various emphases and varying levels of female nudity. In the version Hitchcock chose, painted by 17th-century artist Frans Van Mieris Le Vieux, the elders are groping Susanne, echoing the violence of Psycho’s shower scene along with its voyeuristic elements.

Per Timothy Standring, Gates Foundation Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Denver Art Museum, Bates “removes the voyeuristic painting to become the voyeur looking in on the shower. [Hitchcock] could have picked from 50 different examples, but he chose this one because it had the most amount of information that he could use for his film.”

11. A LAST-MINUTE EDIT COVERED UP A CRITICAL ERROR.

At the end of the shower scene, Leigh had to keep completely still—not breathing, her eyes not moving—while the camera slowly pulled back and away from her. It took many takes to get right … but, per Carrubba, when the movie was completed and Hitchcock showed it to executives, Hitchcock’s wife pointed out that at one point you could see Leigh take a breath. Because Leigh was already gone and there wasn’t enough money for reshoots, Hitchcock cut away to a shot of the showerhead to cover the error.

12. THE SHOWER SCENE HAD A DIRECT IMPACT ON RAGING BULL.

One of the many filmmakers influenced by Psycho is the great Martin Scorsese, who modeled the fight between Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro) and Sugar Ray Robinson (Johnny Barnes) directly after the Psycho shower scene. “I literally got a shot-by-shot breakdown of the shower scene in Psycho and [matched it] up [to] my original storyboard for this one sequence,” Scorsese said.

Game of Thrones's Kristian Nairn Didn't Learn the Meaning of Hodor's Name Until the Very End

Isaac Hempstead Wright with Kristian Nairn in Game of Thrones
Isaac Hempstead Wright with Kristian Nairn in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Actor Kristian Nairn officially left the Game of Thrones universe in 2016, but viewers have hardly forgotten about him. Nairn’s character, Hodor, was Bran Stark’s loyal servant for six seasons before tragically dying while holding the door shut to hold off the Army of the Undead, allowing Bran to escape.

Nairn recently reflected on the role, admitting that though he only ever repeated one line, Hodor was a difficult character to portray.

“The key to playing Hodor is just being real—you really have to put yourself into the situation because you don’t have words to express yourself,” Nairn told Star 2. “You really had to immerse yourself into the reality of the scene and put in your body language with having just one word.”

Most surprising about Nairn’s portrayal of Hodor is the fact that not even the actor knew the meaning of his character's name. In his final moments, fans finally find out that “Hodor” came about from Bran warging into Hodor as a youth at Winterfell at the same time they were being pursued by the undead. As Meera yelled at Hodor to "hold the door," a young Hodor seemed to see Bran at Winterfell. Then it seems that Bran also wargs into young Hodor, who suffers a seizure, which leaves him unable to say anything but the shortened version of his dying words.

Fans were shocked by this revelation, and it turns out that Nairn was, too.

“I remember over the years, I have asked the showrunners and George RR Martin what Hodor meant, but they would never tell me,” Nairn said. So he created his own theory for where the name came from, guessing that Hodor was a Clegane due to his unusually large size—but obviously that theory didn’t pan out.

“I was surprised just like everyone else when I found out what Hodor meant. But I never expected the reaction that came from all over the world,” Nairn said, commenting on the collective depression that fans fell into after his character’s death.

While a character who only ever utters one line over six seasons might not be an enticing role to every actor, Nairn said that showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss assured him the part would be worth it.

“It was challenging in some ways but David and Dan told me, ‘You’re gonna be one of the fan favorites of the show,' and this was before we even started. I didn’t really understand; I was like ‘Really? But he just says one word, guys.’ But they turned out to be right,” Nairn shared.

Nairn has taken a break from acting in order to focus on his DJ career, but he knows he’ll return to television eventually. “I love fantasy roles, sci-fi stuff. But I am up for anything. I will never do a part like Hodor again … I definitely have too much to say,” he said.

A Swedish Film Festival Is Screening a Sci-Fi Film from Inside Sealed Coffins

iStock.com/iphotographer
iStock.com/iphotographer

There will be no reclining seats or super-sized cupholders at screenings of Aniara at the Göteborg Film Festival in Sweden. Instead of maximizing comfort, the showing is designed to intentionally put viewers on edge by locking them in a coffin for the duration of the film, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The so-called "sarcophagus screenings" are one of the less conventional events on the program for the 2019 festival. For 33 showings of Aniara, eight moviegoers at a time will be led to special coffins with screens and speakers built in. The boxes will also come with air vents and panic buttons in case viewers want to bail out before the credits roll.

Aniara, based on the Harry Martinson poem of the same name, is a Swedish-language sci-fi movie about a spaceship that is knocked off course on its way to Mars while fleeing the apocalypse on Earth. The festival staff collaborated with the directors Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja to create a viewing experience that enhances the sense of isolation and claustrophobia portrayed in the film.

The Göteborg Film Festival won't be the first group to mix live interment with entertainment. During the 2018 Halloween season, Six Flags St. Louis invited guests to spend 30 hours in a coffin in exchange for season passes. This time around, viewers just have to make it through Aniara's 106-minute runtime.

The sarcophagus screenings kick off with the Göteborg festival premiere of Aniara on January 27, and will continue through the end of the month.

[h/t The Hollywood Reporter]

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