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.

These Breaking Bad K-Swiss Sneakers Are Heisenberg-Approved

K-Swiss
K-Swiss

On the heels of last week's Netflix release of El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, fans of Breaking Bad have another treat on tap. Sneaker brand K-Swiss just announced a special edition sneaker modeled after the now-iconic RV camper where unlikely drug kingpin Walter White and his sidekick Jesse Pinkman cooked batches of the finest methamphetamine New Mexico had ever seen.

A K-Swiss Classic 2000 x 'Breaking Bad' Recreational Vehicle sneaker is pictured
K-Swiss

The Classic 2000 x Breaking Bad Recreational Vehicle sneakers sport the same distinctive striped pattern as the camper and feature the show’s logo on the tongue. Inside is a lining that resembles the upholstery of the camper’s interior. The shoebox even has a few bullet holes to mimic the ones on the camper’s door.

Unlike Walt's meth, the sneakers are available only in limited quantities. K-Swiss plans on launching the shoe beginning at 6 p.m. PST on Thursday, October 17, at a pop-up store at 7100 Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, California. (The “store” is actually the screen-used RV from the series, and fans are welcome to stop by to take pictures with it.) The company will release 50 pairs at the pop-up, with another 250 through K-Swiss.com and through Greenhouse, a designer and collectible shoe app from Foot Locker.

The shoes retail for $80, but unless you’re one of the lucky few able to grab a pair through the routes above, you’ll probably have to consider a marked-up eBay sale. As Walter White well knows, quality comes at a heavy price.

10 Gruesome Facts About Dawn of the Dead

Anchor Bay Entertainment
Anchor Bay Entertainment

In the late 1960s, George A. Romero changed horror cinema forever with Night of the Living Dead, an instant classic that defined zombie storytelling on the big and small screens for decades to come. Over the next decade, Romero—who was reluctant to revisit the creepy world of shambling corpses he’d brought to life—tried other things. But then a chance encounter with a shopping mall and a little help from a fellow horror master changed his mind. The result was Dawn of the Dead, an over-the-top horror comic book for the big screen that remains, for many fans, the greatest zombie film ever made.

It’s been more than 40 years since Dawn of the Dead first arrived in theaters, and the film remains a wickedly fun piece of horror satire full of exploding heads, mischievous bikers, and one very dangerous helicopter. In celebration of four decades of terror at the mall, here are 10 facts about the making of Dawn of the Dead.

1. We can thank the mall (and Dario Argento) for Dawn of the Dead.

When Night of the Living Dead became a massive hit after its release in 1968, Romero began fielding various offers to potentially revisit the world of ghouls that he had created. Romero, who’d made a living making TV commercials in Pittsburgh before Night of the Living Dead was made, was "paranoid" about the idea of returning for a second film, and left it alone for years until an idea unexpectedly came to him.

As Romero explained on Anchor Bay’s Dawn of the Dead commentary track, the idea for the film initially came to him when he touring Pennsylvania's Monroeville Mall, which was owned by some friends of his. During the tour, he was shown some crawlspace within the mall where various supplies were stored, and started thinking about what might happen if people holed up in the mall to try and ride out a zombie apocalypse.

The second big ingredient that led to Dawn of the Dead was Dario Argento, the acclaimed Italian director best known for Suspiria and Deep Red. Argento offered to help Romero get financing for a Night of the Dead sequel, and even invited him to Rome to work on the script.

“They got us a little apartment, I sat in Rome and banged this out,” Romero said.

2. George A. Romero came up with the most famous line while drinking.

A photograph of George A. Romero
Vittorio Zunino Celotto, Getty Images

The most famous line in Dawn of the Dead—a line so famous it became the movie's tagline and was later reused in Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake—belongs to the character of Peter: “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth.” As catchy and unforgettable as it is, Romero doesn’t recall any grand moment of inspiration. He was just drunk one night, trying to get the script finished.

“I just made that up. Truly. On a drunken night when I was really crashing to finish the script and I thought that was kind of nice. It was from something Dario Argento told me,” Romero told Rolling Stone in 1978. “My family is Cuban and Dario said, ‘Well you have a Caribbean background and that’s why you’re into the zombie thing; zombies originated in Haiti.’ I said, well, all right, and I just figured that’s something a voodoo priest might say. Whee! I’m just having fun, man.”

3. Multiple versions of Dawn of the Dead exist.

Argento helped Romero find financing for Dawn of the Dead and served as a “script consultant” on the film. In exchange, Argento retained the right to recut the film for various foreign markets, while Romero retained final cut for North and South America. As a result, the Italian version of the film was shorter than Romero’s U.S. version, as Argento trimmed certain jokes he felt Italian audiences wouldn’t get. This increased the darkness of the film, which led to certain content cuts in other foreign markets. This is why several different cuts of the film wound up existing around the world, including an R-rated re-release that was re-cut for drive-in theaters in 1982.

4. Dawn of the Dead was released unrated in America.

Dawn of the Dead was released first in international markets, arriving in Italian theaters in the fall of 1978, months before it would land in the United States. In just a few weeks, the film was a commercial success overseas without ever playing to American audiences. So, when Romero and company ran into MPAA demands that they cut the film down or get an X rating, they doubled down and released the film unrated without any cuts to the gore.

5. The zombies didn’t get a lot of direction.

Though he’s renowned among horror fans as the man responsible for building zombies into one of the most effective movie monsters, Romero didn’t spend too much time guiding his undead ghouls. The director felt that if he tried to offer detailed direction in terms of zombie behavior, the zombies would all start acting one way instead of like a group of individuals. So, direction was kept to a minimum.

“You just have to say, ‘Be dead,’” he later recalled.

6. Yes, it was filmed in a working mall.

The Monroeville Mall was not a Romero invention. It was a real, working shopper’s paradise, owned by friends of his, which meant that it wasn’t just going to be shut down for weeks at a time so a zombie movie crew could come in and wreck it. Though Romero and his wife Chris later recalled having to stay out of the mall while the Christmas decorations were up (which is when scenes set elsewhere were shot), once the crew did get into the mall they could only shoot at night.

To make that easier, the crew replaced many of the lights in the mall with color-corrected lighting, so they could essentially shoot wherever they chose. At 7 a.m. each morning the mall’s Muzak would automatically start playing, which meant shooting was done for the day, and the cast and crew could shamble home for a little rest. (The Monroeville Mall, which is located about 10 miles from Pittsburgh, is still in operation today.)

7. Many of Dawn of the Dead's gore effects were improvised.

Though he would eventually become known as one of horror’s great gore wizards, at the time of Dawn of the Dead Tom Savini’s career as a special effects artist was still quite young. As he recalled later, he was doing a play in North Carolina when Romero called him and said: “We got another gig. Think of ways to kill people.”

Savini later recalled that he was given a great deal of freedom to play with different ideas for the many, many gore effects in Dawn of the Dead, so much so that many of the most memorable effects were made up on the day of shooting, including the scene in which a zombie takes a screwdriver through the ear and the exploding head during the SWAT raid on the housing project near the beginning of the film. Savini’s knack for improvisation also served him well in another capacity: The character of Blades the biker, which Savini plays, was not in the original script. He was simply added during shooting.

“George let us go play,” Savini recalled.

8. Dawn of the Dead is packed with cameos.

Like many of Romero’s films, Dawn of the Dead’s production was based in his native Pittsburgh, which meant that getting people to be in the movie was often as simple as contacting friends and family and inviting them to appear on camera. Romero makes a cameo in the film himself, alongside his future wife and producer Chris, in the film’s opening sequence at the TV station, where the couple is sitting side by side at a control panel (Romero, Savini noted on the commentary track, is also wearing his “lucky scarf”). Other cameos scattered throughout the film include Chris Romero’s brother Cliff Forrest as the man who leans over a sleeping Francine in the opening shot, and Tom Savini’s niece and nephew as the two zombie children who burst out of a closet at the landing strip and attack Peter.

9. The bikers were not actors.

As with some of the smaller speaking roles, getting extras to show up in Dawn of the Dead was often a matter of simply asking around Pittsburgh for the right people. As a result, the National Guardsmen present in the film, as well as some of the police officers, were real National Guardsmen and real cops.

For the legendary sequence in which a biker gang stages a raid on the mall, the production also managed to find real bikers in form of a group called The Pagans, who brought their own motorcycles for the shoot.

“I don’t remember who contacted them, but they just showed up,” Chris Romero later recalled.

10. Dawn of the Dead almost featured a darker ending.

During production on Dawn of the Dead, George Romero told Rolling Stone writer Chet Flippo that the film had, in Flippo’s words “no beginning and two endings.” Romero explained that this was because he was working “moment to moment” on the film. He eventually figured the beginning of the film out, of course, and went with an ending in which Peter and Francine fight their way out of the mall and onto the roof, where they escape in the helicopter. So, what was the other ending?

On the film’s commentary track, George and Chris Romero and Tom Savini all discuss a much darker concept to close the film, in which Peter would have shot himself (which he contemplates doing in the final cut) while Francine would have leapt into the spinning blades of the helicopter, mirroring one of the most famous zombie deaths earlier in the film. That ending would have followed in the footsteps of Night of the Living Dead’s dark ending, but Romero ultimately decided on something lighter.

Still, the original plan didn’t go to waste: Savini had already made a cast of actress Gaylen Ross’s head to use for Francine’s death scene, so he repurposed it—with the help of some makeup and a wig—for the famous exploding head shot during the housing project raid.

Additional Sources:
Shock Value by Jason Zinoman (The Penguin Press, 2011)
Dawn of the Dead DVD Commentary (Anchor Bay, 2004)

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