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.

11 Surprising Facts About George R.R. Martin

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Game of Thrones fans know the epic HBO series is based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, but beyond the TV show, how much do they really know about the author? Sure, they know it’s taking him a really long time to finish The Winds of Winter, the sixth book in the series, but what about him as a person? Here are a few things you might not know about the man who brought us the world of Westeros.

1. As a kid, he made money selling monster stories.

The famed author grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey, where his father was a longshoreman. "When I was living in Bayonne, I desperately wanted to get away," Martin told The Independent. "Not because Bayonne was a bad place, mind you. Bayonne was a very nice place in some ways. But we were poor. We had no money. We never went anywhere."

Though his family didn't have the means to travel outside of Bayonne, Martin began to develop a love of reading and writing at a very young age, which allowed him to imagine fantastical worlds beyond his New Jersey hometown. He also learned that writing could be a profitable endeavor: he began selling his stories to other kids in the neighborhood for a penny apiece. (He later raised his prices to a nickel.) Martin's entrepreneurial efforts came to an end when his stories began giving one of his kid customers nightmares, which eventually got back to Martin's mom.

2. He is obsessed with comic books.

In 2014, Martin sat down for a Q&A about his career at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival. Though, given his love of fantasy worlds, it might not be surprising to learn that Martin is a comic book fan, he also credits the genre with inspiring him to begin writing in the first place.

"I’m so grateful for comic books because they were really the thing that made me a reader, which in return made me a writer," Martin said. "In the 1950s in America, we had these books that taught you to read, and they were all about Dick and Jane, who were the most boring family you ever wanted to meet ... I didn’t know anyone who lived like that, and it just seemed like a horrible thing. But Batman and Superman, they had a much more interesting life. Gotham City was much more interesting than wherever it was where Dick and Jane lived.”

3. He built a library tower in Santa Fe.

In 2009, Martin bought the home across the street from his house in Santa Fe, New Mexico and turned it into an office space with a library tower built inside. The tower is only two stories tall, because of city building restrictions, but it seems only fitting that the author/history buff would want to be surrounded with books while he writes.

4. A fan letter got his professional writing career started.

Martin's love of comic books is what got his professional career rolling, too. "I had a letter published in Fantastic Four, and because my address was in there I started getting these fanzines and I started writing stories for them," Martin said during the same Santa Fe Q&A. "Funny enough, people writing stories in these fanzines at the time were just awful. They were just really bad, which was good because I looked at these awful stories and knew I could do better than that. I may not have been Shakespeare or J.R.R. Tolkien, but I was certain I could write better than the crap in the fanzines, and indeed I could."

5. A failed novel led to a television writing career.

More than 10 years before A Song of Ice and Fire debuted in 1996, Martin wrote a book called The Armageddon Rag in 1983. Though it was a critical disappointment, producer Phil DeGuere was interested in adapting the project with Martin's help. While that never came to fruition, DeGuere thought of Martin when they were rebooting The Twilight Zone in the mid-1980s and brought him on board to write a handful of episodes. He later did some writing for the live-action Beauty and the Beast series, starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton.

6. Network television standards were not a fit for Martin's style of writing.

Though Martin found success as a television writer, the constant back-and-forth about what they were or were not allowed to show proved to be too much for the writer. "[T]here were constant limitations. It wore me down," Martin told Rolling Stone. "There were battles over censorship, how sexual things could be, whether a scene was too 'politically charged,' how violent things could be. Don’t want to disturb anyone. We got into that fight on Beauty and the Beast. The Beast killed people. That was the point of the character. He was a beast. But CBS didn’t want blood, or for the beast to kill people ... The character had to remain likable."

7. He owns an independent movie theater.

In 2006, The Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe closed its doors, which saddened many locals who were regular patrons, Martin among them. Several years later, Martin decided to give the theater a second life and, after a slight makeover, reopened its doors in 2013. Today, in addition to independent films, the theater holds regular special events—including screenings of Game of Thrones episodes. There's also an onsite bar that serves Game of Thrones-themed cocktails, like the signature White Walker.

8. Martin credits HBO with changing the rules of television.

Network television standards may have been too tame and regimented for Martin's tastes, but all that changed with HBO and The Sopranos, which he credits as paving the way for a series like Game of Thrones to exist in its current form at all.

"I credit HBO with smashing the damn trope that everybody had to be likable on television," Martin told Rolling Stone. "The Sopranos turned it around. When you meet Tony Soprano, he’s in the psychiatrist office, he’s talking about the ducks, his depression and that stuff, and you like this guy. Then he gets in his car and he’s driving away and he sees someone who owes him money, and he jumps out and he starts stomping him. Now how likable was he? Well you didn’t care, because they already had you. A character like Walter White on Breaking Bad could never have existed before HBO."

9. Martin thinks it's important for writers to break the rules.

While he's an admitted fan of William Goldman, Martin has a very different opinion of noted screenplay expert Syd Field. "There is a book out there by Syd and it’s his guide to writing screenplays and it’s probably one of the most harmful things that has ever been done for the movie industry,” Martin said. “For some perverse reason, it has become the bible not for writers but for what we call 'the suits,' the guys at the studios whose job it is to develop properties and give notes to supervise screenplays. They take Syd Field’s course and they buy the book and they start criticizing screenplays like, ‘Well you know, the first turn is supposed to be on page 12 and yours is not until page 17, so obviously this won’t do!'"

"Syd just writes downs these ridiculous rules," Martin continued. "If there really was a formula as he says, then every movie would be a blockbuster. We would just connect A, B, and C and we would have a great movie and everyone would pack the theater to see it. But every movie is not a blockbuster. Many movies that follow his rules precisely actually go down the toilet."

10. He’s a skilled chess player.

"I started playing chess when I was quite young, in grade school," Martin told The Independent. "I played it through high school. In college, I founded the chess club. I was captain of the chess team." Eventually, Martin discovered that he could actually make some money off this skill.

"For two or three years, I had a pretty good situation. Most writers who have to have a day job work five days a week and then they have the weekend off to write. These chess tournaments were all on the weekend so I had to work on Saturday and Sunday, but then I had five days off to write. The chess generated enough money for me to pay my bills."

11. He has a very specific way of writing, which is why he hasn't finished the winds of winter.

Fans have been waiting for a while for the next book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and Martin has been honest about why it's taking him so long. "Writer’s block isn’t to blame here, it’s distraction," he said. "In recent years, all of the work I’ve been doing creates problems because it creates distraction. Because the books and the show are so popular I have interviews to do constantly. I have travel plans constantly. It’s like suddenly I get invited to travel to South Africa or Dubai, and who’s passing up a free trip to Dubai? I don’t write when I travel. I don’t write in hotel rooms. I don’t write on airplanes. I really have to be in my own house undisturbed to write. Through most of my life no body did bother me, but now everyone bothers me every day."

Can You Guess the Meaning of These Dothraki Words?

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