Can a black and white film evoke the horror of red blood splattered in a bathroom, and without a knife ever truly striking the flesh? Absolutely – when the director is the brilliant Alfred Hitchcock.
As was very often customary in theaters, ticket-holders could come and go at any time during the showing of a movie. But that would not do for Hitchcock’s showing of his 1960 film “Psycho.” Hitchcock required that theaters showing his film would not permit movie-goers to arrive after the very start of the film because “Psycho” would prove to be shockingly different not only for its content but because the star, Janet Leigh, would be murdered within the first act of the film. This was unthinkable for a film of the time as audiences typically preferred and assumed that the star live to the end of the picture. Thus, tardy viewers might be disappointed to arrive halfway into the flick to find Janet Leigh was already dead.
In the film’s most famous scene, Marion (Janet Leigh) is taking a shower. Barely even lathered, however, Norman Bates’s mother shows up, pulls back the curtain and turns it into a blood bath.
Many obstacles had to be overcome to get the shower scene right. Hitchcock had to have a shower/tub constructed with movable and removable walls. This way, the close action would be accessible to the large camera for the shots he would require. It took seven straight days shooting with 70 camera setups to get this 45-second scene on film. Three actors were needed, which included Janet Leigh, a nude stand-in for her and a stand-in actor for Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates dressed as Mother) since Perkins was involved in an upcoming Broadway play at the time this scene was shot. In order to hide certain parts of her anatomy from the camera lens, Janet Leigh wore moleskin. Unfortunately, some of the moleskin washed away with the water, and a bare breast can be seen if watching closely. Hitchcock, not wanting to shoot another take, left it as is.
Effects were also an integral contribution to the horror of the scene. Initially, the scene was supposed to be without music and with only the sounds of the knife and screams. But Bernard Hermann had already composed the score, and it fit so well with the scene that Hitchcock knew it had to stay. He has commented that “33 % of the effects of Psycho was due to the music.” The sounds of the slashes were actually a knife slicing into a casaba melon. And what about all that blood? Was it red dye of some sort? No. The color red does not show up as red on black and white film so the blood running down the drain is actually Bosco chocolate sauce. Doesn’t that sound yummy?
The 1960 Original “Psycho” became a milestone for the future of horror film-making and is a classic masterpiece. So why would a remake even be considered of this classic film? Well, if you take every shot from Alfred Hitchcock, which is what the director Gus Van Sant did, you may be able to do it. Or maybe not. Because even being filmed in color and updated with modern portrayals of the characters, the 1998 remake should be thrown in a car trunk and buried in the swamp.