Alfred Hitchcock’s cinematic masterpiece Psycho features a rich score written by veteran composer Bernard Herrmann. Just as identifiable as John Williams’ music from Jaws, the piercing violins replicating knife slashes has become a staple trademark in horror movies utilizing the theme’s signature in multiple variations. But the subject of the film’s music is the woman in the shower scene, and the stabbing that goes on as the music repeatedly plays that recognizable theme.
Played by Janet Leigh, mother to scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis star of the Halloween franchise, the part entailed Leigh to work a full three weeks on set, seven days of which she partook in the infamous shower scene.
The making of the film is a story in itself. Hitchcock declined his usual $250,000 directorial fee for a 60% cut of the box office. He made $15 Million, which adjusted for inflation translates to $150 Million in 2006 dollars. Additionally, to thwart MPAA censors, he had added obvious red herrings to the film in order to confound them into removing the red herrings all the while keeping the objectionable scenes intact.
As for filming of the shower scene, Hitchcock used Bosco chocolate syrup to emulate the blood, since it appears better contrasted in black and white. Some audience members, however, believed they saw red when blood washed down the drain. Of course, this is a physical impossibility for the obvious reason the movie is not in color.
Further adding to the list of interesting tidbits, ophthalmologists approached Hitchcock soon after the opening to emphasize a truly dead corpse, as seen in Psycho, should not have contracted pupils but dilated instead. They suggested Hitchcock use belladonna drops to achieve the dead-eye affect in subsequent films, which he did.
Trivia’s all very well and fine, but what does that have to do with Marion Crane? The story goes something like this: Marion steals $40,000 from her employer and goes on the lamb. She changes cars in an effort to thwart discovery by the police and checks into a motel by the side of the highway—the Bates Motel. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.
Owned by Norman Bates and his sick mother, the Bates Motel poses as the scene for the eventual turning point in Marion’s life. Thinking she’d gotten away with robbery, she didn’t think she might have walked into a far worse situation. As the cliché goes, out of the frying pan into the fire. As the movie’s title suggests, someone has to be the psychopath. It’s not Marion.
And this is what makes Marion Crane unique in Horror. Hitchcock purposely gave her top billing, even though she dies halfway through the film. Marion’s death in the shower is the most recognizable scene in movie history. When people talk about Psycho, in the same breath they’re talking about the shower scene. In so doing, culture made Marion Crane a poster child for how a good Horror flick should go.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale October 22.
Have you seen Psycho? If so, what did you think of it?