3 surprises from the shower scene in Psycho

The iconic murder-in-the-shower scene in the 1960 film Psycho.
The iconic murder-in-the-shower scene in the 1960 film Psycho.PHOTO: YOUTUBE

NEW YORK •At three minutes and change, the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho is one of the most familiar in film history.

The deadly encounter between Marion Crane and the cross-dressing Norman Bates was shot over seven days in 1959 and every element is instantly recognisable: the shadowy figure tearing aside the shower curtain, the stream of blood and water circling the drain, and Bernard Herrmann's shrieking violins.

The scene has been dissected by scholars and critics and parodied by everyone from Mel Brooks to The Simpsons. Is there anything a Psycho fan still might not know about this most famous of cinematic moments?

Turns out, plenty. In his new documentary 78/52, director Alexandre O. Philippe examines the sequence in myriad ways.

In addition to talking to directors, historians and others, he pored over the original storyboards and Hitchcock's handwritten notes. Although Philippe estimated that he has seen the iconic scene thousands of times, he continues to be fascinated by it. "There's so much I'm still discovering. That's why people keep going back to it - because it goes so deep," he said.

Think you know Psycho? Here are three things that might surprise you.

1. The murder in the book is much different from that in the movie.

The story was adapted from a 1959 novel of the same name by Robert Bloch. But the killing is a lot shorter in the original telling. Hitchcock took 78 shots and 52 cuts (hence the documentary's title) to capture the murder of Marion (Janet Leigh). Bloch took only 2 1/2 sentences to describe the killing, which ends with Norman lopping off her head. "In the book, the murder itself is an afterthought," Philippe said. "With Hitchcock, it was all about the murder."

2. Hitch had a fine ear for melons.

To find just the right sound of someone being stabbed, Hitchcock famously listened as his prop man hacked away at a variety of melons. Which one sounded most like a knife cutting through flesh? His decision: casaba.

Six decades later, Philippe replicated the experiment on 27 varieties of melons from across Latin America, Asia and Europe.

He then sent the sound files to Gary Rydstrom and Shannon Mills, award-winning sound designers at Skywalker Sound, and asked them to listen.

Their expert conclusion: casaba. "It has a very thick skin and it's very starchy and gooey in the centre," Philippe said.

3. Anthony Perkins was not the killer.

Spoiler alert: Norman's mother did not kill Marion. But it was not Norman either, or, at least, not Perkins as Norman.

The mystery stabber was a body double, Margo Epper.

Perkins was in New York rehearsing for a Broadway show, so Epper donned Norman's unbecoming dress and wig for the climactic scene. During filming, however, her features were visible in the shot, so layers of make-up were applied to darken her face.

Audiences did not notice that the killer's face was completely in shadow in a shower flooded with light.

"You're too busy focusing on what's happening," Philippe said. "It's an obvious trick, but you're so focused on this shocking scene, the last thing you're going to notice is the trick. That's Hitchcock as Houdini. He's doing his magic right in front of your eyes, but you can't see it."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2017, with the headline '3 surprises from the shower scene in Psycho'. Print Edition | Subscribe