Jamie Lee Curits Psycho Shower Scene

The running water. The figure behind the shower curtain. The flash of the knife. The sudden screech of strings to accompany the slaughter. Everyone knows the shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho – even people who have somehow managed to never see the film. It is, perhaps, the most famous scene in film history, and it’s a moment that changed the medium itself.

So famous and influencial is the shower scene that it now has its own documentary in the form of Alexandre O. Philippe’s fascinating 78/52. While at times bordering on Hitchcock hagiography, 78/52 is an incredibly in-depth exploration of just what makes the shower scene, and Psycho in general, tick. At the time, Hitchcock had become a household name thanks to his Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series. He was also coming off the technological wonder that was North By Northwest. The fame brought on by these projects enabled the filmmaker to get away with murder, so to speak, by adapting Robert Bloch’s lurid, pulpy Psycho, ostensibly applying an A-movie mentality to a B picture.

Philippe has gathered together a murderer’s row of talent to interview, including filmmakers like Peter Bogdanovich and Guillermo del Toro, writer Bret Easton Ellis, legendary editor Walter Murch, composer Danny Elfman, actor Elijah Wood, and Jamie Lee Curtis and Oz Perkins, the respective children of Psycho stars Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins, to regale the audience with every bit of trivia imaginable related to Psycho, and the film jumps from one person to the next at a clipped, consistently entertaining pace.

But the most interesting commentary comes from the unexpected sources, like when art curator Timothy Standring gives a fascinating background on the painting that Psycho’s Norman Bates removes to peep on the unsuspecting Marion Crane. And then there’s Marli Renfro, the liveliest subject of the bunch. Renfro was a former Playboy bunny who served as Leigh’s body-double for the shower scene, and as such provides the most first-hand account of its creation. Funny and sharp, Renfro deserves an entire documentary of her own.

The female interviewees provide the most insightful deconstructions of the film, such as when The Invitation filmmaker Karyn Kusama comments that the shower scene was the “first modern expression of the female body under assault.”

“The death of a beautiful woman, is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world,” a quote from Edgar Allan Poe, opens the film, a quote that serves as a sort of twisted theology for Psycho. With all this in mind, it would’ve been more beneficial had Philippe assembled more female subjects to speak with, as males make up the majority.

The background info on Hitchcock and Psycho make for informative fodder, but 78/52 truly springs to life when it begins to break-down the shower scene frame by frame (the doc’s title refers to the 78 camera setups and 52 cuts used to create the scene). This sequence is pure film nerd manna from heaven, analyzing every angle, every cut, every object in frame. Sometimes picking apart something and laying it bare can rob it of its power – after all, a good magician never reveals his or her secret. Yet that’s not the case here. The meticulous deconstruction of the shower scene ends up making it all the more potent, and you may find yourself picking up on things you never noticed before, even if you’ve already seen the scene in question a dozen times.

The only curious stumble in 78/52‘s shower scene symposium is in how the film handles arguably the scene’s most effective element: the score by Bernard Herrmann. While there are many people on hand to wax poetically about Herrmann’s string-driven music, including Maniac composer Robin Coudert, 78/52 never plays the track in its entirety. Instead we only get snippets here and there of Herrmann’s masterful work. Whether this is a stylistic choice – Philippe reasoning we already know it so well so we didn’t need to hear it again, perhaps – or an issue with rights is unclear, but it’s a noticeable distraction to have multiple figures gushing about a musical piece we never get to hear.

Psycho is almost 60 years old, yet remains as remarkable now as it did when it first shocked unsuspecting audiences. Even now, after decades of films with far more extreme elements, Hitchcock’s masterful direction has the power to thrill. 78/52 is both a loving tribute to the work Hitchcock did as well as a sharp, enlightening lesson in what makes Psycho so special. This is the type of film that makes the viewer want to immediately watch a dozen more movies, the type of film that’ll drive a film fans nuts, in the best possible way.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a writer who frowns a lot. He's contributed to CutPrintFilm, /Film, Mashable, The Film Stage, Birth.Movies.Death, The Playlist, Paste Magazine, Little White Lies and O-Scope Musings. 'The House on Creep Street' and 'Beware the Monstrous Manther!', two horror books for young readers Chris co-authored with J. Tonzelli, are available wherever books are sold. You can follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413