March 31, 2010

Secrets of the Psycho shower

It is one of the most notorious scenes ever filmed – yet Hitchcock and Janet Leigh didn't tell the truth about it. Will Hodgkinson on a real-life story of body doubles and murder

In the run-up to the release of Psycho in 1960, Alfred Hitchcock did everything he could to build up the suspense. "No one will be admitted to the theatre after the start of each performance," declared the poster, bearing a sulky-looking Hitchcock wagging a finger. The director bought up all copies of the original novel, which he had optioned for a paltry $9,000, so that hardly anyone would know how the story ended. He also filmed on a closed set and forced cast and crew to sign an agreement promising not to mention the ending to anyone. There were no advance screenings.

Production year: 1960
Countries: UK, USA
Cert (UK): 15
Runtime: 109 mins
Directors: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles
More on this film
When the reviews for Psycho, which is rereleased this week, rolled in, they focused on one shocking moment: the shower sequence, in which Janet Leigh is slashed to death. Comprising over 70 shots, each lasting two or three seconds, it has become one of the most infamous moments in horror movie history. Mixing fast cutting and Bernard Herrmann's screeching music, Hitchcock created a brilliant illusion of gore, violence and nudity – while actually showing very little.

The greatest illusion, however, was to give a very clear suggestion that it was Leigh being hacked to death, by Anthony Perkins as a cross-dressing maniac. Leigh, in her first interview after the film's release, shared the audience's horror: "I believed that knife went into me. It was that real, that horrifying. I could feel it!" In later interviews, Hitchcock and Leigh categorically stated that it was her body in the shower scene – but it wasn't. The body belonged to a model called Marli Renfro. When you can't see Leigh's face in the shots, you're looking at her body double.

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Pardesi said...

Fascinating read. To this day Psycho scares the bejeesus out of me. It is one Hitchcock film I am loth to see again, along with BIRDS and Marnie, the others I can watch any number of times.

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