(June 15) — Yes, it’s really 50. Released June 16, 1960, “Psycho” — the taut, twisted thriller from director Alfred Hitchcock — remains one of the most iconic films in history.It gave the world unprecedented cinematic violence and sexuality, a mind-bending shocker of an ending and, of course, a two-word moment that needs no further description: shower scene.
The film — starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles and John Gavin — generated a firestorm of controversy, fueled in part by Hitchcock himself. He understood exactly how to titillate his audience not just with his film, but with his marketing efforts as well.
Teaser newspaper ads featuring the director gave foreboding hints at the terror that was soon to follow.
And audiences heard Hitchcock’s voice piped through speakers as they waited in lines that wrapped around theaters, admonishing them to keep the ending of the film a secret.
In the lobbies of some of the theaters, life-size cardboard Hitchcocks were emblazoned with the following:
- “The manager of this theatre has been instructed, at the risk of his life, not to admit to the theatre any persons after the picture starts. Any spurious attempts to enter by side doors, fire escapes or ventilating shafts will be met by force. The entire objective of this extraordinary policy, of course, is to help you enjoy ‘Psycho’ more. Alfred Hitchcock”
And uniformed Pinkerton guards enforced the rule!
It may have been the first “viral” marketing campaign in history, and it turned “Psycho” from a mere movie into an event. Made on a shoestring $800,000 budget, it supposedly grossed $15 million in its first year.
Originally, Hitchcock bought the rights to the 1959 Robert Bloch novel “Psycho” for just $9,000 (the story was inspired by notorious Wisconsin serial murderer, necrophiliac and cannibal Ed Gein). Then, he purchased as many copies of the book as he could, so the ending would remain a secret.
Using his TV film crew to save time and money, Hitchcock set out to tell the story of what happens to Marion Crane after she swipes $40,000 from her company’s boss. And tell the story he did.
Jason Allentoff is a New Jersey indie filmmaker and radio news broadcaster. He created ThePsychoMovies.com, one of the only sites online dedicated to the entire “Psycho” film series.
“I was first introduced to Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ when I was 12,” Allentoff told AOL News. “I think what attracted me to it was Hitchcock’s storytelling. Even at age 12, I knew killing off a major star that early in the film was unheard of. The shower scene was pure art — it all left a major impression on me.”
Allentoff added, “‘Psycho’ is truly the granddaddy of all modern horror films. I don’t think anyone realized what impact the movie would have on the world. I mean, you say “shower scene” to anyone — even if they haven’t seen the film — and they know exactly what you’re talking about.”
For the 50th anniversary, Allentoff has asked fans to send in contributions — artwork, photos, memories, anything “Psycho”-related — to go along with the artifacts he’s gathering to share.
And tourists still flock to Universal Studios in California to see where much of “Psycho” was shot.
“The Studio Tour tram still rolls by the Bates Motel and glimpses a knife-wielding actor lurking in the shadows,” Eliot Sekuler, Universal’s vice president of public relations/location and production services, told AOL News.
“And yes, the original iconic house is still there, and it still evokes a strong response from Universal Studios Hollywood visitors 50 years after Alfred Hitchcock immortalized it in ‘Psycho,'” Sekuler said.
“During the theme park’s annual Halloween Horror Nights event (beginning Sept. 24 this year), guests can roam a portion of Universal’s backlot and walk close by the eerily lit two-story house.”
“Psycho” spawned three sequels and a note-for-note (color) remake. But nothing ever came close to matching the sleek terror of the original.
At 50, Psycho is still just as dark, lurid and ominous as it was in 1960. It represents crisp, efficient movie-making that teases, seduces and horrifies without ever bludgeoning the audience head on.
It’s a masterpiece, for sure, created by a masterful director whose distinct decree is still good advice: “Nobody is to be seated after the film begins.”
And please, whatever you do, keep the ending a secret.
Some “Psycho” trivia:
- Hitchcock makes his trademark appearance four minutes into the film and can be seen through Janet Leigh’s window as she returns to her office. He is wearing a cowboy hat.
- The design of the creepy Bates house was based on the Edward Hopper oil painting, “House by the Railroad.”
- Anthony Perkins was not present for the shower scene, as he had rehearsals for a Broadway show in New York.
- Also in the shower scene, the sound that the knife makes stabbing the flesh is actually a knife stabbing a casaba melon (and the blood was chocolate syrup).
- Just before the closing sequence of Norman Bates in his jail cell, as the camera moves down the hall to where police have confined him, look for a uniformed guard at the cell door. It’s actor Ted Knight, who found fame playing the buffoonish news anchor Ted Baxter on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”