Alfred Hitchcock may have done more to discourage personal hygiene practices than any other director. In the most famous shower scene ever shot, Hitchcock pulls back the curtain and startles his audience as much with what he leaves out as what he portrays. Audiences get a knife-wielding psycho, terrified screams and streams of blood running down the drain, but never any punctured flesh or overtly gruesome images. Hitchcock leaves it up to viewers to fill in the blanks and the result is shockingly effective.
Psycho begins in a seedy hotel room where an unmarried couple redresses after a lunch hour tryst. Sam Loomis (John Gavin), divorced and paying almost every penny he earns in alimony to his former wife, drives from California to Phoenix as often as he can for these romantic encounters. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), who yearns for something more respectable, works in an office and makes up stories to explain her frequent tardiness. But she doesn’t see much of a future for the relationship unless Sam can pay off his debts.
An answer seems to be in the offering when a wealthy rancher (Frank Albertson) marches into Marion’s office brandishing a wad of bills—$40,000 to be exact. Nervous about keeping the money in the office over the weekend, Marion’s boss (Vaughn Taylor) sends her to the bank to deposit it. Telling her coworker (played by Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia) that she plans to go home after stopping at the bank, Marion instead packs her bags and heads out of town to meet Sam with the money.
Exhausted from driving, she finally stops along the way for a night’s rest at the out-of-the-way Bates Motel. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), the hotel’s operator, welcomes her to the vacant establishment and even offers his sole guest a plate of sandwiches in his parlor. Surrounded by stuffed birds perched around the room, Marion becomes both intrigued by and wary of the young man who lives with his invalid mother and fills his lonely hours honing his taxidermy skills.
Using heavy shadows, dead fowl and isolation to create a sense of foreboding, Hitchcock establishes the setting for the bloody murder that follows. But he also builds suspense in the script using sparse dialogue, internal conversations, a dark and stormy night and an unsettling sense that something is amiss with Norman and his mother.
Based on a novel inspired by the crimes of a Wisconsin murder, Psycho received mixed reviews at its release but now ranks as one of the greatest thrillers ever made according to the American Film Institute. And while today’s audiences may mistake the 1960’s black and white storyline as outdated, Hitchcock’s masterpiece still produces chills and jump scenes that make it unsuitable for children and even many teens. Unlike the grisly depictions popular in horror films of today, this script relies on suspense rather than gore, though Hitchcock makes full use of the intense shower scene with depictions of blood running down the drain and splattered around the room. Considered by many to be one of the director’s best movies, this psychological thriller promises to be a spine-tingling experience even for viewers from any generation.