“COLOR BLOOD WOULD HAVE BEEN TOO REPULSIVE,” Alfred Hitchcock says, explaining why he filmed his classic 1960 movie Psycho in black and white.
By now it’s well known that diluted Hershey’s chocolate syrup was used to simulate blood spattering and then pouring into the bathtub during the film’s legendary shower scene. An embezzling, sexy, adulterous blonde played by Janet Leigh is knifed to death in the shower by what appears to be an old woman but is later revealed as her son, Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins.
But a wealth of new insights into Psycho and its shower scene in particular emerge in the excellent new documentary 78/52, from writer/director Alexandre O. Philippe.
The documentary’s title refers to the 78 camera set-ups and 52 fast edits that went into the harrowing three-minute shower scene, discussed and dissected by actors, directors, writers and editors. Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Bret Easton Ellis, Danny Elfman, Elijah Wood—and Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh’s daughter, all appear.
Through their comments, we come to appreciate the artistry of Psycho and its shower scene even more than before, further realizing the brilliance of a film which when released seemed like a strange, B-movie choice from the director whose previous picture had been the lush, color masterpiece North by Northwest.
In one archival interview clip, Hitchcock claims that Psycho was intended as a joke. But the idea that we are not safe even while taking a hot shower, a moment when we stand naked and most vulnerable—and that the mothers of idealized 1950s America could destroy us—was made all the more unsettling by Hitchcock’s device of turning audiences into voyeurs alongside the psychopathic Bates, while also being attacked by him.