Alfred Hitchcock was at the height of his power in 1960. Having knocked out Rear Window, Rope, Vertigo, and a slew of other modern classics in the previous decade, the director could do pretty much anything he wanted on camera – and what Hitchcock wanted to do was push the bar. The word “controversial” doesn’t even begin to cover the emotions swirling around Alfred Hitchcock’s horror masterpiece Psycho when it was released in 1960. The audacious film poked fun at contemporary film censorship while effectively scaring the crap out of everyone who watched it. It was narratively unique, extremely unsettling, and host to a some virtuoso performances in front of and behind the camera. There’s a reason that Psycho has persevered in the annals of Hollywood: it’s freaking awesome. It’s also a storied film with more than its fair share of history. Here are a couple of Psycho facts you may not know.
1. The Real Life Inspiration
Hitchcock’s film is actually based on a 1959 novel from Robert Bloch. Bloch based his murderer, Norman Bates, on one of America’s most notorious killers, Ed Gein. Gain was captured in 1957, and while he was only charged with two murders, his home was found decorated with simply horrific displays (like a wastebasket made of human skin). Like Bates, Gein lived alone in a rural environment and was obsessed with his mother.
2. It Was Suggested By Hitchcock’s Assistant
Hitchcock was notoriously picky about his material, and he only trusted a handful of people to give him new ideas. One of those people was his assistant, Peggy Robertson, who read a review of Bloch’s book and then gave a copy to the director, who acquired the book rights for a measly $9500. It’s just a shame that nobody wanted to actually make the movie.
3. The Material Was Too Bloody
Paramount Pictures (Hitchcock’s home base) refused to make the film at first. Like, staunchly refused. They wouldn’t give Hitchcock his usual budget, they wouldn’t let him shoot it on his Alfred Hitchcock Presents television set. They only said yes when Hitchcock forewent his normal salary of a quarter million dollars in favor of backend profits. It seemed like a silly deal on his part at the time.
4. The New Norman Bates
Young, seemingly normal Norman Bates runs a hotel and is perfectly pleasant to speak to. That’s a pretty big departure from the book, in which Bates is more overtly crazy (as well as being paunchy and much older). The novel Bates is also a big drinker, which is the mechanism the writer uses to initiate Bates’ transition into “Mother”.
5. A Quick Note About Financing
Another provision Paramount demanded when Hitchcock was attempting to get Psycho made was that they not actually shell out any money for anything other than distribution. That meant that Hitchcock was forced to put up his own money (a big time Hollywood no-no) in order to get the film made.
6. Absolutely No Spoilers
In addition to the book buying rumor, Hitchcock refused to release a synopsis for the film, saying only that it was about a young man whose mother was a murderer. This was absolutely unheard of among the press, who were used to being in on the front lines. In order to sate reporters, Hitchcock did confide that a young woman would be killed in the shower.
7. Those Inventive Props
When Janet Leigh dies in the shower, the blood that circles the shower drain is actually Bosco chocolate sauce (which Hitchcock could get away with using because it was a black and white production). To achieve the sound of a knife stabbing flesh, Hitchcock bought a bunch of melons and then took turns listening to his editor stab each one until he finally settled on the casaba melon.
8. Be Punctual Please
Hitchcock was so adamant that people show up on time to the film that he mandated to theater owners across the country that no one be allowed admittance should they arrive late.
9. They All Took Pay Cuts
Hitchcock wasn’t the only one who took less to be in Psycho (even though he was the only one who got 60 percent of the net profits). Anthony Perkins made a little more than $40,000 in spite of the fact that he had plenty of name recognition. Janet Leigh, another big star, took only $25,000, a quarter of her normal fee, just for the opportunity to work with the director. Of course, the performance also earned her an Academy Award nomination.
10. Did You Catch That Cameo?
No, we’re not talking about Hitchcock’s cameo (he always made a brief appearance in his films). There’s someone else in there you might recognize. At the tail end of the Psycho, once Norman Bates’ insanity has been uncovered, the young man is put into a looney bin (where he totally belongs). Right outside his cell, the young man guarding the killer is none other than Ted Knight, future star of the Mary Tyler Moore Show and Caddyshack.
11. The Knife Never Touched Janet Leigh
Things were very different in the 1960s, so when it came to portraying the film’s more extreme scenes of violence, Alfred Hitchcock really had to work hard to make the scene both horrifying and realistic. So, Hitchcock resorted to using a lightning quick series of cuts that went from shots of skin to the knife plunging to Leigh screaming. In the editing room, the effect was quite powerful.
12. The Shocking Toilet
In the 1960s, Hollywood was still operating under what’s known as the Hays Code, a series of unofficial regulations that governed what could and could not be shown on screen. The idea was to convey a general atmosphere of sexlessness and non-violence. Also, pooping was a big no-no, which was why toilets were never filmed … until Marion Crane is slashed to death in the shower and falls to the floor right next to a toilet.
13. Ruining the Ending
Sure, the book had been out for a while, so the film’s twist ending wasn’t exactly a secret. That didn’t stop Hitchcock from going so far as to buy up copies of the book in order to keep it quiet. Then, due to major interest in the director’s next work, both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter published thorough spoilers of the film’s plot prior to its release.
14. Leave It to Jerry
Popular sitcom Leave it to Beaver, starring Jerry Mathers, not only shared a lot with Psycho, the two projects also shared a makeup designer. In fact, Mathers actually claims that as a young boy he pestered the makeup artist into letting him glue on a few strands of hair to the skull of what would become the corpse of Mrs. Bates.
15. Suck It, Paramount. Hitchcock’s Deal Paid Off.
After all of the studio’s fears that Psycho would be the ruin of both Hitchcock and their good favor, the horror film turned out to be the director’s most successful film, earning more than $32 million at the box office (a lot of which went to Hitchcock himself, since he worked his deal for the profits from the negative). The film also earned Hitchcock his final Oscar nomination (he didn’t win).
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