The Non-Nude Anatomy of Hitchcock’s Psycho Shower Scene

By  · Published on May 19th, 2015

CineFix’s latest video is a fun, lightweight overview of how Alfred Hitchcock, strip tease magazines and chocolate syrup managed to create the Psycho shower scene. For those who know all the trivia bits, the video is still an engaging diversion, and for those who don’t, it’s a quick delivery system for facts that will win your bar quiz night.

It’s more of a history than a deconstruction of why the scene works. Obviously it’s one the greatest examples of impressionistic filmmaking, a style necessitated here by the Hays Code’s restriction on portrayals of violence and nudity. From limitations come greatness. The shower scene is a masterclass in using controlled disorientation to manipulate your audience not only into believing they’re seeing something gruesome when they aren’t, but also into feeling as though they are in the room when it happens. The scene is flavored by fight-or-flight instincts, and with rapid fire glimpses of danger and pain, we’re given an approximation of the chaos you might experience in panic mode.

If you’re interested in overloading on Psycho trivia, check out everything we learned from the DVD commentary, and watch Janet Leigh talk in depth about shooting that shower scene. When Landon and I dissected the (potentially) comedic elements of Psycho for our Sight&Sound Top 50 coverage, he made a comment which sums up the movie perfectly:

You can’t find a stronger decade for a Hollywood director than Hitchcock in the 1950s, starting with Strangers on a Train and ending with a Technicolor crowd-pleaser like North by Northwest. He made high-class, polished popular entertainment boosted by his growing renown as a TV figure. Then he makes a black-and-white B-movie where a major character dies in the middle. That’s quite the provocation.

It’s just as easy to think of Psycho as a revolution in how we watch movies as it is to think of Psycho as a film where a powerful director joyfully fucks with his audience.

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