31 Days of Horror. Day 30: Psycho

Every year we have a tradition in the Forto house where we celebrate the greatest month of the year, October, with scare your socks off, hide under the covers, turn on all the lights, sleep with one eye open, fright fest, movie marathon everynight of the month! We call it 31 Days of Horror.

What would any horror movie film festival be without one of the greatest movies in the genre? Psycho is not only classic horror/suspense but also one of the best movies of all time.

I missed the movie last night (October 30th, 2011) due to a massive toothache. I wonder why all emergencies only happen on the weekends? I was looking around and found Psycho on my streaming service and watched it on Halloween instead.

This was Alfred Hitchcock’s last feature film in black and white, filmed November 30 1959-March 1 1960.

Walt Disney refused to allow Alfred Hitchcock to film at Disneyland in the early 1960s because Hitchcock had made “that disgusting movie, ‘Psycho’.”

In the opening scene, Marion Crane is wearing a white bra because Alfred Hitchcock wanted to show her as being “angelic”. After she has taken the money, the following scene has her in a black bra because now she has done something wrong and evil. Similarly, before she steals the money, she has a white purse; after she’s stolen the money, her purse is black.

Marion’s white 1957 Ford sedan is the same car (owned by Universal) that the Cleaver family drove on Leave It to Beaver.

First American film ever to show a toilet flushing on screen.

Parts of the house were built by cannibalizing several stock-unit sections including a tower from the house in Harvey. The house was the most expensive set of the picture but came to a mere US$15,000.

When the cast and crew began work on the first day they had to raise their right hands and promise not to divulge one word of the story. Alfred Hitchcock also withheld the ending part of the script from his cast until he needed to shoot it.

To ensure the people were in the theaters at the start of the film (rather than walking in part way through) the studio provided a record to play in the foyer of the theaters. The album featured background music, occasionally interrupted by a voice saying “Ten minutes to Psycho time,” “Five minutes to Psycho time,” and so on.

Anthony Perkins was paid US$40,000 dollars for his role, which is exactly the same amount of money that Marion Crane embezzles.

If you look attentively you can notice that nearly every time a driver gets out of his car he does so through the passenger side, a seemingly odd behavior. This is due to the bench seating in older cars, and Alfred Hitchcock’s desire to continue the shot without either moving the camera to follow the actor or having the actor walk between the car and the camera.

On the Interstate 99 that eventually turns into Pacific Ave. near the Fife/Tacoma boarder in Washington State, there are several older hotels up along the strip. One of the former owners of one of the hotels is a horror movie buff and puts on costume parties in his retirement. Being a fan of the horror movies, he renamed the motel, Bates Motel.

The reason Hitchcock cameos so early in the film was because he knew people would be looking out for him, and he didn’t want to divert their attention away from the plot.

Universal gave Hitchcock a very small budget to work with, because of their distaste with the source material. They also deferred most of the net profits to Hitchcock, thinking the film would fail. When it became a sleeper hit, Hitchcock made a fortune.

The sets for the Bates Motel and the nearby house on the hill are still standing on the Universal Studio lot.

Although Norman Bates typecasted Anthony Perkins, he said he still would have taken the role, even if he knew the character would dog his career.

The highest grossing film of Hitchcock’s career.

Hitchcock’s first horror movie.

According to biographers, Alfred Hitchcock himself had a troubled relationship with his own domineering mother who, as does Norman Bates with his mother, forced him to stand at the foot of her bed and tell her everything that had happened to him. Although the real relationship was not as disturbed as seen the movie.

Director Cameo about four minutes in wearing a cowboy hat outside Marion’s office.

The sound that the knife makes penetrating the flesh is actually the sound of a knife stabbing a casaba melon.

The blood was Bosco chocolate syrup.

Alfred Hitchcock tested the fear factor of Mother’s corpse by placing it in Janet Leigh’s dressing room and listening to how loud she screamed when she discovered it there.

The last shot of Norman Bates’s face has a still frame of a human skull superimposed on it, almost subliminally. The skull is that of Mother.

After the film’s release Alfred Hitchcock received an angry letter from the father of a girl who refused to have a bath after seeing seeing this film. Hitchcock sent a note back simply saying, “Send her to the dry cleaners.”

The trailer was shot after completing the movie, and because Janet Leigh wasn’t available anymore, Alfred Hitchcock used Vera Miles in the shower sequence in the trailer.

Alfred Hitchcock was very uneasy about the morphing of Norman’s face into Mother’s at the end of the film. He sent out three different versions of the film during its initial release. The first version included the ending seen on all prints today, the second contained no morphing at all, and the third contained the trick at the end, yet also included it at an earlier point in the film. When John Gavin as Sam Loomis comes back to the Bates Motel to look for Arbogast, there is a zooming shot of Norman standing by the swamp, looking very sinister. The third version of the film included the subtle morphing of Norman’s face into Mother’s at this moment.

In Robert Bloch’s novel, Norman Bates is short, fat, older, and very dislikable. It was Alfred Hitchcock who decided to have him be young, handsome, and sympathetic. Norman is also more of a main character in the novel. The story opens with him and Mother fighting rather than following Marion from the start.

Immediately prior to the closing sequence of Norman Bates in his jail cell, as the camera moves down the hallway to where police have confined him, the uniformed guard at the cell door is Ted Knight, best remembered as pompous, dim-witted news anchor Ted Baxter on Mary Tyler Moore.

The novel upon which the film is based was inspired by the true story of Ed Gein, a serial killer who was also the inspiration for Deranged, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and The Silence of the Lambs.

The stabbing scene in the shower is reported to have taken seven days to shoot using 70 different camera angles but only lasts 45 seconds in the movie.

The MPAA objected to the use of the term “transvestite” to describe Norman Bates in the final wrap-up. They insisted it be removed until Joseph Stefano proved to them it was a clinical psychology term. They thought he was trying to get one over on them and place a vulgarity in the picture.

Janet Leigh only had three weeks to work on the movie and spent the whole of one of those weeks filming the shower sequence.

Alfred Hitchcock even had a canvas chair with “Mrs. Bates” written on the back prominently placed and displayed on the set throughout shooting. This further added to the enigma surrounding who was the actress playing Mrs. Bates.

Alfred Hitchcock received several letters from ophthalmologists who noted that Janet Leigh’s eyes were still contracted during the extreme closeups after her character’s death. The pupils of a true corpse dilate after death. They told Hitchcock he could achieve a proper dead-eye effect by using belladonna drops. Hitchcock did so in all his later films.

At the end of the shower scene, the first few seconds of the camera pull-back from Janet Leigh’s face is a freeze-frame. Alfred Hitchcock did this because, while viewing the rushes, his wife noticed the pulse in Leigh’s neck throbbing.

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