Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho could be considered one of the first slasher films due to a single scene that’s barely two minutes long. Which should give you an idea as to how good those couple of minutes are.
The iconic shower scene in Psycho, which has been paid homage to and referenced numerous times for decades now, marks the half-way point. It’s what immediately comes to mind when we think of the film: the upwards shot of the running shower head; a perfectly choreographed and naked Janet Leigh; an approaching shadow beyond the curtain; the slow melodic build up that jolts into piercing metronome shrieks as she’s stabbed repeatedly; the curtain torn from its rings as she collapses; blood circling the drain, and then staring into her dead gaze like one of the taxidermied animals lining the Bates Motel walls.
It’s movie magic. Yet it’s the time spent encompassing that scene that is truly suspense at it’s absolute best.
In Act I, Marion Crane steals $40,000 from her boss and descends into agonized paranoia while on-the-run. Act II sees her ill-fated stay at the Bates Motel and introduces Norman Bates, one of cinemas greatest whack jobs. The rest of the film focuses on Norman and the (literal) skeletons in his closet as he covers up the murder and is investigated by a private detective hired by Marion’s sister.
Such a structure would be unheard of in a horror movie today, yet Hitchcock does it with a panache that does not subvert audience expectations so much as spin them on their heads. The reveal in the climax is where he wanted to take us, and by killing off the lead so early and so brutally we are left to wonder how it can it be topped. And yet Hitchcock does top it, and the “twist” used to do so has since influenced generations of horror filmmakers. M. Night Shyamalan, James Wan, and countless others have duplicated this idea with varying success, but Hitchcock’s mastery of plot, narrative, character, and tone remain unmatched.
Psycho is so much more than a shower scene. And while it may not be a traditional horror film, it’s a class in great filmmaking that leaves you horrified. All the better.
Peer behind the shower curtain at our other must-see picks on our 31 Days of Halloween list here.
He watches movies and plays video games to pass the time until Galactus finally arrives and devours the Earth.