Behind-The-Scenes Facts About Horror Classic 'Psycho'

Janet Leigh's shower scene in 'Psycho'
youtube | Movieclips

Moviemaking has come a long way over the years, with filmmakers utilizing new technology, and riffing off of old ideas, to create compelling stories.

More than six decades after it was first released, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho is a masterclass in psychological horror — a movie that's worth watching both on its own merits and also to understand just how profoundly it's influenced the genre. Before you queue it up, get up to speed with some fascinating behind-the-scenes facts about its production.

Alfred Hitchcock made it all possible.

Film director Alfred Hitchcock
Wikimedia Commons | Ante Brkan

Hitchcock didn't just do a masterful job in directing the film. There's a strong argument to be made that the film wouldn't have been possible without his involvement. Hitchcock insisted on the movie being made even after Paramount had said it was impossible.

The rights didn't cost much.

Auithor Robert Bloch
Wikimedia Commons | Will Hart

Psycho was based on a novel by author Robert Bloch. Because the book wasn't a particularly hot commodity, Bloch sold the rights to Hitchcock for just $10,000. It's safe to say the director made a good return on his investment.

It created a template.

'Scream' gif

Before Psycho, horror movies were usually campy stories about aliens or poorly-costumed monsters. Psycho created a whole new genre of psychological horror, and its lineage can be traced to some of the biggest horror franchises of the '80s and '90s.

Who played Norma Bates? Who didn't?

Still from 'Psycho'
youtube | Movieclips

Hitchcock had a tough time deciding on the right tone for Norma Bates, the mother of Norman Bates. He had three separate actresses record Norma's lines and mixed their recordings together until he found the right tone.

Hitchcock appears in the movie.

Still from 'Psycho'
youtube | ilgattapardo

Hitchcock was a pioneer when it comes to directorial vanity, in that he appeared briefly in every one of his movies. In Psycho, he showed up in a cowboy hat inside a building in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it scene.

The movie, released in 1960, was rated R in 1984.

R rating MPAA graphic
Wikipedia | MPAA

The film came out in an era before film ratings. So when the Motion Picture Association of America went back to revise older movies, they gave the 1960 movie an R 1984.

The iconic score that almost never was.

Violins in a row
Unsplash | Umutcan Günüç

Hitchcock originally wanted to use a jazzy soundtrack to score the film, but in the end, composer Bernard Herrmann's vision won out. That's where the iconic all-strings soundtrack came from. It's hard to imagine the shower scene with any other kind of music.

You can't recreate a masterpiece.

Still of Vince Vaughn in 'Psycho' remake
youtube | Screen Bites

It's one thing to reinterpret a classic, but in the late '90s, director Gus Van Sant tried to remake Psycho on a shot-by-shot basis. The film, starring Vince Vaughn, wasn't bad, but Van Sant admitted that he couldn't figure out how Hitchcock did certain scenes.

It really makes you feel badly for Janet Leigh.

Actor Janet Leigh
Wikimedia Commons | Unknown author

As if Leigh's character didn't have a bad enough time in the movie, Leigh herself had to deal for years with stalkers who became obsessed with her after seeing the film. It got so bad that the FBI had to get involved.

Watching it was a big event.

Seats in a movie theater
Unsplash | Paolo Chiabrando

Believe it or not, theaters didn't used to show movies at set times. They'd just show the same movie on a loop, with audiences filing in and out throughout. Hitchcock didn't like this, so he insisted that theaters start showing Psycho at set times. Since it was such a big hit, managers complied.

No spoilers.

"Spoiler alert!" Seth Meyers gif
Giphy | Late Night with Seth Meyers

The internet age has led to a culture that frowns on giving spoilers away. This wasn't the case sixty years ago, but because of the movie's shocking twists, Hitchcock did his best to dissuade audiences from telling others about the ending, even buying up copies of the novel to ensure the plot twists didn't get out.

Close-ups helped Hitchcock get around censors.

Janet Leigh shower scene gif from 'Psycho'

The movie was groundbreaking in many ways, not the least of which was an image of Leigh's breast viewed from the side. It's commonplace in modern movies, but was virtually unheard of in mainstream movies in 1960. The fast camera cuts helped Hitchcock evade censors.

Censors really fell down on the job.

A darkened bedroom
Unsplash | Jp Valery

Another potentially scandalous scene that made it past censors was the opening scene showing a half-dressed couple in bed together. Censors were supposed to show up for a reshoot but never did, so Hitchcock just went ahead with the original shot.

It's tough to pin down how the shower scene went down.

Film reels
Unsplash | Noom Peerapong

Part of what makes the shower scene so difficult to watch is its fast pace. It's full of camera cuts, creating a distinctly unsettling vibe. Incredibly, there's no consensus on just how many camera cuts there were.

You weren't the only one freaked out by the shower scene.

Gif of Janet Leigh's shower scene in 'Psycho'

The scene of Janet Leigh getting stabbed to death in the shower is one of the most iconic and horrifying movie scenes of all time. It's a deeply traumatic scene to watch, and Leigh has said that she made sure to lock the doors before bathing, and mostly took baths moving forward.

At least they used warm water.

Janet Leigh's shower scene in 'Psycho'
youtube | Movieclips

Hitchcock treated his stars terribly at times, leading to rumors that Janet Leigh's shower scene was shot using cold water. But in this case, the rumors were wrong. Leigh herself said later that the water used was warm and pleasant.

The sweet secret of the fake blood.

Still of shower scene in 'Psycho'
youtube | Screen Themes

For movies shot in color, fake blood usually requires food coloring. But things are more loose in a black and white movie. To get the right texture in Psycho, they used Hershey's chocolate syrup to replicate blood.

The toilet scene was more important than you think.

Still of a toilet from the film 'Psycho'
youtube | Screen Themes

You might not think that showing a toilet in a movie is a big deal, but in Psycho, it was most definitely a big deal. That's because it's recognized by Guinness as the first movie to ever show an onscreen toilet.

It's a Christmas movie.

Still from the film 'Psycho'
youtube | Universal Pictures

Everyone knows that Die Hard is a Christmas movie, but what about Psycho? While it wasn't initially supposed to take place during a specific time of year, it was shot during the Christmas season, ensuring that holiday decorations were on full display in certain scenes.

There was a real-life Norman Bates, kind of.

Headstone of serial killer Ed Gein
Wikimedia Commons | Bryanwake

While his life didn't quite mirror that of Norman Bates, serial killer Ed Gein was acknowledged as the inspiration for the character. Gein was a bloodthirsty killer with mother issues, just like Norman Bates.