Hitchcock’s infamous ‘Psycho’ is undoubtedly one of the best horror-thriller films ever to be made. When you talk about the film, Psycho, people literally jump in fright. It is recognized as one of the most heart-pounding films of all-time. The most famous scene featured in psycho is the shower scene, notorious for its screams and music. It begins with Marian undressing and showering as normal. The use of a see-through shower curtain enables you to see Marian, unaware that the audience can see a dark figure creeping up towards the shower.
The curtain is suddenly whipped open to reveal the mysterious, shadowed figure holding up a knife. The famous psycho music and scream from the victim is heard, and the killer stabs her a number of times before quickly making their exit. There is a high-angle shot, indicating vulnerability and helplessness, of Marian, and the blood in the shower. She clenches her hands in pain, and then the famous and extraordinarily dramatic image of Marian, stabbed to death, sliding down the wall.
She reaches for the shower curtain, which brakes and she falls to the floor dead. There is a big close-up of Marians opened, startled, dead eye, which zooms out to reveal her lifeless face flattened on the floor. The famous shower scene is for sure, the most violent scene of the picture. It was the main cause of psycho’s great success, and it is a screen history that stands out from all other murders scenes for a huge number of reasons. Firstly, back in 1960, psycho was extremely controversial, unconventional and daring.
It was the first film to reveal a woman semi-undressed and during the shower scene, nude. It was also the first time the public saw a toilet on screen, let alone a full-on murder. The film was initially refused, however, it was shown in cinemas despite its controversial nature, and the film went on to be one of the biggest successes in 1960’s. Secondly, the symbolism and representation gives the scene deeper meaning and hidden messages. For example, the close up of the water and the blood running down the plug this represents Marion’s life drifting away.
Also, throughout the scene there is a strong sense of the light representing good and the darkness representing evil. This is seen even before the shower scene when Norman Bates’ face is in shadows when he is talking to Marion in his study room. Thirdly, and probably most obvious, the screeching, dissonant sounds that makes up the shower theme music. The razor-sharp, slashing strings keep the audience at the edge of their seat in suspense, and the tense, high-pitched, stabbing violins have become a trademark, in which the shower scene would not be the same without.
The famous innovative, nerve-racking violin “screams” have often been mimicked by more recent horror movies, but can never quite seem to beat the incomparable psycho. An amazing aspect of psycho is the fact that the shower scene’s shock is achieved through the use of music, and images of knives that are never actually seen to strike flesh. Nowadays, murder scenes show the knife plunge into the skin and we see full nudity, however, the whole shower scene was shot without showing the private parts and the fact that we never actually see the knife plunge into Marian’s skin.
It was great to see that Hitchcock did not resort to any of this in his film, and in my opinion, this is what makes the shower scene such a classic scene. Its effectiveness is in what is perceived to happen; the brutality is not actually displayed on the screen and exists only in the mind of the audience’s imagination. Throughout the beginning of the film before the shower scene, there is a subconscious build up of the sense that “something is not quite right” due to Normans odd behaviour and characteristics and also the unusual atmosphere of the Bate’s Motel.
When Marian arrives at the motel and asks for a room, Norman replies “12 cabins and 12 vacancies”. This, already, gives the impression that nobody ever stays in the motel. He explains that they don’t get many customers since the new bypass cut them off, which is why the place is looking a little run down, which sounds more like an excuse. The office in which Norman takes Marian into contained quite a few stuffed birds, which Hitchcock always projected as creatures of doom, for example, in the film ‘Birds’.
Norman’s obsession with taxidermy is not exactly pleasant or normal, and actually represents Marian; she is his ‘prey’. Norman comes across as a nervous, quiet, shy, unassuming young man, who at several points we actually end up feeling quite sorry for. This is very unusual considering he is the murderer, which is textbook example of audience manipulation. Another example of this is killing off the main star not even half way through the film. Psycho, made in black and white has since achieved fame and cult status as the ultimate horror movie and its importance to the horror genre cannot be overestimated.