After Hitchcock's death in 1980, Universal Studios began producing follow-ups: three sequels, a remake, a television film spin-off, and a prequel TV series. In 1992, the US Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.
During a lunchtime tryst in Phoenix, Arizona, a real estate secretary named Marion Crane discusses with her boyfriend, Sam Loomis, how they cannot afford to get married because of Sam's debts. After lunch, Marion returns to work, where a client drops off a $40,000 cash payment on a property. Her boss asks her to deposit the money in the bank, and she asks if she can take the rest of the afternoon off. Returning home, she begins to pack, deciding to steal the money and give it to Sam in Fairvale, California. She is seen by her boss on her way out of town, which makes her nervous. During the trip, she pulls over on the side of the road and falls asleep, only to be awakened by a state patrol officer. Suspicious about her nervous behavior, he notes her license plate number and follows her at a close distance. Hoping to shake his pursuit, Marion stops at an automobile dealership and trades in her Ford Mainline, with its Arizona license plates, for a Ford Custom 300 that has California tags.
Driving on, Marion stops for the night at the Bates Motel. The proprietor, Norman Bates, invites her to a light dinner after she checks in. She accepts, but then hears an argument between Norman and his mother about bringing a woman into her house. They eat in the motel parlor, where he tells her about his life with his mother, who is mentally ill and forbids him to have a life outside of her. Her sense of compassion and responsibility awakened by Norman's story, Marion decides to go back to Phoenix in the morning to return the stolen money, and prepares for bed. As she is showering, a shadowy figure comes in and stabs her to death with a chef's knife. Norman discovers the murder and assumes his mother is responsible. He meticulously cleans up the crime scene, putting Marion's corpse and her possessions—including the embezzled money—into the trunk of her car and sinking it in the swamps near the motel.
A week later, Marion's sister Lila arrives in Fairvale and confronts Sam about the whereabouts of her sister. Private investigator Milton Arbogast approaches them and confirms that Marion is wanted for stealing the $40,000. He checks the motels, and Norman's evasive and inconsistent answers arouse his suspicions. After hearing that Marion had met Norman's mother, he asks to speak with her, but Norman refuses. Arbogast calls Lila and Sam to update them. He goes to the Bates' home in search of Norman's mother; as he reaches the top of the stairs, he is attacked and murdered. When Lila and Sam do not hear from Arbogast, Sam visits the motel. He finds only Mrs. Bates, who ignores his knocking. Lila and Sam go to the local sheriff, who informs them that Mrs. Bates killed herself ten years ago, and concludes that Arbogast lied to confuse them and made off with the $40,000. Still convinced that some ill has befallen Arbogast, Lila and Sam make their way to the motel. Norman takes his unwilling mother from her room and hides her in the fruit cellar.
At the motel, Lila and Sam meet Norman. Sam distracts him by striking up a conversation while Lila sneaks up to the house. When Sam tells Norman they've come to question his mother, he knocks Sam out and rushes to the house. Lila sees Norman approaching and hides by going down steps that lead to the fruit cellar. There she finds Mrs. Bates sitting in a chair. Lila turns her around and discovers that she is in fact a mummified corpse. Lila screams as Norman runs into the cellar, holding a chef's knife and wearing his mother's clothes and a wig. Before Norman can attack Lila, Sam, having regained consciousness, subdues him.
At the local courthouse, a psychiatrist explains that Norman murdered Mrs. Bates and her lover ten years prior out of jealousy. Unable to bear the guilt, he exhumed her corpse and began to treat it as if she were still alive. In order to preserve that illusion, he recreated his mother in his own mind as an alternate personality, often dressing in her clothes and talking to himself in her voice. This "Mother" personality is jealous and possessive: whenever Norman feels attracted to a woman, "Mother" kills her. As "Mother", Norman had killed two young girls prior to Marion, as well as Arbogast. The psychiatrist says the "Mother" personality has taken permanent hold of Norman's mind. While Norman sits in a holding cell, "Mother" protests that the murders were Norman's doing and that she "wouldn't even harm a fly." Meanwhile, Marion's car is pulled out of the swamp.Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates
Vera Miles as Lila Crane
John Gavin as Sam Loomis
Janet Leigh as Marion Crane
Martin Balsam as Detective Milton Arbogast
John McIntire as Sheriff Al Chambers
Simon Oakland as Dr. Fred Richman
Frank Albertson as Tom Cassidy
Pat Hitchcock as Caroline
Vaughn Taylor as George Lowery
Lurene Tuttle as Mrs. Chambers
John Anderson as California Charlie
Mort Mills as Highway Patrol Officer
Francis De Sales as Deputy District Attorney Alan Deats (uncredited)
George Eldredge as Police Chief James Mitchell (uncredited)
Ted Knight as a policeman guarding Norman Bates (uncredited)
Virginia Gregg, Paul Jasmin, and Jeanette Nolan as the voice of Norma Bates (uncredited)
The success of Psycho jump-started Perkins' career, but he soon began to suffer from typecasting. However, when Perkins was asked whether he would have still taken the role knowing that he would be typecast afterwards, he replied with a definite "yes".
Until her death, Leigh continued to receive strange and sometimes threatening calls, letters, and even tapes detailing what they would like to do to Marion Crane. One letter was so "grotesque" that she passed it along to the FBI, two of whose agents visited Leigh and told her the culprits had been located and that she should notify the FBI if she received any more letters of that type.
Norman's mother was voiced by Virginia Gregg, Paul Jasmin, and Jeanette Nolan, who also provided some screams for Lila's discovery of the mother's corpse. The three voices were thoroughly mixed, except for the last speech, which is all Gregg's.
As Perkins was in New York working on a Broadway stage show when the shower sequence was filmed, actresses Anne Dore and Margo Epper stepped in as his body doubles for that scene.
Psycho is based on Robert Bloch's 1959 novel of the same name, which was loosely inspired by the case of convicted Wisconsin murderer and grave robber Ed Gein. Both Gein, who lived just 40 miles from Bloch, and the story's protagonist, Norman Bates, were solitary murderers in isolated rural locations. Each had deceased, domineering mothers, had sealed off a room in their home as a shrine to her, and dressed in women's clothes. However, unlike Bates, Gein is not strictly considered a serial killer, having been charged with murder only twice.
Peggy Robertson, Hitchcock's long-time assistant, read Anthony Boucher's positive review of the novel and decided to show the book to her employer, even though studio readers at Paramount Pictures had already rejected its premise for a film. Hitchcock acquired rights to the novel for $9,500 and reportedly ordered Robertson to buy up copies to preserve the novel's surprises. Hitchcock, who had come to face genre competitors whose works were critically compared to his own, was seeking new material to recover from two aborted projects with Paramount, Flamingo Feather and No Bail for the Judge. He disliked stars' salary demands and trusted only a few people to choose prospective material, including Robertson.
Paramount executives balked at Hitchcock's proposal and refused to provide his usual budget. In response, Hitchcock offered to film Psycho quickly and inexpensively in black and white using his Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series crew. Paramount executives rejected this cost-conscious approach, claiming their sound stages were booked even though the industry was in a slump. Hitchcock countered he would personally finance the project and film it at Universal-International using his Shamley Productions crew if Paramount would merely distribute. In lieu of his usual $250,000 director's fee he proposed a 60% stake in the film negative. This combined offer was accepted and Hitchcock went ahead in spite of naysaying from producer Herbert Coleman and Shamley Productions executive Joan Harrison.
James P. Cavanagh, a writer on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series, penned the original screenplay. Hitchcock felt the script dragged and read like a television short horror story, an assessment shared by an assistant. Though Stefano had worked on only one film before, Hitchcock agreed to meet with him; despite Stefano's inexperience, the meeting went well and he was hired.
The screenplay is relatively faithful to the novel, with a few notable adaptations by Hitchcock and Stefano. Stefano found the character of Norman Bates—who, in the book, is middle-aged, overweight, and more overtly unstable—unsympathetic, but became more intrigued when Hitchcock suggested casting Anthony Perkins. Stefano eliminated Bates' drinking, which evidently necessitated removing Bates' "becoming" the Mother personality when in a drunken stupor. Also gone is Bates' interest in spiritualism, the occult and pornography. Hitchcock and Stefano elected to open the film with scenes in Marion's life and not introduce Bates at all until 20 minutes into the film, rather than open with Bates reading a history book as Bloch does. Indeed, writer Joseph W. Smith notes that, "Her story occupies only two of the novel's 17 chapters. Hitchcock and Stefano expanded this to nearly half the narrative". He likewise notes there is no hotel tryst between Marion and Sam in the novel. For Stefano, the conversation between Marion and Norman in the hotel parlor in which she displays a maternal sympathy towards him makes it possible for the audience to switch their sympathies towards Norman Bates after Marion's murder. When Lila Crane is looking through Norman's room in the film she opens a book with a blank cover whose contents are unseen; in the novel these are "pathologically pornographic" illustrations. Stefano wanted to give the audience "indications that something was quite wrong, but it could not be spelled out or overdone." In his book of interviews with Hitchcock, François Truffaut notes that the novel "cheats" by having extended conversations between Norman and "Mother" and stating what Mother is "doing" at various given moments.
The first name of the female protagonist was changed from Mary to Marion, since a real Mary Crane existed in Phoenix. Also changed is the novel's budding romance between Sam and Lila. Hitchcock preferred to focus the audience's attention on the solution to the mystery, and Stefano thought such a relationship would make Sam Loomis seem cheap. Instead of having Sam explain Norman's pathology to Lila, the film uses a psychiatrist. (Stefano was in therapy dealing with his relationship with his own mother at the time of writing the film.) The novel is more violent than the film; for instance, Crane is beheaded in the shower as opposed to being stabbed to death. Minor changes include changing Marion's telltale earring found after her death to a scrap of paper that failed to flush down the toilet. This provided some shock effect, since toilets were virtually never seen in American cinema in the 1960s. The location of Arbogast's death was moved from the foyer to the stairwell. Stefano thought this would make it easier to conceal the truth about "Mother" without tipping that something was being hidden. As Janet Leigh put it, this gave Hitchcock more options for his camera.
Paramount, whose contract guaranteed another film by Hitchcock, did not want Hitchcock to make Psycho. Paramount was expecting No Bail for the Judge starring Audrey Hepburn, who became pregnant and had to bow out, leading Hitchcock to scrap the production. Their official stance was that the book was "too repulsive" and "impossible for films", and nothing but another of his star-studded mystery thrillers would suffice. They did not like "anything about it at all" and denied him his usual budget. In response Hitchcock financed the film's creation through his own Shamley Productions, shooting at Universal Studios under the Revue television unit. The original Bates Motel and Bates house set buildings, which were constructed on the same stage as Lon Chaney Sr.'s The Phantom of the Opera, are still standing at Universal Studios in Universal City near Hollywood and are a regular attraction on the studio's tour. As a further result of cost cutting, Hitchcock chose to film Psycho in black and white, keeping the budget under $1,000,000. Other reasons for shooting in black and white were his desire to prevent the shower scene from being too gory and his admiration for Les Diaboliques's use of black and white.
To keep costs down, and because he was most comfortable around them, Hitchcock took most of his crew from his television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including the cinematographer, set designer, script supervisor, and first assistant director. He hired regular collaborators Bernard Herrmann as music composer, George Tomasini as editor, and Saul Bass for the title design and storyboarding of the shower scene. In all, his crew cost $62,000.
Through the strength of his reputation, Hitchcock cast Leigh for a quarter of her usual fee, paying only $25,000 (in the 1967 book Hitchcock/Truffaut, Hitchcock said that Leigh owed Paramount one final film on her seven-year contract which she had signed in 1953). His first choice, Leigh agreed after having only read the novel and making no inquiry into her salary. Her co-star, Anthony Perkins, agreed to $40,000. Both stars were experienced and proven box-office draws.
Paramount did distribute the film, but four years later Hitchcock sold his stock in Shamley to Universal's parent company (MCA) and his next six films were made at and distributed by Universal Pictures. After another four years, Paramount sold all rights to Universal.
The film, independently produced and financed by Hitchcock, was shot at Revue Studios, the same location as his television show. Psycho was shot on a tight budget of $807,000, beginning on November 11, 1959, and ending on February 1, 1960. Filming started in the morning and finished by six p.m. or earlier on Thursdays (when Hitchcock and his wife would dine at Chasen's). Nearly the whole film was shot with 50 mm lenses on 35 mm cameras. This trick closely mimicked normal human vision, which helped to further involve the audience.
Before shooting began in November, Hitchcock dispatched assistant director Hilton A. Green to Phoenix to scout locations and shoot the opening scene. The shot was supposed to be an aerial shot of Phoenix that slowly zoomed into the hotel window of a passionate Marion and Sam. Ultimately, the helicopter footage proved too shaky and had to be spliced with footage from the studio. Another crew filmed day and night footage on Highway 99 between Gorman and Fresno, California for projection when Marion drives from Phoenix. Footage of her driving into Bakersfield to trade her car is also shown. They also provided the location shots for the scene in which she is discovered sleeping in her car by the highway patrolman. In one street scene shot in downtown Phoenix, Christmas decorations were discovered to be visible; rather than re-shoot the footage, Hitchcock chose to add a graphic to the opening scene marking the date as "Friday, December the Eleventh".
Green also took photos of a prepared list of 140 locations for later reconstruction in the studio. These included many real estate offices and homes such as those belonging to Marion and her sister. He also found a girl who looked just like he imagined Marion and photographed her whole wardrobe, which would enable Hitchcock to demand realistic looks from Helen Colvig, the wardrobe supervisor. The look of the Bates house was modeled on Edward Hopper's painting The House by the Railroad, a fanciful portrait of the Second Empire Victorian home at 18 Conger Avenue in Haverstraw, New York.
Both the leads, Perkins and Leigh, were given freedom to interpret their roles and improvise as long as it did not involve moving the camera. An example of Perkins' improvisation is Norman's habit of eating candy corn.
Throughout filming, Hitchcock created and hid various versions of the "Mother corpse" prop in Leigh's dressing room closet. Leigh took the joke well, and she wondered whether it was done to keep her on edge and thus more in character or to judge which corpse would be scarier for the audience.
During shooting, Hitchcock was forced to uncharacteristically do retakes for some scenes. The final shot in the shower scene, which starts with an extreme close-up on Marion's eye and pulls up and out, proved very difficult for Leigh, since the water splashing in her face made her want to blink, and the cameraman had trouble as well since he had to manually focus while moving the camera. Retakes were also required for the opening scene, since Hitchcock felt that Leigh and Gavin were not passionate enough. Leigh had trouble saying "Not inordinately" for the real estate office scene, requiring additional retakes. Lastly, the scene in which the mother is discovered required a complicated coordinating of the chair turning around, Vera Miles (as Lila Crane) hitting the light bulb, and a lens flare, which proved to be the sticking point. Hitchcock forced retakes until all three elements were to his satisfaction.
According to Hitchcock, a series of shots with Arbogast going up the stairs in the Bates house before he is stabbed were helmed by assistant director Hilton A. Green, working with storyboard artist Saul Bass' drawings only while Hitchcock was incapacitated with the common cold. However, upon viewing the dailies of the shots, Hitchcock was forced to scrap them. He claimed they were "no good" because they did not portray "an innocent person but a sinister man who was going up those stairs". Hitchcock later re-shot the scene, though a little of the cut footage made its way into the film. Filming the murder of Arbogast proved problematic owing to the overhead camera angle necessary to hide the film's twist. A camera track constructed on pulleys alongside the stairway together with a chairlike device had to be constructed and thoroughly tested over a period of weeks.
Alfred Hitchcock's cameo is a signature occurrence in most of his films. In Psycho, he can be seen through a window—wearing a Stetson hat—standing outside Marion Crane's office. Wardrobe mistress Rita Riggs has said that Hitchcock chose this scene for his cameo so that he could be in a scene with his daughter (who played one of Marion's colleagues). Others have suggested that he chose this early appearance in the film in order to avoid distracting the audience.
The murder of Leigh's character in the shower is the film's pivotal scene and one of the best-known in all of cinema. As such, it spawned numerous myths and legends. It was shot from December 17–23, 1959, with 77 different camera angles. The finished scene runs three minutes and includes 50 cuts. Most of the shots are extreme close-ups, except for medium shots in the shower directly before and directly after the murder. The combination of the close shots with their short duration makes the sequence feel more subjective than it would have been if the images were presented alone or in a wider angle, an example of the technique Hitchcock described as "transferring the menace from the screen into the mind of the audience".
To capture the straight-on shot of the shower head, the camera had to be equipped with a long lens. The inner holes on the shower head were blocked and the camera placed a sufficient distance away so that the water, while appearing to be aimed directly at the lens, actually went around and past it.
The soundtrack of screeching violins, violas, and cellos was an original all-strings piece by composer Bernard Herrmann titled "The Murder". Hitchcock originally intended to have no music for the sequence (and all motel scenes), but Herrmann insisted he try his composition. Afterward, Hitchcock agreed it vastly intensified the scene, and nearly doubled Herrmann's salary. The blood in the scene is reputed to have been Bosco chocolate syrup, which shows up better on black-and-white film, and has more realistic density than stage blood. The sound of the knife entering flesh was created by plunging a knife into a casaba melon.
There are varying accounts whether Leigh was in the shower the entire time or a body double was used for some parts of the murder sequence and its aftermath. In an interview with Roger Ebert and in the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, Leigh stated she was in the scene the entire time and Hitchcock used a stand-in only for the sequence in which Norman wraps Marion's body in a shower curtain and places it in the trunk of her car. The 2010 book The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock's Shower by Robert Graysmith contradicts this, identifying Marli Renfro as Leigh's body double for some of the shower scene's shots. Graysmith also stated that Hitchcock later acknowledged Renfro's participation in the scene.
A popular myth emerged that, in order for Leigh's scream in the shower to sound realistic, ice-cold water was used. Leigh denied this on numerous occasions, saying the crew was very accommodating, supplying hot water throughout the week-long shoot. All of the screams are Leigh's.
Another myth concerns Saul Bass, the graphic designer who created many of the title sequences of Hitchcock's films and storyboarded some of Psycho's scenes, claiming he had directed the shower scene. This was refuted by several figures associated with the film, including Leigh, who stated: "absolutely not! I have emphatically said this in any interview I've ever given. I've said it to his face in front of other people ... I was in that shower for seven days, and, believe me, Alfred Hitchcock was right next to his camera for every one of those seventy-odd shots." Hilton A. Green, the assistant director, also refutes Bass' claim: "There is not a shot in that movie that I didn't roll the camera for. And I can tell you I never rolled the camera for Mr. Bass." Roger Ebert, a longtime admirer of Hitchcock's work, summarily dismissed the rumor, stating, "It seems unlikely that a perfectionist with an ego like Hitchcock's would let someone else direct such a scene."
However, commentators such as Stephen Rebello and Bill Krohn have argued in favor of Bass' contribution to the scene in his capacity as visual consultant and storyboard artist. Along with designing the opening credits, Bass is termed "Pictorial Consultant" in the credits. When interviewing Hitchcock in 1967, François Truffaut asked about the extent of Bass' contribution, to which Hitchcock replied that in addition to the titles, Bass had provided storyboards for the Arbogast murder (which he claimed to have rejected), but made no mention of Bass providing storyboards for the shower scene. According to Bill Krohn's Hitchcock At Work, Bass' first claim to have directed the scene was in 1970, when he provided a magazine with 48 drawings used as storyboards as proof of his contribution.
Krohn's analysis of the production of Psycho in his book Hitchcock at Work, while refuting Bass' claims for directing the scene, notes that these storyboards did introduce key aspects of the final scene—most notably, the fact that the killer appears as a silhouette, and details such as the close-ups of the slashing knife, Leigh's desperate outstretched arm, the shower curtain being torn down, and the transition from the hole of the drainage pipe to Marion Crane's dead eyes. Krohn notes that this final transition is highly reminiscent of the iris titles that Bass created for Vertigo.
Krohn's research also notes that Hitchcock shot the scene with two cameras: one a BNC Mitchell, the other a handheld French Éclair camera which Orson Welles had used in Touch of Evil (1958). In order to create an ideal montage for the greatest emotional impact on the audience, Hitchcock shot a lot of footage of this scene which he trimmed down in the editing room. He even brought a Moviola on the set to gauge the footage required. The final sequence, which his editor George Tomasini worked on with Hitchcock's advice, however did not go far beyond the basic structural elements set up by Bass' storyboards.
According to Donald Spoto in The Dark Side of Genius, Hitchcock's wife, Alma Reville, spotted a blooper in one of the last screenings of Psycho before its official release: after Marion was supposedly dead, one could see her blink. According to Patricia Hitchcock, talking in Laurent Bouzereau's "making of" documentary, Alma spotted that Leigh's character appeared to take a breath. In either case, the postmortem activity was edited out and was never seen by audiences. Although Marion's eyes should be dilated after her death, the contact lenses necessary for this effect would have required six weeks of acclimation to wear them, so Hitchcock decided to forgo them.
It is often claimed that, despite its graphic nature, the "shower scene" never once shows a knife puncturing flesh. However, a frame by frame analysis of the sequence shows one shot in which the knife appears to penetrate Leigh's abdomen, but the effect may have been created by lighting and reverse motion. Leigh herself was so affected by this scene when she saw it, that she no longer took showers unless she absolutely had to; she would lock all the doors and windows and would leave the bathroom and shower door open. She never realized until she first watched the film "how vulnerable and defenseless one is".
Leigh and Hitchcock fully discussed what the scene meant:
Marion had decided to go back to Phoenix, come clean, and take the consequence, so when she stepped into the bathtub it was as if she were stepping into the baptismal waters. The spray beating down on her was purifying the corruption from her mind, purging the evil from her soul. She was like a virgin again, tranquil, at peace.
Film theorist Robin Wood also discusses how the shower washes "away her guilt". He comments upon the "alienation effect" of killing off the "apparent center of the film" with which spectators had identified.
Hitchcock insisted that Bernard Herrmann write the score for Psycho despite the composer's refusal to accept a reduced fee for the film's lower budget. The resulting score, according to Christopher Palmer in The Composer in Hollywood (1990) is "perhaps Herrmann's most spectacular Hitchcock achievement." Hitchcock was pleased with the tension and drama the score added to the film, later remarking "33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music." The singular contribution of Herrmann's score may be inferred from the unusual penultimate placement of the composer's name in the film's opening credit sequence, as it is followed only by Hitchcock's directing credit.
Herrmann used the lowered music budget to his advantage by writing for a string orchestra rather than a full symphonic ensemble, contrary to Hitchcock's request for a jazz score. He thought of the single tone color of the all-string soundtrack as a way of reflecting the black-and-white cinematography of the film. The strings play con sordini (muted) for all the music other than the shower scene, creating a darker and more intense effect. Film composer Fred Steiner, in an analysis of the score to Psycho, points out that string instruments gave Herrmann access to a wider range in tone, dynamics, and instrumental special effects than any other single instrumental group would have.
The main title music, a tense, hurtling piece, sets the tone of impending violence, and returns three times on the soundtrack. Though nothing shocking occurs during the first 15–20 minutes of the film, the title music remains in the audience's mind, lending tension to these early scenes. Herrmann also maintains tension through the slower moments in the film through the use of ostinato.
There were rumors that Herrmann had used electronic means, including amplified bird screeches to achieve the shocking effect of the music in the shower scene. The effect was achieved, however, only with violins in a "screeching, stabbing sound-motion of extraordinary viciousness." The only electronic amplification employed was in the placing of the microphones close to the instruments, to get a harsher sound. Besides the emotional impact, the shower scene cue ties the soundtrack to birds. The association of the shower scene music with birds also telegraphs to the audience that it is Norman, the stuffed-bird collector, who is the murderer rather than his mother.
Herrmann biographer Steven C. Smith writes that the music for the shower scene is "probably the most famous (and most imitated) cue in film music," but Hitchcock was originally opposed to having music in this scene. When Herrmann played the shower scene cue for Hitchcock, the director approved its use in the film. Herrmann reminded Hitchcock of his instructions not to score this scene, to which Hitchcock replied, "Improper suggestion, my boy, improper suggestion." This was one of two important disagreements Hitchcock had with Herrmann, in which Herrmann ignored Hitchcock's instructions. The second one, over the score for Torn Curtain (1966), resulted in the end of their professional collaboration. A survey conducted by PRS for Music, in 2009, showed that the British public consider the score from 'the shower scene' to be the scariest theme from any film.
To honor the fiftieth anniversary of Psycho, in July 2010, the San Francisco Symphony obtained a print of the film with the soundtrack removed, and projected it on a large screen in Davies Symphony Hall while the orchestra performed the score live. This was previously mounted by the Seattle Symphony in October 2009 as well, performing at the Benaroya Hall for two consecutive evenings.
Several CDs of the film soundtrack have been released, including:The 1970s soundtrack recording with Bernard Herrmann conducting the National Philharmonic Orchestra [Unicorn CD, 1993].
The 1997 Varèse Sarabande CD features a re-recording of the complete score performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and conducted by Joel McNeely .
The 1998 Soundstage Records SCD 585 CD claims to feature the tracks from the original master tapes. However, it has been asserted that the release is a bootleg recording.
The 2011 Doxy Records DOY650 (Italy) 180 gram LP release of the complete original 1960 score conducted by Herrmann.
Psycho is a prime example of the type of film that appeared in the United States during the 1960s after the erosion of the Production Code. It was unprecedented in its depiction of sexuality and violence, right from the opening scene in which Sam and Marion are shown as lovers sharing the same bed, with Marion in a bra. In the Production Code standards of that time, unmarried couples shown in the same bed would be taboo.
Another controversial issue was the gender bending element. Perkins, who was allegedly a homosexual, and Hitchcock, who previously made the LGBT film Rope, were both experienced in the film's transgressive subject matter. The viewer is unaware of the gender dysphoria until at the end of the movie. It is revealed that Bates is a crossdresser in the attempted murder of Sam. At the station, Sam asks why was Bates dressed that way. The police officer, ignorant of Bates' split personality, bluntly utters that Bates is a transvestite. The psychiatrist corrects him and says, "Not exactly." He explains that Bates believes that he is his own mother when he dresses in her clothes.
According to the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the censors in charge of enforcing the Production Code wrangled with Hitchcock because some of them insisted they could see one of Leigh's breasts. Hitchcock held onto the print for several days, left it untouched, and resubmitted it for approval. Each of the censors reversed their positions: those who had previously seen the breast now did not, and those who had not, now did. They passed the film after the director removed one shot that showed the buttocks of Leigh's stand-in. The board was also upset by the racy opening, so Hitchcock said that if they let him keep the shower scene he would re-shoot the opening with them on the set. Since they did not show up for the re-shoot, the opening stayed.
Another cause of concern for the censors was that Marion was shown flushing a toilet, with its contents (torn-up note paper) fully visible. No flushing toilet had appeared in mainstream film and television in the United States at that time.
Internationally, Hitchcock was forced to make minor changes to the film, mostly to the shower scene. In Britain, the BBFC requested cuts to stabbing sounds and visible nude shots, and in New Zealand the shot of Norman washing blood from his hands was objected to. In Singapore, though the shower scene was left untouched, the murder of Arbogast, and a shot of Norman's mother's corpse were removed.
The most controversial move was Hitchcock's "no late admission" policy for the film, which was unusual for the time. It was not entirely original as Clouzot had done the same in France for Diabolique. Hitchcock thought that if people entered the theater late and never saw the star actress Janet Leigh, they would feel cheated. At first theater owners opposed the idea, claiming that they would lose business. However, after the first day, the owners enjoyed long lines of people waiting to see the film.
Hitchcock did most of the promotion on his own, forbidding Leigh and Perkins to make the usual television, radio, and print interviews for fear of their revealing the plot. Even critics were not given private screenings but rather had to see the film with the general public, which, despite possibly affecting their reviews, certainly preserved the secret.
The film's original trailer features a jovial Hitchcock taking the viewer on a tour of the set, and almost giving away plot details before stopping himself. It is "tracked" with Herrmann's Psycho theme, but also jovial music from Hitchcock's comedy The Trouble with Harry; most of Hitchcock's dialogue is post-synchronized. The trailer was made after completion of the film, and since Janet Leigh was no longer available for filming, Hitchcock had Vera Miles don a blonde wig and scream loudly as he pulled the shower curtain back in the bathroom sequence of the preview. Since the title, "Psycho", instantly covers most of the screen, the switch went unnoticed by audiences for years. However, a freeze-frame analysis clearly reveals that it is Miles and not Leigh in the shower during the trailer.
The film was so successful that it was reissued to theaters in 1965. A year later, CBS purchased the television rights for $450,000. CBS planned to televise the film on September 23, 1966, but three days earlier, Valerie Percy, daughter of Illinois senate candidate Charles H. Percy, was murdered. As her parents slept mere feet away, she was stabbed a dozen times with a double-edged knife. In light of the murder, CBS agreed to postpone the screening, but as a result of the Apollo pad fire of January 27, 1967, the network washed its hands of Psycho, and shortly afterward Paramount included the film in its first syndicated package of post-1950 movies, "Portfolio I". WABC-TV in New York City was the first station in the country to air Psycho (with some scenes significantly edited), on its late-night movie series, The Best of Broadway, on June 24, 1967. Following another successful theatrical reissue in 1969, the film finally made its way to general television airing in one of Universal's syndicated programming packages for local stations in 1970. Psycho was aired for twenty years in this format, then leased to cable for two years before returning to syndication as part of the "List of a Lifetime" package.
The film was re-released on September 20 & 23, 2015, as part of the "TCM Presents" series by Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events.
Initial reviews of the film were thoroughly mixed. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, "There is not an abundance of subtlety or the lately familiar Hitchcock bent toward significant and colorful scenery in this obviously low-budget job." Crowther called the "slow buildups to sudden shocks" reliably melodramatic but contested Hitchcock's psychological points, reminiscent of Krafft-Ebing's studies, as less effective. While the film did not conclude satisfactorily for the critic, he commended the cast's performances as "fair". British critic C. A. Lejeune was so offended that she not only walked out before the end but permanently resigned her post as film critic for The Observer. Other negative reviews stated, "a blot on an honorable career", "plainly a gimmick movie", and "merely one of those television shows padded out to two hours." Positive reviews stated, "Anthony Perkins' performance is the best of his career ... Janet Leigh has never been better", "played out beautifully", and "first American movie since Touch of Evil to stand in the same creative rank as the great European films." A good example of the mix is the New York Herald Tribune's review, which stated, "... rather difficult to be amused at the forms insanity may take ... keeps your attention like a snake-charmer."
The public loved the film, with lines stretching outside of theaters as people had to wait for the next showing. This, along with box office numbers, led to a reconsideration of the film by critics, and it eventually received a very large amount of praise. It broke box-office records in Japan and the rest of Asia, France, Britain, South America, the United States, and Canada, and was a moderate success in Australia for a brief period. It was the most profitable black-and-white sound film ever made, and Hitchcock personally realized well in excess of $15 million (about $120m today). He then swapped his rights to Psycho and his TV anthology for 150,000 shares of MCA, making him the third largest shareholder in MCA Inc., and his own boss at Universal, in theory; however, this did not stop them from interfering with his later films. Psycho was, by a large margin, the most profitable film of Hitchcock's career, earning over $12 million for the studio on release, and $15 million by the end of the year. Hitchcock's second most profitable was Family Plot ($7,541,000), and third place was a tie between Torn Curtain (1966) and Frenzy (1972), each earning $6,500,000. Around the time of the run's end, the film had grossed $32 million in domestic theaters.
In the United Kingdom, the film shattered attendance records at the London Plaza Cinema, but nearly all British critics panned it, questioning Hitchcock's taste and judgment. Reasons cited for this were the critics' late screenings, forcing them to rush their reviews, their dislike of the gimmicky promotion, and Hitchcock's expatriate status. Perhaps thanks to the public's response and Hitchcock's efforts at promoting it, the critics did a re-review, and the film was praised. TIME switched its opinion from "Hitchcock bears down too heavily in this one" to "superlative" and "masterly", and Bosley Crowther put it on his Top Ten list of 1960.
The Catholic Legion of Decency gave the film a B rating, meaning "morally objectionable in part".
Psycho was criticized for making other filmmakers more willing to show gore; three years later, Blood Feast, considered to be the first "splatter film", was released. Psycho's success financially and critically had others trying to ride its coattails. Inspired by Psycho, Hammer Film Productions launched a series of mystery thrillers including The Nanny (1965) starring Bette Davis and William Castle's Homicidal (1961) was followed by a slew of more than thirteen other splatter films.
On the review aggregator website RottenTomatoes.com, Psycho holds a 'Certified: Fresh' score of 97%, with the critical consensus stated as, "Infamous for its shower scene, but immortal for its contribution to the horror genre. Because Psycho was filmed with tact, grace, and art, Hitchcock didn't just create modern horror, he validated it".
In Psycho, Hitchcock subverts the romantic elements that are seen in most of his work. The film is instead ironic as it presents "clarity and fulfillment" of romance. The past is central to the film; the main characters "struggle to understand and resolve destructive personal histories" and ultimately fail. Lesley Brill writes, "The inexorable forces of past sins and mistakes crush hopes for regeneration and present happiness." The crushed hope is highlighted by the death of the protagonist, Marion Crane, halfway through the film. Marion is like Persephone of Greek mythology, who is abducted temporarily from the world of the living. The myth does not sustain with Marion, who dies hopelessly in her room at the Bates Motel. The room is wallpapered with floral print like Persephone's flowers, but they are only "reflected in mirrors, as images of images—twice removed from reality". In the scene of Marion's death, Brill describes the transition from the bathroom drain to Marion's lifeless eye, "Like the eye of the amorphous sea creature at the end of Fellini's La Dolce Vita, it marks the birth of death, an emblem of final hopelessness and corruption." Unlike heroines in Hitchcock's other films, she does not reestablish her innocence or discover love.
Marion is deprived of "the humble treasures of love, marriage, home and family", which Hitchcock considers elements of human happiness. There exists among Psycho's secondary characters a lack of "familial warmth and stability", which demonstrates the unlikelihood of domestic fantasies. The film contains ironic jokes about domesticity, such as when Sam writes a letter to Marion, agreeing to marry her, only after the audience sees her buried in the swamp. Sam and Marion's sister Lila, in investigating Marion's disappearance, develop an "increasingly connubial" relationship, a development that Marion is denied. Norman also suffers a similarly perverse definition of domesticity. He has "an infantile and divided personality" and lives in a mansion whose past occupies the present. Norman displays stuffed birds that are "frozen in time" and keeps childhood toys and stuffed animals in his room. He is hostile toward suggestions to move from the past, such as with Marion's suggestion to put his mother "someplace" and as a result kills Marion to preserve his past. Brill explains, "'Someplace' for Norman is where his delusions of love, home, and family are declared invalid and exposed."
Light and darkness feature prominently in Psycho. The first shot after the intertitle is the sunny landscape of Phoenix before the camera enters a dark hotel room where Sam and Marion appear as bright figures. Marion is almost immediately cast in darkness; she is preceded by her shadow as she reenters the office to steal money and as she enters her bedroom. When she flees Phoenix, darkness descends on her drive. The following sunny morning is punctured by a watchful police officer with black sunglasses, and she finally arrives at the Bates Motel in near darkness. Bright lights are also "the ironic equivalent of darkness" in the film, blinding instead of illuminating. Examples of brightness include the opening window shades in Sam's and Marion's hotel room, vehicle headlights at night, the neon sign at the Bates Motel, "the glaring white" of the bathroom tiles where Marion dies, and the fruit cellar's exposed light bulb shining on the corpse of Norman's mother. Such bright lights typically characterize danger and violence in Hitchcock's films.
The film often features shadows, mirrors, windows, and, less so, water. The shadows are present from the very first scene where the blinds make bars on Marion and Sam as they peer out of the window. The stuffed birds' shadows loom over Marion as she eats, and Norman's mother is seen in only shadows until the very end. More subtly, backlighting turns the rakes in the hardware store into talons above Lila's head.
Mirrors reflect Marion as she packs, her eyes as she checks the rear-view mirror, her face in the policeman's sunglasses, and her hands as she counts out the money in the car dealership's bathroom. A motel window serves as a mirror by reflecting Marion and Norman together. Hitchcock shoots through Marion's windshield and the telephone booth, when Arbogast phones Sam and Lila. The heavy downpour can be seen as a foreshadowing of the shower, and its cessation can be seen as a symbol of Marion making up her mind to return to Phoenix.
There are a number of references to birds. Marion's last name is Crane and she is from Phoenix. Norman comments that Marion eats like a bird. The motel room has pictures of birds on the wall. Brigitte Peucker also suggests that Norman's hobby of stuffing birds literalizes the British slang expression for sex, "stuffing birds", bird being a British slang for a desirable woman. Robert Allan suggests that Norman's mother is his original "stuffed bird", both in the sense of having preserved her body and the incestuous nature of Norman's emotional bond with her.
Psycho has been called "the first psychoanalytical thriller." The sex and violence in the film were unlike anything previously seen in a mainstream film. "The shower scene is both feared and desired," wrote French film critic Serge Kaganski. "Hitchcock may be scaring his female viewers out of their wits, but he is turning his male viewers into potential rapists, since Janet Leigh has been turning men on ever since she appeared in her brassiere in the first scene."
In his documentary The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, Slavoj Žižek remarks that Norman Bates' mansion has three floors, paralleling the three levels of the human mind that are postulated by Freudian psychoanalysis: the top floor would be the superego, where Bates' mother lives; the ground floor is then Bates' ego, where he functions as an apparently normal human being; and finally, the basement would be Bates' id. Žižek interprets Bates' moving his mother's corpse from top floor to basement as a symbol for the deep connection that psychoanalysis posits between superego and id.
In 1992, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
In 1998, TV Guide ranked it #8 on their list of the 50 Greatest Movies on TV (and Video).
Leigh asserted, "no other murder mystery in the history of the movies has inspired such merchandising." Any number of items emblazoned with Bates Motel, stills, lobby cards, and highly valuable posters are available for purchase. In 1992, it was adapted scene-for-scene into three comic books by the Innovative Corporation.
Psycho has appeared on a number of lists by websites, television channels, and magazines. The shower scene was featured as number four on the list of Bravo Network's 100 Scariest Movie Moments, whilst the finale was ranked number four on Premiere's similar list. Entertainment Weekly's book titled The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time ranked the film as #11.
In 2012, the Motion Picture Editors Guild listed the film as the twelfth best-edited film of all time based on a survey of its membership.
American Film Institute has included Psycho in these lists:AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – #18
AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills – #1
AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains:
Norman Bates – #2 Villain
AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
"A boy's best friend is his mother." – #56
AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – #4
AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – #14
Psycho has become one of the most recognizable films in cinema history, and is arguably Hitchcock's best known film. In his novel, Bloch used an uncommon plot structure: he repeatedly introduced sympathetic protagonists, then killed them off. This played on his reader's expectations of traditional plots, leaving them uncertain and anxious. Hitchcock recognized the effect this approach could have on audiences, and utilized it in his adaptation, killing off Leigh's character at the end of the first act. This daring plot device, coupled with the fact that the character was played by the biggest box-office name in the film, was a shocking turn of events in 1960.
The most original and influential moment in the film is the "shower scene", which became iconic in pop culture because it is often regarded as one of the most terrifying scenes ever filmed. Part of its effectiveness was due to the use of startling editing techniques borrowed from the Soviet montage filmmakers, and to the iconic screeching violins in Bernard Herrmann's musical score. The iconic shower scene is frequently spoofed, given homage to and referenced in popular culture, complete with the violin screeching sound effects (see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, among many others).
Psycho is now considered to be the first film in the slasher film genre, and has been referenced in films numerous times; examples include the 1974 musical horror film Phantom of the Paradise, 1978 horror film Halloween (which starred Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh's daughter), the 1977 Mel Brooks tribute to many of Hitchcock's thrillers, High Anxiety, the 1980 Fade to Black, the 1980 Dressed to Kill and Wes Craven's 1996 horror satire Scream. Bernard Herrmann's opening theme has been sampled by rapper Busta Rhymes on his song "Gimme Some More" (1998). Manuel Muñoz's 2011 novel What You See in the Dark includes a sub-plot that fictionalizes elements of the filming of Psycho, referring to Hitchcock and Leigh only as "The Director" and "The Actress". In the comic book stories of Jonni Future, the house inherited by title character is patterned after the Bates Motel.
Three sequels were produced: Psycho II (1983), Psycho III (1986), and Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990), the last being a part-prequel television movie written by the original screenplay author, Joseph Stefano. Anthony Perkins returned to his role of Norman Bates in all three sequels, and also directed the third film. The voice of Norman Bates' mother was maintained by noted radio actress Virginia Gregg with the exception of Psycho IV, where the role was played by Olivia Hussey. Vera Miles also reprised her role of Lila Crane in Psycho II. The sequels were well received but considered inferior to the original.
Psycho has been rated and re-rated several times over the years by the MPAA. Upon its initial release, the film received a certificate stating that it was "Approved" (certificate #19564) under the simple pass/fail system of the Production Code in use at that time. Later, when the MPAA switched to a voluntary letter ratings system in 1968, Psycho was one of a number of high-profile motion pictures to be retro-rated with an "M" (Mature Audiences). This remained the only rating the film would receive for 16 years, and according to the guidelines of the time "M" was the equivalent of a "PG" rating. Then, in 1984, during the uproar of increased parental concern regarding violence in "PG" films, Psycho was retro-rated again to its current rating of "R". This rating took effect, however, before the institution of the "PG-13" rating by the MPAA that same year, and there are those who have speculated that if the rating had existed at the time, or if Psycho were rated in America today, it would receive a "PG-13".
The film has been released several times on videotape, LaserDisc, DVD, and Blu-ray Disc. MCA DiscoVision Incorporated (parent company, MCA Inc) first released Psycho on the LaserDisc format in "standard play" (5 sides) in 1979, and "extended play" (2 sides) in October 1981. MCA/Universal Home Video released a new LaserDisc version of Psycho in August 1988 (Catalog #: 11003). In May 1998, Universal Studios Home Video released a deluxe edition of Psycho as part of their Signature Collection. This THX® certified Widescreen (1.85:1) LaserDisc Deluxe Edition (Catalog #: 43105) is spread across 4 extended play sides and 1 standard play side, and includes a new documentary and isolated Bernard Herrmann score. A DVD edition was released in at the same time as the LaserDisc.
A version with alternate footage of Norman cleaning up after the murder and additional footage of Marion undressing and Arbogast's death has been shown on German TV and released on VHS in Germany. Sources differ on whether these cuts were made prior to the U.S. theatrical release or prior to the re-rated re-release. Universal has never officially commented on this version.
Laurent Bouzereau produced a documentary looking at the film's production and reception for the initial DVD release. Universal released a fiftieth Anniversary edition on Blu-ray in the United Kingdom on August 9, 2010, with Australia following with the same edition (featuring a different cover) being made available on September 1, 2010. A Blu-ray in US was released on October 19, 2010 to mark the film's 50th anniversary, featuring yet another different cover. The film is also included on two different Alfred Hitchcock Blu-ray boxsets from Universal.