16 December 2017





'The death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world.' Edgar Allan Poe.'

Ah, brilliant, an excuse to talk about PSYCHO, as if I needed one, lol. Right now the screensaver on my laptop is the stairs in the Bates house which, if you go all the way to the top, is where you'll find Mother's room, on the left.

This is where she usually sits in her rocking chair, looking out the window at the family Motel business, run mostly by her son Norman, if you can refer to his incompetent bunglings as 'running' anything, that is.

Norman's a damn fool, see, letting his addle-headed brain be turned by a flash of nicely-turned ankle or the curve of a breast. But Mother knows what's best for Norman, and that's to stay close to home and close to Mother. That way, he won't be inclined to get in any trouble. After all, a boy's best friend is his Mother...

I first saw 78/52 on the big screen, believe it or not. It formed part of the programme at the 2017 Irish Film Institute's annual Horrorthon and it was nearly the next best thing to seeing PSYCHO itself on a cinema screen, something which, sadly, has never happened for me.

78/52 tells the story of the shower scene in PSYCHO, the scene in which Alfred Hitchcock, that naughtiest of all directors, famously killed off his leading lady about a third of the way into the film. Like, OMG, wtf...?

There was utter mayhem and consternation in the cinemas as viewers realised that Marion Crane, a likeable character so wonderfully played by Janet Leigh, would never get to return the forty thousand dollars she'd stolen from her employer, never see her sister again, never get to marry her lover Sam and live with him in a back room behind his hardware store in Fairvale. If this wasn't to be the story of Marion Crane, then just what kind of film were we looking at here...?

A sterling handful of film critcs, actors and actresses and relatives of Janet Leigh's and Alfred Hitchcock's attempt to answer this and other questions, in a documentary that literally leaves no stone unturned in its efforts to dissect this iconic, ground-breaking scene.

We've got Eli Roth, who made CABIN FEVER and HOSTEL, Guillermo Del Toro, Bret Easton Ellis, the author of AMERICAN PSYCHO and Mick Garris, who directed PSYCHO 4, a pretty decent addition to the quartet of films that were made altogether about Norman and his Mother. Leigh Whannell, horror's wunderkind and the writer of the phenomenally successful SAW and INSIDIOUS movies, is featured here also.

All the contributors are filmed in black-and-white (of course!), in rooms that are facsimiles of rooms from the movie. Anonymous monochrome motel rooms and a rather staid parlour feature mostly, equipped with olde-timey television sets.

Elijah Wood (Frodo from THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy) is hanging out on one of the couches with a couple of buddies, just chilling and talking about the famous shower scene in a movie that came out long before Frodo, at least, I dunno about the other two lads, was even a wee twinkle in his Daddy's eye...!

We meet Marli Renfro, Janet Leigh's body double in the shower scene who, at twenty-one years of age, was already a pin-up model and PLAYBOY bunny. In fact, in September of 1960 she
featured on the cover of the magazine that men were known to buy purely for the articles. Yeah, right, and the world of 2017 is a peaceful, hopeful and safe place to be, lol.

Marli, a game old gal, tells us about how she filmed her part as Janet Leigh's naked body in seven days instead of the agreed-upon two or three, and how she wore a modesty patch over her furry bits which she was more than willing to cast away, but Hitch made her keep it on, haha. Marli's very quick to point out shots of her 'side-boob.' Seems like she's justifiably proud of her twenty-one-year old PLAYBOY bunny's body.

We hear from other film types how this iconic shower scene gives us 'the first modern impression of the female body under assault,' and how a crew member stabbed a knife repeatedly into an assortment of melons and a gigantic sirloin steak in order to replicate the sounds a knife might make when slashing at human flesh. 

I understand, incidentally, that the crew member took home the massive steak, cooked it and ate it, and I'm sure that it was delicious, but I've unfortunately no idea what became of the poor ruined melons...!

We reminisce about how big a deal the showing of PSYCHO was in American cinemas back in the day, and how personal messages from the director himself warned viewers that no-one would be admitted to the cinema after the movie had started and could they please not ruin it for other people by blabber-mouthing about the ending? Good old Hitch.

We see him in that famous trailer he made for the film, in which he wandered through the motel itself and up into the house and hinted at the terrible things that were to happen in this room or that. We even see bits of the original script and some of the storyboard pictures which, I think, were drawn by Hitch himself. These are things you surely don't get to see every day or as a matter of course.

Ileana Douglas, whose character was once savagely raped by Robert DeNiro's in the 1990 thriller, CAPE FEAR, talks about how, in the shower scene, Janet Leigh is punished, not for stealing the money, but for the crime she couldn't help, of sexually arousing Norman Bates. It's so unfair, isn't it? Just when Marian's finally happy and at peace with herself again and all.

Peter Bogdanovich (Elliott the psychiatrist's psychiatrist in THE SOPRANOS) reminisces about being a young film critic at the time of PSYCHO's release. 'When I walked out onto Times Square at noon,' he remembers, 'I felt like I'd been raped...!' That's definitely the funniest, most tongue-in-cheek reaction to the film, anyway.

We also hear from Osgood Perkins, Anthony Perkins' son and a director himself, and Danny Elfman, the composer from THE SIMPSONS who also happened to adapt the music for the 1998 scene-for-scene remake of PSYCHO, starring Anne Heche as Marian Crane.

We find out how Anthony Perkins was nowhere near the set when Janet Leigh's character is killed, but that the killer with the mushroom-shaped head is actually a stuntwoman with a blackened face. Shudder. 

Janet Leigh wasn't even aware of who was coming at her from behind the curtain, as far as I know, and her terror looks one million percent genuine. We even hear from darling Janet Leigh herself and, although it's only a clip from an old interview, it's lovely nonetheless to see her included. It's mostly her story, isn't it, after all?

We also meet the guy who's had Bernard Herrmann's fantastically memorable music score for the shower murder tattooed onto his forearm, in a loving tribute to the film that can only be removed with expensive laser surgery and maybe not even then, haha. Aw, I'm just being mean here for the sake of it, sorry. Heh-heh-heh.

We see film director Richard Stanley going off into almost orgasmic rhapsodies over the shower scene and we contemplate questions such as: How the hell was this film ever approved by the Legion Of Decency? And how come PSYCHO served to cement Hitch's reputation as a master director but a quite similar film, namely PEEPING TOM (1960) by Michael Powell, that came out that same year, almost caused that director's career to sink like a stone?

We find out the story behind the painting, SUZANNE AND THE ELDERS, that masks Norman's peephole and we hear Marli Renfro telling us that Hershey's Syrup was used to imitate the blood that flowed down the drain, taking Marian's poor little life with it.

We even see dear, dear Jamie Lee Curtis, herself a revered horror actress, emulating her mother in the famous, much-parodied scene, although she takes care to tell us that she left it until after her mother's passing to do so. 'That was my mother's sandbox,' she tells us confidentially, respectfully. 'I had no right to play in it.'

Well, that's that, anyhow. I can't sit around here yakking all day. I gotta motel to run. And where's that damn fool boy of mine gotten to now? Probably off lollygagging somewhere with those mucky girlie magazines of his that he thinks I don't know about, but a mother's gotta right to check up on what her boy's doing behind her back, I reckon. Ah, there he is now. Norman Bates, you addle-headed nincompoop, you go right outside now and cut me a switch...

78/52 is available to buy now, complete with extra features, on special DVD release from DOGWOOF, the UK's leading distributor of documentary films.



Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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