Growing up I was always intrigued by the works of Alfred Hitchcock, but none of his films got to me quite like Psycho. The setting of a simple road-side motel, the shrieking score, the slow burn of Anthony Perkins’ prolonged gazes…they all excited me and drew me in. So you can imagine my excitement upon hearing about 78/52, Alexandre O. Philippe’s latest documentary dedicated to Psycho’s infamous shower scene.
78/52 offers a detailed look into the creation of one of the most famous scenes in cinematic history, and how those 78 shots and 52 cuts changed the course of cinema as the world knew it. While it seems nearly impossible to spend 90 minutes discussing a roughly 2 minute 45 second scene, Philippe achieves this goal and leaves the viewer with a greater insight on not only Hitchcock’s masterpiece, but filmmaking in general.
The film felt disjointed at the beginning, opening with an interview from Marli Renfro, former Playboy Club Bunny and Janet Leigh’s body double, describing the painstaking 7 day long shoot required to capture Hitchcock’s vision perfectly. Then very shortly after we are thrust into a whirlwind of observations and theories from the proverbial who’s who of horror. I was worried that I was in for 90 minutes of random thoughts and disorganized chaos, but the documentary found its footing and began to flow steadily.
Interviewees such as writer Mick Garris (Hocus Pocus), director Eli Roth (Cabin Fever), and director Neil Marshall (The Descent) take us on a tour of Hitchcock’s work prior to Psycho, weaving a web that will only be complete once we learn of the impact the shower scene had on cinema and pop culture. Guillermo del Toro observes the religious undertones of the film, noting how Marion (Janet Leigh) literally cannot wash her sins off of her and pays the ultimate price in the end. Danny Elfman joyfully praises the genius of Bernard Herrmann’s score, and discusses the difficulties of honoring it while scoring the 1998 remake directed by Gus Van Sant. Scream queen and Janet Leigh’s daughter Jamie Lee Curtis chimes in as well, but I found her participation superfluous in regards to the point of the film.
78/52 also offers up a bevy of facts surrounding Psycho. We learn the type of melon the sound man had to stab in order to achieve the perfect sound of blade meeting flesh, and how the shot of the knife going into Marion’s stomach is actually a shot of the blade being lifted away played in reverse. My favorite fact was how Hitchcock viewed this famous murder scene as the ultimate joke on the audience, killing the assumed headline act within the first half hour of the film. I’m amazed at his ability to turn that secret into intrigue by not allowing audiences to enter the theaters after the screenings had already started.
If you are a fan of Hitchcock or the deconstruction of the filmmaking process, you are going to love this documentary. And even though 78/52 goes into excruciating detail and picks apart everything you never knew you needed to know about the infamous shower scene, it does so in a way that feels fast paced and draws in even the most casual of horror fans.
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