Consisting of 78 shots and lasting 52 seconds, the shower scene in ‘Psycho’ broke new ground upon the film’s release in 1960 - not only for the shocking violence of Janet Leigh's slashing knife murder at the Bates Motel, but also because the film's female lead was eliminated in the first third of the picture.
This detailed documentary from Alexandre O. Phillipe (‘The People vs George Lucas’, ‘Doc of the Dead’, ‘The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus’) assumes you are an Alfred Hitchcock fan and able to intelligently dissect and converse about his filmography and other works (even if you haven’t seen every movie he directed). ‘78/52’ starts out by looking at the climate that produced ‘Psycho’, Hitchcock’s motivation for making it, and then continues to take steps towards the shower scene until it finally reaches those iconic few minutes that arguably changed the course of cinema.
‘78/52’ points out to viewers - not unlike a film studies lecturer to a class full of dewy-eyed cinephiles - that when you have a director working at Hitchcock’s level, nothing is done by accident. Although Hitchcock himself wasn't convinced the shower scene was effective until Bernard Herrmann's brilliant, shrieking strings were added (the director had originally intended to use no musical accompaniment at all), the fact that he devoted an entire week to filming it suggests the importance he attached to it.
Numerous anecdotes are widely known, including those about the use of nude model stand-in Marli Renfro, chocolate sauce standing in for blood in the black-and-white feature and the fact that you never see the knife blade penetrate skin. The documentary goes deeper on details like the selection of the knife, the nudity, skirting of censorship and decisions relating to film speed and cutting frequency.
When you have a director working at Hitchcock’s level, nothing is done by accident.
It also includes commentaries from the likes of horror director Guillermo del Toro, editor Walter Murch, the stars' children Jamie Lee Curtis and Osgood Perkins, Hitchcock granddaughter Tere Carrubba, 'American Psycho' author Bret Easton Ellis, and several serious critics.
Illuminating the importance of every aspect of production, down to the tiniest detail, ‘78/52’ feels like required viewing for Hitchcock fans as well as film nerds in general.