Shower Scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho: Creating Cinematic Suspense and Terror

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This study places the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) within its cinematic, sociological and critical contexts. It also locates the film within the personal and professional experiences of the author. The methodology depends upon a melding of first person narration with a close analysis of the film's mise en scene and montage, as these techniques evolve in Hitchcock's oeuvre and culminate in the seminal shower scene. The study also incorporates lengthy interviews with the star of the film, Janet Leigh; with the scriptwriter, Joseph Stefano; with the assistant director, Hilton Green; with the sound designer, Danny Greene; with the assistant editor, Terry Williams; and with the editor of the Gus Van Sant remake of Psycho, Amy Duddleston. The book culminates with first person accounts of the initial viewing of Psycho's shower scene from filmmakers and from Hitchcock scholars and fans.


"In the last ten years or so, the scholarly and critical literature on Hitchcock's films has grown almost geometrically. At the same time-and in a paradoxical sense-this literature has become more specialized and focused. These seemingly contradictory movements-both expanding outward and at the same time telescoping inward-are very much like Hitchcock's innovative technique in Vertigo to demonstrate Scotty's acrophobia: in a single shot, the camera tracks outward as it zooms in. The resultant dizzying feeling is one that both novice and seasoned Hitchcock scholars might experience as they try to keep up with the ever expanding studies that have an increasingly specialized focus. This Hitchcockean critical paradox is especially evident in the scholarship on Psycho. As Professor Skerry points out, the commentary on Hitchcock's most famous and controversial film is voluminous. In fact, Psycho is the most written about and analyzed film of all time. So the important question then becomes: Why another book on Psycho? My answer to that question is that Professor Skerry has written something unique: a multi-layered and multi-textured study of the film. No other book on Psycho includes extensive interviews with those who worked on the original film and on the remake, a first person narration that deals with the writing of the book itself, lengthy chapters on Hitchcock's employment of the key elements of his "pure cinema": mise en scene and montage, a shot-by-shot analysis of the shower scene, a study of the cultural influence of the scene, and an entertaining series of first-hand accounts of the viewing of the scene. In doing all of the above, Professor Skerry has managed to walk a stylistic and scholarly tightrope: he writes in a style that is readable, comprehensible, and interesting to both Hitchcock scholars and Hitchcock fans. My approach to Psycho has been on a theoretical and genre level. I've written about how Hitchcock creates terror and suspense in the creation of a classic of the horror genre. Even from this specialized angle of vision, I found much to learn from Professor Skerry's approach. What is most notable about Professor Skerry's book, however, is the topic itself: the shower scene. In choosing the shower scene as the focal point of the book, Skerry has taken the specialized focus to its logical conclusion by writing an entire book on one scene … After reading Professor Skerry's book, I now want to add one other opinion: the shower scene is the most significant scene in film history.” - (from the Commendatory Preface) Steven Jay Schneider, New York University

“Philip Skerry has written an exciting book on Alfred Hitchcock. In its blend of the scholarly and the personal, it is also a unique book, focusing on the famous shower scene in Psycho to reveal much not only about that film but about all of Hitchcock's work. Skerry's analysis gets to the core of the workings of Hitchcock's imagination that underlay the director's incredible ability to induce emotions of suspense and terror in the viewer. Skerry's careful, frame-by-frame analysis of the shower scene demonstrates just how ingenious a craftsman Hitchcock was. In addition, the book presents fascinating interviews with those who worked on the film, including its star, the late Janet Leigh, and its screen-writer, Joseph Stefano. The unique blend of materials in this book is rounded off with Dr. Skerry's own memory of first viewing the film as a teenager as well as the reminiscences of others of their initial experience of the seminal shower scene. Most daring in Philip Skerry's book is his connection of Psycho to a shift in the cultural Zeitgeist of the United States around the year 1960.” – John J. Covolo, Professor of English, Lakeland Community College

“Hitchcock's Psycho immediately tapped into the American psyche and went on to become one of the best known and best loved of American films. Skerry's book sets the film in its various sociological, cinematic and Hitchcockean contexts. In doing this Skerry has come up with a book that rates alongside such fine works as Rebello's book on the making of Psycho and Kapsis' work on the making Hitchcock's authorial reputation. Interleafed through the chapters of Skerry's book are interviews with Psycho star Janet Leigh, writer Joseph Stefano, and other personnel from the original production. Skerry proves to be an accomplished interviewer: he projects an engaging persona and his questions manage to draw from the various interviewees substantial and anecdotal comments that will appeal to both specialist and casual readers alike. Skerry describes his new book as a scholarly and critical engagement with the shower sequence in Psycho. In putting this work together he has more than succeeded in his intention to create a multi-voiced book, one that brings together those who collaborated on the making of Psycho, those who have seen and responded to the film, and those who have evaluated and interpreted it.” – Dr. Constantine Verevis, School of Literary, Visual and Performance Studies, Monash University, Australia

Table of Contents

Preface by Steven Jay Schneider
I. My Research Trip
2. Janet Leigh
3. The Trip Continued - Two Intersecting Paths to Psycho
4. Joe Stefano
5. Constructing Suspense - Mise en Scene
6. Hilton Green
7. Montage: Creating Terror
8. Danny Greene
9. The Evolution of the Shower Scene
10. Terry Williams
11. The Culmination of Suspense & Terror: The Shower Scene
12. Amy Duddleston
13. Homage
14. The First Time
Works Cited

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