‘Psycho’: Janet Leigh was so disfigured she stopped bathing.

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Horror is an extremely popular genre in contemporary cinema. While some still find it distasteful, fans love the suspense of horror films, as well as the exceptional feats of makeup and cinematography that the genre often offers. While audiences have come to love horror more and more over the last half century, there was a time when it was a new concept. Early pioneers of the genre, such as Alfred Hitchcock, showed in their works how the twisted and grotesque could comment on a cultural aspect and tell a compelling story. Hitchcock himself was such a master of horror that his famous film Psycho even left its leading lady scarred by a recurring phobia afterwards.

The beginnings of today’s horror

And now, Hitchcock’s classic Psycho in forty seconds. (So you don’t get nightmares.) Stream the whole thing on #PeacockTV. pic.twitter.com/MIaUzRS8ZA

– Peacock (@peacockTV) August 25, 2020

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Although the roots of the horror genre go back much further than 1960’s Psycho, many fans and experts would admit that the film is fundamental to modern horror.  However, the film divided critics at the time, as The New Republic reviewer Stanley Kauffman summed it up as, “Hitchcock uses his considerable skills in directing and editing, as well as in the use of sound and music, to shock us beyond horror entertainment into revulsion.” Sex and violence in film had earned Hitchcock a controversial reputation in the past, but Psycho took this to a new level.

Opening with a controversial scene that Kauffman describes as an expendable “face-nibbling close-up sex scene at the very beginning,” the film builds tension with simple, low-budget camerawork and a very small cast of actors. The story meanders slowly, building tension in the gritty setting of the Bates Motel with sometimes awkward details. This surprisingly culminates in the middle of the film with the brutal murder of Janet Leigh’s character of Marion Crane

The shower scene

 

Psycho: 1 part of the shower scene was a first in American film

The surprise murder by a shadowy figure is a startling buildup of suspense in itself, but the famous murder in the shower is depicted in such gruesome detail that many at the time were shocked. Many called the bloody murder the beginning of the slasher genre, and it was so simply produced in black and white. Even from its simple, low-tech origins, the film has retained its relevance to this day.

New Yorker reviewer Richard Brody wrote in a 2012 review, “Psycho, in its dark and grimy extravagance, remains utterly contemporary, in both subject and production.” Actress Janet Leigh would later admit that she was deeply impressed by the entire ordeal, which included seven days of shooting this scene exclusively. While Leigh was repeatedly stabbed with a prop knife, Hitchcock did reenactment after reenactment to capture the iconic moment from all the necessary angles.

Janet Leigh traumatized

 

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Even nearly 35 years after the film’s release, Leigh was still deeply affected by her experience on the set. She told a reporter decades later, “I’ve stopped showering and I only take baths,” according to The Vintage News. The shooting was so traumatic that she had to think about it every day for the rest of her life. She further told the interviewer, “I make sure the doors and windows of the house are locked, and I leave the bathroom door open and the shower curtain open. I always stand outside the door and watch, no matter where the shower head is.”

She goes on to explain that the scene took over 20 takes to get all the angles needed, which meant that 45 seconds of the film took a full week of very intense and stressful work. Leigh wasn’t willing to wait the six weeks required for the protective contact lenses to adjust to her eyes, so instead she played the part of a corpse on the floor of the shower with her eyes open and no help. The style of the scene meant that it had to feel real – Leigh falling against her head each time she slumped onto the tiles, water streaming over her face as the camera gazed at her dead eyes.

If some viewers at the time felt traumatized by what they saw on screen in Psycho, Leigh probably had every right to be scarred by the experience of that scene. Dennoc

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