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'Psycho' turns 60


First released in June 1960, Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho is a voyeuristic masterpiece that challenged Hollywood’s taboos around sex and violence. The English director had approached Paramount with the idea of filming Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel about a serial killer, but the studio refused to give him his usual budget: it was too sordid a story, they said.
Hitchcock filmed it anyway, using a television crew who shot it in cheaper black and white. He dedicated some of the money to buying up all the copies of Bloch’s novel so that the plot would remain a secret.
The opening sequence of the film featured protagonist Marion Crane, played by Janet Leigh, with her boyfriend in a hotel room in her underwear. Crane steals money from her employer and drives out of town. In pouring rain, she decides to spend the night in a secluded motel.
The most famous scene in Psycho is, of course, Crane’s murder in the shower. The forty-five-second scene contains seventy-eight pieces of film put together in a way that showed no explicit nudity and no shots of the knife entering flesh.
With the protagonist eliminated halfway through the film, Hitchcock could then focus on his real person of interest: Norman Bates. Played by the actor Anthony Perkins, Bates is a murderer with a dissociative identity disorder caused by a childhood of abuse. Perkins’ iconic performance introduced a new kind of sympathetic psychopath to the world; one echoed in future characters, from Hannibal Lecter to Dexter.