’78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene’ – exploring ‘Psycho’ on Hulu

Alfred Hitchcock directs Janet Leigh on the set of the 1960 film 'Psycho' from the documentary by Alexandre O. Philippe

The title of 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene (2017), a documentary on the legendary sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1961 classic Psycho, refers to the 78 camera set-ups and 52 cuts in the three-minute scene, an astounding attention to detail to a brief sequence that shocked American audiences with transgressions suggested but not actually shown on screen.

Director Alexandre O. Philippe digs deep into every aspect of the sequences, from the storyboards and shooting (which took seven days) and use of powerful use of sound and music to its echoes through the rest of the film and its reverberations through American movies, and calls upon a vast gallery of commentators. In addition to filmmaker / historians Martin Scorsese and Peter Bogdanovich (almost required for such a project) are horror movie champion (and newly-minted Oscar winner) Guillermo del Toro, celebrated film editor Walter Murch, numerous filmmakers and film historians, and (opening the film) Marli Renfro, the model and one-time Playboy bunny who was the body double for Janet Leigh. Other commentators include contemporary filmmakers and producers Illeana Douglas, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Leigh Whannell, and Elijah Wood, composer Danny Elfman, historians and critics Bill Krohn, Stephen Rebello, and David Thomson, and Anthony Perkins’ son Oz Perkins and Janet Leigh’s daughter Jamie Lee Curtis.

More than just an analysis of a scene, it is an appreciation of the film as a whole and a history lesson that makes the case that Psycho is the first modern movie of the American cinema, upending expectations of moviegoers by defying conventions and crossing boundaries previously respected in mainstream movies. I would have liked more on the contribution of Saul Bass, who designed the sequence and even shot some of it, and the collaboration between the Hitchcock and the great graphic artist he trusted with this signature scene. But then this is a film that devotes a section to Hitchcock’s search for just the right sound of a knife plunging through human flesh (spoiler alert: it’s a chef’s knife stabbing a cassava melon).

This is an obsessive documentary for fans of the film and a great companion piece to Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015).

Not rated

Watch it on Hulu

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene [Blu-ray+DVD Combo]

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The Blu-ray+DVD combo from Shout! Factory features extended interviews with Walter Murch and Guillermo del Toro and a featurette on the “stabbing melons” sequence.

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears in Vulture, Turner Classic Movies online, Keyframe, and Parallax View.

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