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When the Master of Suspense Became the Master of Horror: Remembering “Psycho” on its 60th Anniversary

June 16, 2020 - 3:42 pm   |   by

Psycho should be remembered as the gold standard of psychological horror thrillers because it respects the audience by paying as much attention to delivering memorable, relatable characters, smart dialogue, a gripping plot, and emotional punch as well as jump scares.” — Stephen Rebello, author of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho

The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the 60th anniversary of the release of Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock’s popular psychological horror film starring Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, owner-manager of the Bates Motel.

Psycho, which also starred Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire, and Janet Leigh as Marion Crane, was released sixty years ago this month. For the occasion The Bits features a package of statistics and box-office data that places the movie’s performance in context, along with passages from vintage film reviews, a reference/historical listing of the movie’s major-market first-run presentations, and, finally, an interview segment with a film historian who reflects on the film six decades after its debut. [Read on here...]

Janet Leigh in Psycho

And, lastly, before we begin… in case you missed it or desire a refresher read, this column’s other Alfred Hitchcock retrospectives include To Catch a Thief 60th anniversary.

 

PSYCHO NUMBER$

  • 1 = Rank among top-earning movies directed by Hitchcock
  • 2 = Number of theaters playing the movie during opening week
  • 2 = Rank among top-earning films of 1960 (calendar year)
  • 3 = Rank among top-earning films of 1960 (retroactive / legacy / lifetime earnings)
  • 4 = Number of Academy Award nominations
  • 5 = Rank among Paramount’s all-time top-earning films at close of original run
  • 21 = Peak all-time box-office chart position
  • 55 = Rank among top-earning movies of the 1960s (earnings from 1/1/60 - 12/31/70)
  • $806,947 = Production cost
  • $6.9 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
  • $9.2 million = Box-office rental (domestic, through 12/31/60)
  • $11.2 million = Box-office rental (domestic, through 12/31/69)
  • $32.0 million = Box-office gross (domestic, first-run + re-releases)
  • $95.9 million = Box-office rental (domestic, adjusted for inflation)
  • $277.2 million = Box-office gross (domestic, adjusted for inflation)

 

A SAMPLING OF PASSAGES FROM REVIEWS

“A music score of weird reticence was contributed by the well-known Bernard Herrmann. In a word: Unexpected apparitions and surprise chord crashes on the sound track can scare even a policeman.” — John Rosenfield, The Dallas Morning News

“If the movie theater business has any ills, according to ‘Doctor’ Alfred Hitchcock’s diagnosis, they can be cured promptly by some blood-letting horrors, a healthy shot of mystery juice and a chilling bath in bizarre melodrama.” — Glenn C. Pullen, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer

“Alfred Hitchcock has manufactured another film chiller for the goose-pimple set. It’s called Psycho and it’s drawing like free beer.” — Louis R. Guzzo, The Seattle Times

“Gee, whiz, Mr. Hitchcock! Stick to making pictures like North by Northwest, instead of one like Psycho, will you, huh?” — Helen Bower, Detroit Free Press

“You had better have a pretty strong stomach and be prepared for a couple of grisly shocks when you go see Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which a great many people are sure to do. For Mr. Hitchcock, an old hand at frightening people, comes at you with a club in this frankly intended blood-curdler.” — Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

“Alfred Hitchcock, who I understand felt piqued when H.G. Clouzot beat him to Diabolique, has had his revenge. His Psycho is even more diabolique.” — Philip K. Scheuer, Los Angeles Times

“Mixing his movie and TV styles, emphasizing horror over suspense, Alfred Hitchcock has come up with a sometimes effective, sometimes questionable little shocker.” — Mildred Martin, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Psycho is socko Hitchcock.” — Bill Pope, The Atlanta Constitution

“After a fast, albeit inauspicious beginning, the film gathers momentum until it arrives at one of the most petrifying climaxes ever to raise the collective hair of a movie audience.” — Martin Russell, San Francisco Examiner

Psycho is a good enough picture, but by no means up to the best of Hitchcock.” — Frederick Yeiser, The Cincinnati Enquirer

“Mr. Hitchcock’s edict that no one be admitted after the film starts, is another example of his shrewd showmanship.” — Mae Tinee, Chicago Tribune

Psycho is far more macabre and mysterious than any of [Hitchcock’s] previous full-length features. However, the settings are dreary and lack those magnificent backgrounds which Hitchcock employed so effectively in North by Northwest, Vertigo and To Catch a Thief. Perhaps the old mystery master has been more influenced in Psycho by his television programs than by his own classics such as 39 Steps and Notorious. However, he gives the audience its money’s worth. You see two murders committed, with accompanying gore and grisly details. There are so many shocks the theater might be connected to an electric battery.” — Marjory Adams, The Boston Globe

“[A]n unusual, good entertainment, indelibly Hitchcock, and on the right kind of boxoffice beam. The campaign backing is fitting and potent. The edict against seating customers after opening curtain if respected may add to the intrigue. All adds up to success.” — Variety

 

The audience lines up to see Psycho

THE ORIGINAL THEATRICAL ENGAGEMENTS

To give a sense of Psycho’s rollout and the distribution model utilized, what follows are the film’s theatrical first-run openings in the 50 largest North American markets

Opening date YYYY-MM-DD … City — Cinema (duration in weeks)

  • 1960-06-16 … New York — Baronet (15)
  • 1960-06-16 … New York — DeMille (16)
  • 1960-06-22 … Boston — Paramount (12)
  • 1960-06-22 … Chicago — Woods (5)
  • 1960-06-22 … Philadelphia — Arcadia (16)
  • 1960-07-15 … Omaha — Orpheum (4)
  • 1960-07-20 … Baltimore — Aurora (17)
  • 1960-07-22 … Minneapolis — State (5)
  • 1960-07-27 … Hartford — Allyn (5)
  • 1960-07-27 … Jacksonville — St. Johns (4+)
  • 1960-07-27 … Miami — Paramount (3)
  • 1960-07-27 … Miami (Coral Gables) — Trail (10)
  • 1960-07-27 … Miami (Miami Beach) — Colony (3)
  • 1960-07-27 … Tampa — Britton (4)
  • 1960-07-27 … Washington — Town (14)
  • 1960-07-28 … Detroit — Palms (10)
  • 1960-07-29 … Cincinnati — Grand (12)
  • 1960-07-29 … Fort Lauderdale — Gateway (3)
  • 1960-07-29 … Fort Lauderdale (Hollywood) — Hollywood (3)
  • 1960-08-03 … Buffalo — Paramount (7)
  • 1960-08-03 … Des Moines — Orpheum (4)
  • 1960-08-03 … New Haven — Paramount (5)
  • 1960-08-04 … Cleveland — Stillman (11)
  • 1960-08-04 … Columbus — Ohio (4)
  • 1960-08-04 … Houston — Metropolitan (4)
  • 1960-08-04 … Kansas City — Missouri (5)
  • 1960-08-04 … Toledo — Princess (6)
  • 1960-08-05 … Rochester — Paramount (4)
  • 1960-08-05 … Salt Lake City — Motor-Vu Drive-In (5)
  • 1960-08-05 … Salt Lake City — Utah (4)
  • 1960-08-05 … Tucson — Catalina (5)
  • 1960-08-08 … Toronto — Hollywood North (11)
  • 1960-08-08 … Toronto — Hollywood South (11)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Bakersfield) — Fox (3)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Burbank) — California (3)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Burbank) — San Val Drive-In (2)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Cathedral City) — Sunair Drive-In (1)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Compton) — Tower (3)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Downtown) — Stanley-Warner (4)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (East Los Angeles) — Golden Gate (3)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (El Monte) — El Monte Drive-In (2)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (El Monte) — Starlite Drive-In (2)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Fontana) — Belair Drive-In (2)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Glendale) — Capitol (3)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Hollywood) — Iris (6)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Inglewood) — Century Drive-In (3)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Inglewood) — United Artists (3)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Long Beach) — Circle Drive-In (2)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Long Beach) — West Coast (1)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Mid-Wilshire) — El Rey (1)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Montclair) — Valley Drive-In (2)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Newport Beach) — Lido (1)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Oxnard) — Oxnard (1)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Pasadena) — United Artists (3)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Pico Rivera) — Whittier Drive-In (3)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Pomona) — United Artists (2)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Riverside) — De Anza (3)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (San Bernardino) — Crest (3)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (San Pedro) — San Pedro Drive-In (2)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Santa Ana) — Broadway (1)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Santa Monica) — Wilshire (7)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (South Gate) — South Gate Drive-In (2)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Van Nuys) — Fox (3)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Van Nuys) — Sepulveda Drive-In (2)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Ventura) — 101 Drive-In (2)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (West Los Angeles) — Picwood (3)
  • 1960-08-10 … Los Angeles (Westminster) — Hi-way 39 Drive-In (1)
  • 1960-08-10 … Portland — 82nd Street Drive-In (1)
  • 1960-08-10 … Portland — Broadway (8)
  • 1960-08-10 … Portland (Tigard) — Family Drive-In (1)
  • 1960-08-10 … San Francisco — Golden Gate (11)
  • 1960-08-10 … San Jose — cinema (?)
  • 1960-08-11 … Indianapolis — Circle (5)
  • 1960-08-12 … Phoenix — Indian Drive-In (3)
  • 1960-08-12 … Phoenix — Paramount (2)
  • 1960-08-17 … Denver — Orpheum (9)
  • 1960-08-17 … Memphis — Palace (6)
  • 1960-08-17 … Milwaukee — Riverside (6)
  • 1960-08-17 … San Diego — California (8)
  • 1960-08-18 … Dallas — Majestic (4)
  • 1960-08-18 … Edmonton — Paramount (5)
  • 1960-08-19 … Ottawa — Capitol (3)
  • 1960-08-19 … Pittsburgh — Penn (6)
  • 1960-08-19 … Sacramento — Alhambra (6)
  • 1960-08-19 … Sacramento — Crest (4)
  • 1960-08-19 … Vancouver — Strand (11)
  • 1960-08-19 … Winnipeg — Metropolitan (5)
  • 1960-08-21 … Charlotte — Carolina (2)
  • 1960-08-24 … Calgary — Capitol (3)
  • 1960-08-24 … San Antonio — Majestic (3)
  • 1960-08-24 … Seattle — Paramount (11)
  • 1960-08-26 … Atlanta — Fox (4)
  • 1960-08-26 … St. Louis — St. Louis (7)
  • 1960-08-31 … Honolulu — King (2)
  • 1960-08-31 … Honolulu — Palace (2)
  • 1960-08-31 … Honolulu — Waialae Drive-In (2)
  • 1960-08-31 … Oklahoma City — Midwest (4)
  • 1960-09-01 … Louisville — Kentucky (7)
  • 1960-09-03 … Las Vegas — El Portal (3)
  • 1960-09-23 … New Orleans — Saenger (3)
  • 1960-11-04 … Montreal — Loew’s (4)

Psycho newspaper ad

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THE Q&A

Stephen Rebello is the author of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho (Dembner, 1990). His other books include Reel Art: Great Posters from the Golden Age of the Silver Screen (Abbeville, 1988), Bad Movies We Love (Plume, 1993), The Art of Pocahontas (Hyperion, 1995), The Art of the Hunchback of Notre Dame (Hyperion, 1996), The Art of Hercules: The Chaos of Creation (Hyperion, 1997), and Dolls! Dolls! Dolls! Deep Inside Valley of the Dolls—The Most Beloved Bad Book and Movie of All Time (Penguin, 2020). He has also written for Cinefantastique, Cosmopolitan, GQ, Los Angeles Times, and Playboy.

Stephen Rebello

Rebello kindly spoke to The Bits about Psycho’s appeal and legacy.

Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): How do you think Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho should be remembered on its 60th anniversary?

Stephen Rebello: On the 60th anniversary of Psycho — its White Diamond anniversary — it should be remembered as the first truly modern thriller, the one that showed us that no movie ghost, wolfman, vampire, zombie is as terrifying, cruel or relentless as a human mind unhinged. It should be remembered as the film that forever changed how Americans went to the movies. That is: at the start of the movie not whenever they felt like dropping in, as was the case before Psycho. It should be remembered as a film that took critics decades to fully appreciate, but only after it became a box-office sensation with audiences. We should remember it as An Event Movie because that’s what Hitchcock’s and Paramount’s iconic promotional campaign turned it into. It should be remembered as the gold standard of psychological horror thrillers because it respects the audience by paying as much attention to delivering memorable, relatable characters, smart dialogue, a gripping plot, and emotional punch as well as jump scares. It should be remembered and celebrated as a movie made by experts who know that what we don’t see but are made to imagine is much scarier than showing everything. It should be remembered and celebrated as a film that has inspired countless imitations, homages, remakes and sequels — official and unofficial — and helped inspire a generation of writers, directors and other moviemakers. It also should be remembered as one hell of a tight, smart, scary, highly entertaining, once in a lifetime classic.

Coate: What do you recall about the first time seeing Psycho?

Rebello: I took a bus downtown after school and sneaked off alone to see Psycho at the Durfee Theater in Fall River, Massachusetts. I wasn’t supposed to do that, so that made the trip all the more forbidden and exciting. In those days, my idea of scary was watching classic old Universal horror movies on TV with my dad or catching up on William Castle, American-International and Mario Bava movies. My parents loved going to the movies and, to them — and to the whole moviegoing world — the name Hitchcock was synonymous with movies that delivered thrills, suspense, intrigue, style, class, high adventure, gorgeous movie stars, Technicolor. The stuff of Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, To Catch a Thief, North by Northwest. Then, there was Hitchcock’s weekly television show with its droll, macabre humor and, sometimes, edgier, twisty plots.

Psycho announced itself as a whole other thing. Its advertising, from the movie trailers to the posters, was stark, sexy, bold, hinting at horror, darkness, something much darker than the usual Hitchcock film. So my parents weren’t about to let me see that movie. Everybody was talking about, whispering about Psycho. I remember pretending to be asleep as my mom drove home Betty, one of her close friends, after they’d seen some glossy Lana Turner or Susan Hayward movie. I guess they’d seen a trailer for Psycho that night and when my mother asked Betty what Psycho was about, she whispered, It’s about a queer! (Wrong but whatever.)

Of course I had to see what the whispering was all about but I knew my parents wouldn’t take me, so I took myself to the movies — on the sly. I remember a long line of buzzing, chattering, raucous people outside the theater. It was like people sound when they’re about to ride a scary roller coaster. There was a life-size cardboard poster of Hitchcock and tape recorded messages warning no one will be admitted into the theater once Psycho has begun. This was a first.

The Durfee was a showplace, a true movie palace with marble floors, chandeliers, and a fish pond in the lobby, but just slightly past its prime and a little seedy. The audience was mostly grownups, people I’d see in grocery stores, in bowling alleys, shopping downtown, even one of my schoolteachers. For some reason, the sound of Psycho made a big impression. It didn’t sound like any movie I’d heard before — so clear, quiet, intimate, except for that jittery, driving, edge-of-the-seat musical score. The audience was spellbound, very quiet. When Janet Leigh reached the Bates Motel, met Norman Bates in the form of Anthony Perkins, went back to her cabin, tore up a piece of paper and flushed it down the toilet, you could hear nervous giggle. You could also feel dread. Anything could happen in a movie that broke the rules

Once the shower scene began, all hell broke loose. People screamed, they were groaning. The lady a few seats away from me covered her mouth with both hands and went running up the aisle toward the exit. I saw my schoolteacher do the same thing. Psycho was a whole other thing. I’m not going to lie. I loved seeing grownups reduced to acting like scared kids. But when I went back and saw the movie for a second time and the audience was much smaller, I loved the movie. It packed a punch and had such power.

Coate: In what way is Psycho a significant motion picture?

Rebello: [In addition to some of the points I made in answering your first question], it was also significant for shifting Hitchcock’s reputation from smooth, suave, expert thriller-maker to the man who outdid everyone else when it came to horror. He never fully recovered. Every movie he made after it lived or died not by whether that movie was as good as, say, Notorious or Strangers on a Train but also whether it was as scary as Psycho. Talk about a double-whammy for an artist who wanted to keep growing, changing, innovating with the times. In some ways, Psycho paralyzed him as much as it liberated him.

Coate: Where do you think Psycho ranks among Alfred Hitchcock’s body of work?

Rebello: I’d put Psycho among the Hitchcock’s five best that also include Notorious, Rear Window, Strangers on a Train, and Vertigo, followed by The Birds, Shadow of a Doubt, North by Northwest, The 39 Steps, and The Lady Vanishes.

Coate: Can you discuss Hitchcock’s choice in producing Psycho in black-and-white after doing several films in color and the previous few in VistaVision?

Rebello: It wasn’t a choice. The bosses at Paramount thought Hitchcock had been spending far too much money on Rear Window, To Catch a Thief and The Man Who Knew Too Much and wanted to curb him, especially when both The Trouble With Harry and Vertigo underwhelmed at the box-office. They told him point blank that they didn’t like the Psycho project and refused to give anywhere near his usual production budget. Hitchcock himself was nervous about the picture and decided to do Psycho quickly, inexpensively, in black-and-white but with all his usual meticulous planning. He shot it with his Alfred Hitchcock Presents crew, kept the budget low and even considered, at one point, cutting it and playing it off as a special one-hour TV show. We all know how it turned out, of course, but according to many of Hitchcock’s colleagues, when he said that he chose black-and-white for Psycho so he wouldn’t have to show blood? Not quite true.

Coate: What is the legacy of Psycho?

Rebello: Psycho blew wide so many censorship barriers, created so many iconic moments, reinvented so many tropes of the genre and left such a mark on audiences, let alone filmmakers, that it opened the floodgates for artists who truly understood what a milestone it was and built on its foundation — like Roman Polanski with, say, Repulsion, Nicolas Roeg with Don’t Look Now, William Friedkin and The Exorcist, Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia, Bong Joon-Ho’s Mother, stuff by George Romero and many more. It also paved the way for ambulance chasers and much lesser talents who only prove that imitations may be fun and flashy but at the end of the day, they’re too derivative to become legendary.

The movie has become so ingrained in the collective conscious and unconscious that it’s impossible for many to hear the name “Norman Bates,” to hear shrieking violins, to spot an old Victorian-style house, to step into a shower — let alone a shower in roadside motel — without thinking of Psycho. Today, the shocks and twists of the movie may be seem tame and refined in comparison to some of the cinematic bloodbaths we’ve had since. But its characters, performances and famous set-piece scenes are indelible and its legacy is indelible. How many other films still haunt our dreams 60 years later?

Coate: Thank you, Stephen, for sharing your thoughts about Psycho on the occasion of its 60th anniversary.

--END--

 

IMAGES

Selected images copyright/courtesy New York Daily News, Paramount Pictures, Shamley Productions. Universal Studios, Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

Anthony Perkins in Psycho

 

SOURCES/REFERENCES

The primary references for this project were regional newspaper coverage and trade reports published in Billboard, Boxoffice, The Hollywood Reporter, and Variety.

All figures and data included in this article pertain to the United States and Canada except where stated otherwise.

 

SPECIAL THANKS

Don Beelik, Mark Lensenmayer, Stephen Rebello.

 

IN MEMORIAM

  • George Tomasini (Editor), 1909-1964
  • John L. Russell (Director of Photography), 1905-1967
  • Bernard Herrmann (Composer), 1911-1975
  • Alfred Hitchcock (Producer-Director), 1899-1980
  • Joseph Hurley (Art Director), 1914-1982
  • George Milo (Set Decorator), 1909-1984
  • John McIntire (“Sheriff Al Chambers”), 1907-1991
  • Robert Clatworthy (Art Director),1911-1992
  • Anthony Perkins (“Norman Bates”), 1932-1992
  • Robert Bloch (Novel), 1917-1994
  • Martin Balsam (“Det. Milton Arbogast”), 1919-1996
  • Saul Bass (Title Designer),1920-1996
  • Janet Leigh (“Marion Crane”), 1927-2004
  • Joseph Stefano (Screenplay), 1922-2006
  • John Gavin (“Sam Loomis”), 1931-2018

-Michael Coate

Michael Coate can be reached via e-mail through this link. (You can also follow Michael on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

Psycho (Blu-ray Disc)