Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is not only one of the best horror films ever made it is also one of the most important horror films ever made changing not only the face of the genre but also all of cinema and popular culture when it came out.
A film of such brilliance like Psycho deserves multiple documentaries on it but the genius of Alexandre O. Philippe’s 78/52 is its pin point focus on one crucial part of Hitchcock’s movie that is the sensational shower scene, a scene which contains 78 set ups and 52 cuts and took one entire week to shoot out of the productions four week schedule.
Shot in black and white and opening with an apt Edgar Allan Poe quote ‘The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world’ 78/52 mixes clips, recreations, film footage and photographs with a ton of talented talking heads all discussing the murder of Marion Crane behind the shower curtain by Norman’s mad mother.
The list of names is insanely impressive featuring figures from in front and behind the camera such as Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Leigh Whannell.
Most interesting of all perhaps is the little known Marli Renfro who served as the body double for Janet Leigh as she offers an unheard insight to the shooting process and Hitchcock’s mind at the time that is fascinating to hear especially when accompanied by behind the scenes pictures.
Giving an overview of Psycho and its birth 78/52 also looks at the social and political climate in America and its general population which is fundamental in understanding how shocking the shower scene was for many audience members at the time. Through this we uncover among other things the controversy not only in killing off the leading lady in such a blithe and brutal fashion but of showing a flushing toilet on film.
As the film progresses forward Alexandre O. Philippe focusses in tighter and tighter until the final third where his documentary examines frame by frame the famous murder taking apart every element for serious scrutiny running those 78 set ups and 52 cuts forwards and backwards to better understand Hitchcock’s process and true intentions.
Because we are dealing with a master film maker this one small scene contains a treasure trove of scintillating stories, hidden meanings and strange curiosities from the techniques used by the engineers to create the sound of a knife cutting into flesh to the messages in Norman’s choice of peep hole covering art work to the origins of that stupendous screeching soundtrack.
The final part looks beyond Psycho to its massive impact and influence and the hundreds of homages and blatant rip-offs that came afterwards including discussions on the 1998 Gus Van Sant remake and Jamie Lee Curtis talking about her own tribute to her mother’s most famous scene in Scream Queens.
A gripping documentary that entertains and informs in equal measure 78/52 will enthrall film students, serious Cinifiles and hardcore Hitchcock fans alike but everyday horror fans should also give it a go seeing as Psycho played such a vicious and vital part in slicing the blood drenched genre we all love into the shape it is today.