The Girl in Hitchcock’s Shower
If terror is what we fear either individually or collectively as a community, horror is an abstraction of that in some artistic expression in fantasy fiction. For centuries that was in the printed text format, but in the 20th century this was increasingly expressed on the motion picture screen.
It is no accident of history that arguably the greatest practitioner of horror, Edgar Allan Poe, was also the inventory of the detective genre. Two other great practitioners of this in the crime fiction arena were Robert Bloch and Alfred Hitchcock.
These two came together in the form of one of the greatest movies of all times, Psycho.
Bloch, originally a protegé of Lovecraft’s, went on to perfect the psychological thriller when he penned Psycho in 1959. Just one of hundreds of stories, Bloch loosely based it on Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, but added his usual wry sense of humor. This appealed to Hitchcock who had been shaken with two recent movie releases that did not excite to box office and had something to prove to studios and peers who he felt were either slighting him, or taking him for granted as over the hill.
The book, The Girl in Hitchcock’s Shower, brings back those larger-than-life days of yore by expositing another real life serial killer, Sonny Busch, and his trajectory with a model, Marli Renfro, who was used by Hitchcock as a nude body double for star Janet Leigh in the infamous “shower scene”.
Robert Graysmith is no stranger to movies of non-fiction crime drama. He previously brought us Zodiac and the lurid devolution of Hogan’s Heroes star, Bob Crane.
Graysmith merges with his topic as he confesses a crush on Marli, obsesses on the intricacies of Hitchcock and his psyche, and traces rhombic tangents with murders, serial killers, and tries to bring all of them together with mixed results.
For horror fans, Graysmith has extracted fascinating trivia.
- Alfred Hitchcock drew the sketch he walked into each week on his TV show. (see video, below)
- Several criminals patterned their crimes precisely after watching Hitchcock’s show. Of course, the police watched them too and the criminals were quickly caught.
- A screen actors guild strike threatened to stop Psycho before it was filmed. It never materialized.
- No one would back Hitchcock’s movie, so he bankrolled the $800,000 himself.
- He purposely chose to shoot in black and white for several reasons. He was determined to out do “boy wonder” Orson Welles in his famous monochromatic media; he knew the censors would ban Psycho if blood was shown in color; he wanted to outshine fast-paced Roger Corman and show that speed could be done with quality; and he felt using TV-style formats for a motion picture could work and revolutionize the industry.
- Hitchcock used a fully nude girl to rattle Janet Leigh, to incite jaded Hollywood critics to publicize his movie, and to prove that using a new method of up to 80 edits per minute could subliminally influence movie goers to believe they saw something they didn’t. In fact, there is almost nothing risqué or violent in any of the rapid-edit clips used in the scene. Yet, almost everyone believed they saw actual knife wounds and full nudity.
- Allegedly, to enhance the suspense of the movie, Hitchcock bought out the remainder of Bloch’s original 10,000 hard cover copies, and when Fawcett Publications rushed out in April to paperback press (reaching 9 printings by Summer), Hitchcock proceeded to purchase most of those runs, too. This seems tentative as historical, but it makes a great story.
The book makes for fascinating reading for film buffs, Indie movie makers, or horror or crime fiction writers. However, like Hitchcock’s famous scene, the parts cannot be examined too closely, or the magical energy of this book dissipates.