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How Did Alfred Hitchcock Choose the Music for the Shower Scene in the Movie Psycho?

Recognized as Alfred Hitchcock’s best work despite the hardships it encountered before its release, Psycho’s impact on cinema is evident in numerous movies and shows to date. A significant factor in its fame as a film is its iconic shower scene, which features the death of Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane accompanied by a terrifying and chilling screeching soundtrack. 

The shower scene in Psycho when Marion Crane meets her end is the most pivotal clip in the 1960 movie. Surprisingly, director Alfred Hitchcock initially wanted it to continue in silence. In disagreement with his idea, composer Bernard Herrmann created the familiar screeching soundtrack for the iconic segment. Hitchcock immediately agreed with Herrmann and doubtlessly doubled his salary. 

The Story Behind Psycho’s Terrifying Soundtrack

First released in 1960, Psycho remains relevant numerous decades after its launch. Directed by esteemed filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, the movie is a mixture of horror, thriller, and mystery. The classic film centers on Marion Crane, a Phoenix secretary on the run after stealing thousands of dollars from her employer. The shower scene in Psycho remains one of the most iconic horror film scenes of all time. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes

Of course, the Psycho shower clip is incomplete without its terrifying background music. Made by American conductor and composer Bernard Herrmann, many conductors and musical institutes acknowledge his exceptional work in composing for various films. With that said, even the American Film Institute praised his creations, ranking Psycho as the fourth out of all other films. (Source: American Film Institute)

Herrmann’s music is like going on a psychological elevator. It takes you down deeper and deeper into the characters.

Counductor Richard Kaufman

Although Herrmann’s composed work in Psycho is a significant contributor to its hair-raising scenes, director Alfred Hitchcock didn’t initially seem keen on Herrmann adding music to the movie’s shower scene.

In a New York Post article, Richard Kaufman explains that Hitchcock first envisioned Janet Leigh’s shower scene with the absolute absence of background music. Herrmann disapproved of Kaufman’s idea, and not long after, when Hitchcock went to Europe, Herrmann composed the familiar screech, screech, screech music we hear in the shower scene today. When Hitchcock saw Herrmann’s work, he immediately agreed with his suggestion and doubled Herrmann’s salary.

The sound Herrmann produced in the famous shower scene is an original work of his entitled The Murder, with the all-strings soundtrack consisting of screeching violas, violins, and cellos. (Source: New York Post

Psycho’s Hardships and Triumphs

Despite its widespread success in cinematic history, Psycho encountered much opposition even before its release. Paramount Studios, the film’s distributor and the studio that produced many of director Hitchcock’s 1950 hit works, refused to give its financial support. With determination, Hitchcock funded the movie himself even with the resistance of his producers. Psycho also faced hardships with the Hays Code, a series of guidelines enforced to censor motion pictures. 

Currently, Psycho continues to be Alfred Hitchcock’s most successful work. In a History article discussing Psycho’s shower scene, Steve Dollar discusses the impact of the psychological horror film.

Psycho has had a pervasive influence on popular culture. Debuting on the cusp of the turbulent 1960s, it helped to usher in a definitive cultural shift from the Eisenhower era. Its suggestion, noted by film critic Owen Gleiberman, that movie monsters were no longer fire-breathing Godzillas or space aliens but “lived inside the head of one man,” would soon enough be writ large in the real-life terror spawned by mass murderers like Charles Manson and Charles Whitman.

(Source: The Sun

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