Feb 17, 2017

13 Things You Didn’t Know About Psycho

Article By: Tony Timpone

For its final season, A&E’s popular Bates Motel comes full circle as a Psycho prequel, as young Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) meets Marion Crane once more on a dark and stormy night. This time, pop star Rihanna will play the guest who checks in and doesn’t check out, a role first enacted by Oscar-nominated actress Janet Leigh in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic. Today the Friday 13 goes all Psycho to dig up some terror tidbits about the original killer film series.

1. Meet the "real" Mother

Most know that pulp writer Robert Bloch loosely based the character of Norman Bates on 1950s Wisconsin killer/grave robber Ed Gein for his 1959 novel Psycho, which Hitchcock brought to the screen a year later. But not as publicized is the allegedly true story that Bloch derived Psycho’s twisted mother-son relationship from real-life Castle of Frankenstein horror magazine editor Calvin Beck, who lived under the thumb of his overly-possessive (and most likely unstable) mother Helen. You can read more about this strange tale here.

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2. The novel’s Norman is nothing like the movie’s Norman

Bloch described his Norman Bates as being short and fat, in his 40s and alcoholic. He pictured Rod (In the Heat of the Night) Steiger or Peter (The Maltese Falcon) Lorre essaying the character. Instead, Hitchcock cast lanky 28-year-old Anthony Perkins. Norman is introduced on page one of Bloch’s novel, but doesn’t turn up in the film till 27 minutes in.

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3. Both Hitchcock and Perkins had mother issues

Well, not as severe as Norman’s maternal relationship, but back in his English school boy days, Hitchcock had to put up with domineering mother Emma Jane. When describing Mom Janet, Perkins told People, “She controlled everything about my life, including my thoughts and feelings.” Like Norman, Perkins lost his father, actor Osgood Perkins, at age 5.

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4. Perkins accepted the role without even reading the script

Well, can you blame him? Everyone wanted to work for the great Hitchcock. A year before, Perkins turned down the Jack Lemmon role in the comedy classic Some Like It Hot because he did not want to appear in drag. He later overcame his insecurity to don a dress as Mrs. Bates.

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5. Perkins adlibbed Norman’s sweet tooth

In the movie, Norman pops candy corn like there’s no tomorrow. On the set, Perkins asked Hitchcock if he could nervously eat the sweet treat as a nervous tick. Hitch approved. The director also allowed Perkins to shop for Norman’s wardrobe.

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6. Perkins loved candy, but he worked for peanuts

Perkins earned just $40,000 (the same amount Marion Crane steals from the bank!) to star as the transvestite killer since Paramount Pictures already had him under contract. Other Hitchcock leading men before him, like Cary Grant, were paid over 10 times that (plus points) to star in Hitch films like North By Northwest.

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7. A Vegas show girl doubled for Janet Leigh

Marli Renfro, a Las Vegas model/dancer, stood-in for Janet Leigh for certain racy shots in the infamous shower scene. Leigh never appeared nude. “Mole skin” covered her private parts, but had to be reapplied many times as the water kept washing them away.

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8. “Pictorial Consultant” Saul Bass claimed he directed the shower sequence

Years later, titles designer Saul Bass claimed to have directed the infamous shower scene, an assertion debunked by Leigh herself and others on the crew. For the record, Hitch meticulously followed Bass’ detailed storyboards for the sequence, which took a week to shoot.

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9. But Hitchcock didn’t direct the murder on the stairs!

Well, sort of. Hitch had the flu on the day they were slated to shoot the stabbing of private detective Arbogast (Martin Balsam) at the Bates house. So the scene was helmed by assistant director Hilton Green, relaying instructions from a housebound Hitchcock! 

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10. No, that’s not Perkins wielding the knife

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With his director’s blessings, Perkins was in New York for rehearsals on a play during the week of Marion Crane’s bathroom murder. A stuntwoman played Mrs. Bates in the scene (look close!). Chocolate syrup simulated blood. A stunt lady stood in for Perkins for Arbogast’s murder too.

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11. Norman didn’t meet Mother till "Psycho III"

On the first movie, three different people—actresses Jeanette Nolan and Virginia Gregg, as well as actor Paul Jasmin, a pal of Perkins—recorded the voice of Mother. They were spliced together to create one chilling effect. Only Gregg came back for voiceover work on 1983’s Psycho II, but the actress didn’t meet her “son,” Perkins, in person till she appeared on set for Psycho III.

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12. Perkins wanted to shoot "Psycho III" in black and white

After director Richard Franklin’s Psycho II scored at the box office, Perkins convinced Universal to allow him to direct Norman’s next misadventure three years later. He wanted to shoot the film in B&W like the original, but the studio nixed the idea. Perkins loved the Coen brothers’ 1984 film noir Blood Simple, and instructed his cinematographer, Bruce (Play Misty for Me) Surtees, to capture the same vibe. He also hired Blood Simple composer Carter Burrell and made his cast and crew bone up on the Coens’ film prior to production.

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13. "Psycho IV" was Perkins’ favorite of the sequels

Perkins and Psycho IV: The Beginning director Mick Garris endured a testy relationship while toiling on this direct-to-Showtime sequel. So no one was more surprised than Garris when, after an early private screening, the actor turned to his director and said that Psycho IV was the best of the sequels, including the one Perkins helmed himself!

Read more about this great movie in Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello. For a biography of its star, check out Anthony Perkins: Split Image by Charles Winecoff. “Go a little mad sometimes”—or anytime—on our Facebook page or Twitter using #Friday13.

Tony Timpone discussed his favorite horror movie in Robert Galluzzo’s highly-recommended 2010 documentary The Psycho Legacy.

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