Fifty years ago, you could take a shower in a motel and not wonder just a little whether it would be your last. All that changed thanks to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.
Hitchcock's adaptation of Robert Bloch's novel debuted on June 16, 1960, and it didn't take long for it to make an impression. Because of the shocking plot twist that killed off star Janet Leigh at such an early point in the film, Hitchcock refused to show the film to critics before the premiere -- not remotely the common occurrence it is today -- in an attempt to make sure no "spoilers" would emerge in reviews. Hitchcock similarly insisted that theaters booking the film refuse to admit patrons after the film started, again to preserve the shock of the "shower scene."
That scene, of course, became one of the most iconic moments in cinema history, as minutely dissected as any three minutes of any film ever made. Students know exactly how many individual cuts there are in the sequence (50) and how many times we see the knife enter Leigh's body (zero). And an infinite number of myths and urban legends emerged around the sequence, including whether or not Hitchcock used ice-cold water to intensify Leigh's reaction, whether any post-production screams were added besides Leigh's, and whether full nudity was originally caught by censors. Among the true bits of trivia, consider this one: Hitchcock originally planned on presenting the shower scene with no background music. It's hard to imagine it now without the screeching strings of Bernard Herrmann's score.
Psycho also warrants either credit or blame for laying the foundation for the "slasher movies" of a generation later, in addition to cinematic fascination with variations on the real-life Ed Gein story that continued through Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Leatherface and The Silence of the Lambs' Buffalo Bill. Mild-mannered Norman Bates couldn't possibly have seen that all coming. After all, he was just a boy who loved his mother.