To go from the quintessential Hitchcock of NORTH BY NORTHWEST to the shock/horror of PSYCHO must have been quite a surprise to filmgoers of 1960. The two films couldnt be more different.
The fact is that film fans, with a few exceptions, knew what to expect from an Alfred Hitchcock film – thrills, romance, spies, stunning visuals, witty dialogue and big stars.
So you wonder what left field Psycho came from. Murder and madness without the usual light touch. Pure horror.
It is said that Hitchcock was aware of changing audiences. A high proportion were young adults who liked low budget horror films. Also, he had become used to doing a variety of plots on his long running TV series, ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. And he was now familiar with TV directors and technicians.
Hitchcock bought the rights to Robert Bloch’s novel, Psycho in 1959 for only $9,000. I guess that doing something completely and totally different appealed to him.
Paramount weren’t interested so Hitch put up the money and got 60% ownership of the film, with Paramount distributing it. He used his TV studio and crew .
I guess the success of North By Northwest allowed him to take a chance and boy, did it pay off. Not many directors would kill off their star (Janet Leigh) a third of the way through the picture – and in such a gruesome manner.
The publicity machine for Psycho got into top gear, with Hitch himself preparing his audiences ( especially his older fans) for the violence and shock levels. And what a piece of genius to stop anyone being admitted for a screening after the film started.
A lot of fans were surprised and disappointed, but the younger fans went back to see it again and again. Word of mouth more than the critics sold it. It became a runaway success.
I’ll be honest and say I saw Psycho once and never wanted to see it again. I could appreciate all of the great director’s skills and still not like it.
Give me North by Northwest every time!
But you have to admire him for taking such a leap of faith and showing that his unique talent could shine in whatever story he tackled.