Great Scene: “Psycho”

After I first saw the movie Psycho as an impressionable youth, there wasn't a week that went by for several years that, while taking a shower, I didn't recall (and get freaked out by) this great scene.

Here is the script excerpt:

INT. MARY'S MOTEL ROOM — (NIGHT)

Mary is seated at the small desk, engrossed in figuring in a
small notebook. We see from these figures a calculation which
indicates her intention to make a restitution of the money
she has used of the forty thousand dollars. We see, too, her
bankbook. The paper reads thus: top figure, 40,000; directly
beneath it 500, the amount used for the new car; total after
subtraction, 39,500. In another spot we see a figure which
matches the balance in her bankbook; 624.00.

Beneath this is the figure 500, and the amount after
subtraction, 124.00. She studies the figures, sighs, not
wearily but with a certain satisfaction, with the pleasure
that comes when one knows that at any cost one is going to
continue doing the right thing. After a moment she tears the
page out of the notebook and, rising, begins to rip it into
small pieces. She goes into the bathroom, drops the pieces
into the toilet bowl, flushes the toilet. Then she drops her
robe and steps into the tub and turns the shower on.

INT. MARY IN SHOWER

Over the bar on which hangs the shower curtain, we can see
the bathroom door, not entirely closed. For a moment we watch
Mary as she washes and soaps herself.

There is still a small worry in her eyes, but generally she
looks somewhat relieved.

Now we see the bathroom door being pushed slowly open.

The noise of the shower drowns out any sound. The door is
then slowly and carefully closed.

And we see the shadow of a woman fall across the shower
curtain. Mary's back is turned to the curtain. The white
brightness of the bathroom is almost blinding.

Suddenly we see the hand reach up, grasp the shower curtain,
rip it aside.

CUT TO:

MARY — ECU

As she turns in response to the feel and SOUND of the shower
curtain being torn aside. A look of pure horror erupts in
her face. A low terrible groan begins to rise up out of her
throat. A hand comes into the shot. The hand holds an enormous
bread knife. The flint of the blade shatters the screen to
an almost total, silver blankness.

THE SLASHING

An impression of a knife slashing, as if tearing at the very
screen, ripping the film. Over it the brief gulps of
screaming. And then silence. And then the dreadful thump as
Mary's body falls in the tub.

REVERSE ANGLE

The blank whiteness, the blur of the shower water, the hand
pulling the shower curtain back. We catch one flicker of a
glimpse of the murderer. A woman, her face contorted with
madness, her head wild with hair, as if she were wearing a
fright-wig. And then we see only the curtain, closed across
the tub, and hear the rush of the shower water. Above the
shower-bar we see the bathroom door open again and after a
moment we HEAR the SOUND of the front door slamming.

CUT TO:

THE DEAD BODY

Lying half in, half out of the tub, the head tumbled over,
touching the floor, the hair wet, one eye wide open as if
popped, one arm lying limp and wet along the tile floor.
Coming down the side of the tub, running thick and dark along
the porcelain, we see many small threads of blood. CAMERA
FOLLOWS away from the body, travels slowly across the
bathroom, past the toilet, out into the bedroom. As CAMERA
approaches the bed, we see the folded newspaper as Mary placed
it on the bedside table.

CLOSE UP — THE NEWSPAPER

beside the bed. The CAMERA now moves away over to the window
and looks up to the house, and as it gets there we HEAR,
coming from within the house, the SOUND of Norman's fearful,
shocked voice.

NORMAN'S VOICE
Mother! Oh God, what… blood,
blood… mother…!

Here is the movie version of the scene:

One of the reasons the scene is so compelling is because of its 'slashing' pace — compared to every scene up to this point, which play out at a rather leisurely speed, the shower scene — from the point of attack to Norman's departure — is (I've read) 78 shots in 45 seconds. You can go here to see a shot-by-shot breakdown of the scene.

For more Great Scenes, go here.

[Originally posted October 31, 2008]


Great Scene: "Psycho" was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story – Medium

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