Psycho was seen as a departure from Hitchcock's previous film North by Northwest, as it was filmed on a lower budget in black-and-white by the crew of his television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The film was initially considered controversialand received mixed reviews, but audience interest and outstanding box-office returns prompted a major critical re-evaluation. Psycho was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actress for Janet Leigh and Best Director for Hitchcock.
Psycho is now considered one of Hitchcock's best films, and is arguably his most famous work. It has been praised as a major work of cinematic art by international film critics and scholars due to its slick direction, tense atmosphere, impressive camerawork, a memorablescore and iconic performances. Often ranked among the greatest films of all time, it set a new level of acceptability for violence, deviant behaviour and sexuality in American films, and is widely considered to be the earliest exampleof the slasher film genre.
Psycho is based on Robert Bloch's 1959 novel of the same name, loosely inspired by the case of convicted Wisconsin murderer and grave robber Ed Gein. Both Gein, who lived only 40 miles (64 km) from Bloch, and the story's protagonist NormanBates, were solitary murderers in isolated rural locations. Each had deceased, domineering mothers, had sealed off a room in their home as a shrine to them, and dressed in women's clothes. However, Gein was apprehended after killing only twice.
The film, independently produced and financed by Hitchcock, was shot at Revue Studios, the same location as his television show. Psycho was shot on a tight budget of $807,000, beginning on November 11, 1959, and ending on February 1, 1960.Filming started in the morning and finished by six p.m. or earlier on Thursdays. Nearly the whole film was shot with 50 mm lenses on 35 mm cameras. This provided an angle of viewsimilar to human vision, which helped to further involve the audience.
The murder of Leigh's character in the shower is the film's pivotal scene and one of the best-known in all of cinema. To capture the straight-on shot of the shower head, the camera had to be equipped with a long lens. The inner holes onthe shower head were blocked and the camera placed a sufficient distance away so that the water, while appearing to be aimed directly at the lens,actually went around and past it. The soundtrack of screeching violins, violas, and cellos was an original all-strings piece by composer Bernard Herrmann titled "The Murder". Hitchcock originally intended to have no music for thesequence (and all motel scenes), but Herrmann insisted he try his composition. Afterward, Hitchcock agreed it vastly intensified the scene, and nearly doubled Herrmann's salary.
The film was released on June 16, 1960, at the DeMille Theatre and the Baronet Theatre in New York City. It was the first film sold in the US on the basis that no one would be admitted to the theatre after the film had started.