The Impact of Music in the Infamous Shower Scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho Analysis

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Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho of 1960, a film in which Hitchcock himself wanted to stop filming due to his own unhappiness with its progress, has become one of the most iconic films of the 20th century. The film has been analyzed, critiqued, and admired by professors, students, critics, and fans alike; “it is probably the most closely and most seriously scrutinized film ever made,” (Wierzbicki, 14). Psycho is a film in which many people hold in their repertoire if not for its entirety, at least for the acclaimed roughly 47 minutes into the film, commonly referred to as “The Shower Scene”.

The question lies: Is this less than sixty seconds long scene more effective with or without music? While creating what would ultimately become his most famous work and a known filmed masterpiece, Alfred Hitchcock felt as though Psycho was a disappointment. Psycho was filmed on a low budget and with very little confidence from its director. He was not too thrilled with what his concept was becoming and felt as though he might as well quit filming it as a movie and just make it into an hour long television show.

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When the film’s score composer and collaborator of Hitchcock, Bernard Herrmann heard of this he told Hitchcock to go away for a while and he would work on the score, then when he came back they could review the film together with the score and hopefully, he would be more enthused about the direction Psycho was going in. Hitchcock agreed but, left specific guidelines to Herrmann telling him to compose absolutely no music for the shower scene.

Supposedly, due to the scene’s, “… intensity and chilling starkness…coupled with a relentless pacing in the editing… Hitchcock was convinced that the scene should be handled without music,” (Wierzbicki, 20). Of course, Herrmann, who was just as strong-willed, stubborn, and controlling as Hitchcock did not abide. When Hitchcock came back to review the newly composed, all strings score composed by Herrmann he was in for a surprise. Hitchcock was played the music two times. The first time consisted of what he asked for: no music for the shower scene.

But, when he was played the score a second time with a composition for the shower scene by Herrmann, Hitchcock agreed undoubtedly to add music to the scene. Later, Hitchcock attributed, “33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music”. Ultimately, Hitchcock made $15,000,000; today approximately $150,000,000 thankfully due to his decision of opting out of his usual $250,000 and going for a payroll of 60% of the films net profit. He thanked Herrmann personally and by raising his usual pay of $17,500 to $34,501 (Wierzbicki, 34).

Alfred Hitchcock undeniably had absolutely no idea how successful Psycho would really be; it was a game changer to the film world. What the public will always immediately reference internally when this film is brought up is the shower scene. Everyone has their own opinion on whether or not the music hurt or helped the scene including published music scholars: James Wierzbicki, Jack Sullivan, and Royal S. Brown. James Wierzbicki wrote “Psycho-Analysis”, in a collection entitled Terror Tracks.

In “Psycho-Analysis” Wierzbicki discusses the Hitchcock/Herrmann collaboration and how effective the music in the infamous “Shower Scene” of Psycho is. He proposes that the music and the scene go hand-in-hand. He agrees that the “Shower Scene” is a peak in the film, but argues that it is more of turning point as opposed to the movies climax (Wierzbicki, 21). The author then goes on to discuss other music in the film and how the music in the “Shower Scene” really is menial, as compared to other aspects of the film (Wierzbicki, 21).

The author concludes with stating his beliefs that the music adds to the visuals and narrative of the film creating a relationship of harmony or something like that of yin and yang; in that, it is not always steady but, it works and is in itself, flawless (Wierzbicki, 37). In the section of Hitchcock’s Music entitled Psycho: The Music of Terror, written by Jack Sullivan, Alfred Hitchcock’s collaboration with Bernard Herman on the legendary movie is also analyzed.

It begins with the description of how Psycho came to be and how the “inseparably linked” music helped contribute to its existence (Sullivan, 243). He argues that Hitchcock did not immediately take to the “Shower Scene” with music, but nevertheless did agree upon its use (Sullivan, 249). He discusses how Herrmann’s definition of the shower scene meant terror and Sullivan agrees that it creates a sense that even in a safe place, such as the shower, you truly are never safe and everywhere is dangerous.

Sullivan also states that the music in the murder scene is not meant to be in the background, but rather the foreground where “it is a force of aggression as frightening as the flashing knife; in its quiet moments, it roams grimly…” (Sullivan, 244). Through this, Sullivan is saying that the music evokes a feeling for us; it frightens us just as much as the gruesome images do, and even when it is quiet we still are left with lingering apprehensive emotions of suspense and fear even toward innocent visuals.

Sullivan supports the necessity of and credits success to Bernard Herrmann’s score for Hitchcock’s Psycho and declares his work to be “transformative” (Sullivan, 258). The “Shower Scene” and its music, as discussed by Royal S. Brown in Overtones and Undertones, creates an impact that may be considered as the, “most devastating in all of cinema,” (Brown, 24). The author believes that the rhythmic actions and shots of this scene create “internal rhymes” making an art form in which it is obvious as to why Hitchcock would agree to add Herrmann’s music here.

Brown also argues that without Bernard Herrmann’s score and music in the “Shower Scene”, there would be less of an audience (Brown, 26). According to Brown, simplistically the scene would be too raw and somewhat boring in that it would only be showing a visual of a gruesome murder and would not invoke terror or horror because it would be less powerful. With this argument, as well as those previously stated by authors Sullivan and Wierzbicki it is evident the necessity of music in the “Shower Scene”.

Without music, the impact of the “Shower Scene” would be immensely lessened if in existence at all. Herrmann’s strange yet, powerful score is what made Psycho a success. The string accompaniment of music used in the scene left incomprehensible terror in the minds of viewers through its screechy and irritating sound. The mood Herrmann’s score set is one of fear-stricken and pain-filled agony that when paired with the visual images shot by Hitchcock can send chills down the spine of even the most apt moviegoer. Undoubtedly, the music is what creates the impact of the scene.

Any avid movie watcher has scene dozens of murder scenes, many of which were inspired by Psycho, and it can easily be agreed that music is a very influential factor on the impact of these scenes. Psycho in itself was a thunderous, psychological thriller that when paired with the music created for a fantastically, ground-shaking masterpiece. Psycho and the infamous shower scene are two of the most commonly reference works in all of cinema. Almost everyone has heard of, if not have seen arguably Hitchcock’s most known piece, Psycho. Psycho’s “Shower Scene” as a hole and in piece of its music is probably even more well-known through parodies and recreations of the works.

But, without the score by Herrmann and his insistence on adding music to the “Shower Scene”, Psycho would just not have evoked such emotion or such reaction that it did. And, maybe just maybe, Hitchcock would have been correct in assuming the movie would have been just a fluke. To this day, the sheer upset of the music paired with the grotesque imagery set on the screen by Herrmann and Hitchcock, can and does create

Sources Consulted

Brown, Royal S. Overtones and Undertones: Reading Film Music. Berkeley: University of California, 1994. 23-26. Print. Psycho – The Shower Scene: With And Without Music. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Perf. Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins. YouTube. YouTube, 18 Oct. 2008. Web. 22 Oct. 2012. <http://www. youtube. com/watch? v=81qweiWqyTU>. Stine, John. In-class lectures and powerpoints, University of Cincinnati Course Number FAM-2060-001, October 2, 2012. Sullivan, Jack. Hitchcock’s Music. New Haven [Conn. : Yale UP, 2006. 243-58. Print. Wierzbicki, James. “”Psycho-Analysis”” Terror Tracks: Music, Sound and Horror Cinema. London: Equinox, 2009. 14-46. Print.

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The Impact of Music in the Infamous Shower Scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho Analysis. (2016, Dec 25). Retrieved from

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