"Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho" Book Review
Written by Stephen Rebello
Released on June 16th, 2010
In 1960, a movie hit theaters that would not just blow away audiences worldwide, but also break what were movie taboos at the time and influence future filmmakers for years to come. The movie, of course, is Psycho and Stephen Rebello's Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho goes into great detail of the influence, trials, tribulations and ultimate success of Hitchcock's arguably best known film.
Laid out in a chronological fashion, author Stephen Rebello doesn't start with the first day of Psycho's filming, but instead goes all the way back to the original source of inspiration for the Norman Bates character: Ed Gein. Gein, a Wisconsin serial killer, has been the influence of many fictional killers, including the aforementioned Bates, Leatherface of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Silence of the Lambs' Hannibal Lecter, and more. A quiet man with a penchant of digging up graves, slaughtering women and dancing under the moonlight with a woman's skin for a vest, Gein provided a lot of material for horror writers and filmmakers, including author Robert Bloch, who penned Psycho.
In the second chapter, Rebello discusses how Gein influenced Bloch's novel, as well as Bloch's involvement (or almost non-involvement) in the film. It's unfortunate how, well, how screwed Bloch got originally over his involvement with one of the most famous horror movies of all time. To the point where one of the screenwriters of the film was taking credit for Bloch's work.
That's one of the fantastic things about Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, it tells all of the dirty secrets, both good and bad. While I won't give a chapter by chapter breakdown, I will say that Rebello has more than done his homework here and through a plethora of interviews and research, he manages to tell an incredible story from the literal beginning to the aftermath of the movie's premiere.
As a casual fan of Psycho, I found every chapter in this book both enjoyable and informative. Sure, some more than others – I found the discussion on the movie's title cards a bit long-winded, but everything else more than made up for it – but Rebello really goes out of his way to cover a tremendous amount of ground with Psycho, and I'm hard pressed to think of anything he might have missed.
My favorite parts of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho have to be the discussions of publicity and dealing with the censors. Regarding the ratings board, not surprisingly they were tools as much then as they are now, and some of the things Hitchcock had to do to get his masterpiece shown were a bit ridiculous. In addition, there were different cuts of the film for different parts of the world, as each country had its own set of rules on what could be shown and what couldn't.
However, the publicity section is what probably infuriated me the most, as it showed what complete douches reviewers can be (wait, what?). Psycho opened to mixed reviews, but this wasn't so much to do with the critics not liking it and more to do with Hitchcock not having private screenings for the press. You read that right, in order to punish Hitchcock for daring not letting them see it before the public, some reviewers actually shit on the movie. Some writers actually changed their tune later on, especially after the incredible popularity and staying power of the film, but that in no way excuses their actions upon release.
There's a ton of information in Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho for the casual fan such as myself, and I speculate there are a lot of things to be learned for those who have a passion for the movie, as well, considering how much detail Stephen Rebello goes into. Not only did I blow through the book, but it encouraged me to watch Psycho again with my new found knowledge. If you are fan at all of Psycho, this is well worth picking up, if only to see how this film almost didn't get made.