78/52

If someone asks you to name Alfred Hitchcock’s most enduring contribution to cinema, you’re probably going to say something about the shower scene in Psycho. Here’s a whole movie to tell you why.

Iconic for the shocking slasher end to a leading lady only half an hour into the run time, the prolific death scene is the first and most well known of the film’s arguably four famous jump-scares. Imitated to no end across popular culture and cinema immemorial, 78/52 delves into just why Hitchcock insisted that nobody, repeat nobody, talk about the film or its then infamous events.

Dissecting the sequence by each shot, storyboard and painstakingly executed performance marks, 78/52 is at its strongest exploring just how impactful the scene and the film as a whole were for their time; subjected to scrutiny, the Hays code and a cinema-going public generally unaccustomed to protracted violence, non-glamorous exits for major stars or even hints of nudity.

Drawing on interviews from Janet Leigh, her stunt double, Jamie Lee Curtis (Leigh’s daughter, herself a horror veteran), Guillermo del Toro and Bret Easton Ellis, amongst others, the film paints a broad and telling picture of the significance of Psycho and its most famous moments. The documentary thankfully delves into, though all too sparingly, aspects of the rest of the feature as well as Hitchcock’s broader filmography, too portraying familiar themes of voyeurism and abject violence.

A recurring aside featuring Elijah Wood and others interjecting their views on Hitchcock’s signature style as they watch the film, largely less engaging then their counterparts who stick with a more traditional interview format, proves a distraction rather than an asset to what is effectively a large and well-constituted visual essay.

The latter half of the piece, however, focusing on the technical minutiae of the unforgettably haphazard attack rather than the broader impact of the movie itself, while certainly engaging for select audiences and something which could surely be shown in film schools all around the world, lacks the engaging energy of 78/52’s early stages, too reverting to a heavily industry-ready and technical stream of commentary.

The inclusion in the documentary’s final moments of many, many homages, parodies and blatant appropriations delivers a nice and amusing reprieve from what amounts to an hour and a half of staggering emphasis on one of cinema’s most famously brutal outings, too underlining to no small degree its considerable cultural impact.

One for the Hitchcock-tragics and film buffs, 78/52 shows you just how far a filmmaker can go when they know when and how to break the wheel.

78/52 is screening as part of the Sydney Film Festival