by Joseph Shelton
78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene is one of those film documentaries, like Room 237 or philosopher Slavov Zizek’s Pervert’s Guide to Cinema movies, that takes an wide view of a relatively narrow subject. In this case, the movie explores the iconic sequence in which Janet Leigh is murdered by Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates-as-Mother while in the shower from a variety of perspectives: an editing virtuoso discusses how the way the film is cut is revolutionary, while horror maven and erstwhile hobbit Elijah Wood discusses the film’s influence on scary movies.
The result is a fascinatingly obsessive, if occasionally uneven, documentary. Some of the information is well known, and has been covered in more mainstream fare like the Anthony Hopkins/Helen Mirren vehicle Hitchcock – for instance, that the voice of Alfred Hitchcock was played over loudspeakers in theaters, urging audiences to arrive on time, and not to spoil the film. But watching Anthony Perkins’ son, a respected horror director in his own right, take apart his father’s performance is the kind of thing you don’t see every day.
Horror fans with a historical stripe will probably get the most out of the film, as it was, after all, put out by IFC Midnight, their slightly gonzo art-horror shingle. As a result, a lot of the talking heads commenting on the film are surprisingly deep-cut B-horror types. The most famous current director is Guillermo Del Toro, nominated for an Oscar this year. Barring him, it may be Eli Roth, director of Hostel and the upcoming Death Wish remake. But there are also a host of obscure, B-horror practitioners on call as well: Mick Garris, best known as a Stephen King collaborator, and Richard Stanley, best known for being thrown off of the 1996 travesty The Island of Dr. Moreau, spring to mind.
But in the end, 78/52 is likely to entertain the hell out of any cinephile because it is well-made, fast-paced and fun. If not everything everyone says is that interesting, the film makes up for it with stretches of genuine insight. One montage in particular demonstrates very successfully and persuasively that Hitchcock had been gesturing towards making the scene his whole career – a hand grabbing a bread-knife, or a curtain being yanked suddenly and precipitously, followed by a shock.
In fact, the only way I wouldn’t recommend 78/52 to you is if you are currently in the shower. In the case that you are currently in the shower, I recommend that you hurry up and get out of there, and then watch the film, and mind you don’t get stabbed.