In this day and age, when we’ve seen a lot of brilliant horror movie-related documentaries released over the last few years, it’s sometimes hard for me to get too excited about new ones, just because I wonder what on earth is still out there to explore at this point. Then comes along Alexandre O. Philippe’s 78/52, which presents us with a thoughtful and entertaining re-examination of the iconic shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, peeling back some unexpected and wholly new layers about this often discussed moment in cinema.
Filmed in stunning black and white, and featuring several Psycho-related re-enactments to help set the tone throughout its 91-minute runtime, 78/52 takes a comprehensive look back at the moment cinema changed forever in 1960, when Hitchcock dared to take audiences into a roadside motel bathroom to bear cinematic witness to the murder of a young woman by the name of Marion Crane (played by the unforgettable Janet Leigh). Beyond the fact that the way that scene in particular from Psycho could be considered its own masterclass in film editing alone, it’s also a moment that forever changed how violence would be presented in various forms of entertainment, and left a lasting imprint on pop culture.
A shocking and brutal scene that has been paid homage to hundreds of times in various mediums over the last 57 years, the killing of Marion Crane in Psycho remains a landmark event in both horror and film in general, especially since it has been credited as being the first cinematic expression of harm to a female character in such a seemingly visceral manner. A huge chunk of 78/52 is dedicated to exploring what Hitchcock, his editor George Tomasini, and storyboard artist Saul Bass were able to achieve with their construction of one of the most influential movie moments ever committed to celluloid, and it was nice to see that kind of attention paid to an often overlooked important facet of the filmmaking process: editing.
Beyond just celebrating the technical aspects of that specific scene, 78/52 also dissects various themes that run throughout Hitchcock’s storytelling in Psycho, including the Master of Suspense’s rather stern approach to the idea of unforgivingly punishing his characters for their misdeeds, and how that has crossed over into many of his other big screen endeavors as well. Philippe’s documentary also pits the socio-political changes that were happening at the turn of the decade against the complicated relationships presented in Psycho—both sexual and familial—and explores how the project was the acclaimed director’s own version of a “joke” to follow up his masterpiece North by Northwest.
78/52 features an amazing array of interviews with tons of notable folks, including Guillermo del Toro, Elijah Wood (and his fellow co-producers at Spectrevision), Marli Renfro (Janet Leigh’s body double), Peter Bogdanovich (who does a killer Hitchcock impersonation), Richard Stanley, Mick Garris, Danny Elfman, Karyn Kusama, Oz Perkins, Leigh Whannell, Neil Marshall, Bret Easton Ellis, and my personal favorite interviewee, Jamie Lee Curtis (who shares a fun anecdote about why she finally decided to embrace paying homage to her mother’s shower scene in the first season of Scream Queens). The anecdotes shared by those filmed for 78/52 (and there are a lot more people than I mentioned here), whether they’re personal theories and memories involving Psycho or their real-time viewing and digestion of Marion’s death scene, all make for a fascinating viewing experience, and it’s one that I think a lot of genre fans will very much enjoy, too.
Oh, and the biggest highlight for me (and maybe it’s because I’m such a nerd for the history of this genre) was seeing a lot of archival footage of Hitchcock doing interviews and promotional schpeels (there’s also a really great, old clip of Psycho star Anthony Perkins jabbing a little fun at his director at an event some years after Psycho), because I could listen to him talk for hours, regardless of the topic. Overall, Philippe does a fantastic job with 78/52 and gives fans of both Psycho and the legendary filmmaker behind it a wealth of material to delve into.
Movie Score: 4/5