The Movie: 'Psycho' (1960)
The Scene: Marion Crane is our main character. She's knee-deep in a low-end but dicey embezzlement scheme and we're all curious to see where she's headed next. We know Hitchcock by now. It's 1960 by this point. She's about to step into the shower at a roadside motel, and we're about to be entertained by a thrilling little crime st ... DEAR LORD WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?!?
Why It's Iconic: Because it changed all the rules, quite simply. It's almost as if Mr. Hitchcock was starting to bore himself, so he cooked up a new way to keep his scares fresh. To say he succeeded would be a stunning example of understatement. As a stand-alone horror scene, it's diabolically effective. (Especially when you consider the year in which it was produced.) As the fulcrum for one of the creepiest horror films ever made, it's an undeniable classic. It shocks us to our core, it sends us off into a completely different film, and it shows us that we better watch out, because in horror films created by dark, clever people -- anything can happen.
Call it a resoundingly influential sequence, a masterfully crafted one, or just a plain ol' scary moment, but this one rewrote the rule book for an entire genre, which is why we proudly list it as the #1 Most Iconic Horror Scene of All Time. (And Happy Halloween!)
But don't just take my word (and 50 years worth of effusive praise) for it. Here are some thoughts from some of our "Iconic Scenes" team:
Visceral without being gory, powerful because of its implied menace -- the shower scene is a masterful sequence that continues to be the subject of speculation and genre fan obsession to this day. There's not much more that can be said about the scene, other than thank you Mr. Hitchcock for setting the bar so high. -- Alison Nastasi
So elegant with its black-and-white photography, so deceptively simple with its framing and editing, it's hard to think of a more perfect horror film moment than the shower scene in Hitchcock's 'Psycho.' An exercise in visual and aural tension, it convinces the viewer they've seen more than they really have. The blade of the knife, the screeching of Bernard Herrmann's classic score, and Janet Leigh's screams all merge beautifully to create a scene for the ages. So much has been written about the brilliance of Hitchcock's sequence that it's hard to find anything new to add. For me, two things have always stood out: the foley work (which is excellent – the hiss of running water is complemented perfectly by the wicked sound of the knife plunging repeatedly into Leigh's vulnerable flesh) and the Leigh's last moments of life. As the actress sits dying, she tugs the shower curtain down on top of her. It's a simple action and shot, but the implications are brutal. The devil is in the details, they say, and those details are what makes the shower scene in 'Psycho' so enduring. -- Mike Bracken
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the shower! This seminal scene is the culmination of Hitchcock's ultimate cinematic practical joke. The moment it happens, especially upon your first viewing, you don't really believe it's happening because Janet Leigh is the star of the film and there is no way the final girl gets iced in the middle of the movie right? Wrong! Hitch plays with expectation as much as he does camera angles to create a secondary signature all his own. -- Brian Salisbury
This scene still packs such a punch now, that it's hard to imagine what it must have been like to see it upon its initial release. The scene itself is not unlike a symphony, beautifully edited and underscored by the piercing, pulsing music, escalating the tension to a crescendo-like fever pitch. Destined to be oft-imitated but never matched, the shower scene showcases a master at the top of his game. -- Luke Mullen
All of Hitchcock's style aside, most audiences still can't explain how he gets away with killing his lead halfway through the film. But he does. The Bernard Hermann score certainly doesn't hurt. It's not only one of the most iconic horror scenes, but one of the most iconic scenes in cinema as a whole. -- Jason Murphy
Imitators/Flatterers: Need proof of precisely how iconic this sequence is? Look no further than this wonderful montage below.