Neurophilosophy

Psycho shower curtain

psychomother_2.jpg

The great filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock had a profound insight into the workings of the human mind. “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it,” he once said, and the shower scene from Psycho, demonstrates this perfectly.

This scene is one of the most shocking ever filmed. Yet, it does not include any shots of the knife penetrating the flesh of Janet Leigh’s character, and the only hint of blood comes right at the end, when it flows into the plughole.

The Mad Mother Psychoshower Curtain above is available from PrankPlace.com, and costs $24.99.

Comments

  1. #1 6EQUJ5
    February 16, 2008

    I was robbed, beaten, and left for dead. I was hijacked with a knife at my throat. And I was hunted for my flesh.

    No, the anticipation is nothing like the ‘bang’, not if you’re on the receiving end. And I can’t believe it’s any different for an onlooker.

    I think Hitchcock was talking about storytelling, but only the kind where the actual violence is left out.

    For a thought-experiment test case, imagine seeing a large vicious dog chasing down a small shrieking child. The anticipation is the threat of harm. The actual bang — when the dog is ripping flesh from the child and the blood is gouting — hits so much harder than the anticipation.

  2. #2 R N B
    February 16, 2008

    Spielberg was a master of this too. I’m sure he still is, though his recent work has been more inspiring than terrifying. Yet from the tantalizing hints of fin in Jaws to the ripples in the water signaling the T-rex, the same principle applied.

  3. #3 ifan
    February 16, 2008

    “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”–think it is the same for ‘final destination.’

  4. #4 cm
    February 17, 2008

    Thank you, 6EQUJ5. I agree with you.

    Hitchcock said this at a time when he simply wouldn’t have been allowed to show the knife plunging in and out, nor would the special effects have likely been very effective at making it realistic–had he tried it it likely would have looked pretty cheesy. Plus, had he been able to make it very realistic the movie would have been too traumatic for anyone to want to watch, particularly a 1960 audience not yet inured to the brutal violence that came later in major release films. No, he chose what he chose not to increase the terror but to make a successful film given these constraints.

  5. #5 George
    February 17, 2008

    Pleasure is similar to fear in this respect — the anticipation is often as rewarding (or moreso) than the payoff.

  6. #6 carolyn13
    February 17, 2008

    In the art of story telling, it’s neither the bang nor the anticipation of violence that is the real emotional payoff. It’s how deeply the storyteller gets you to identify with the character in danger. That’s why both Hitchcock and Spielberg were masters of suspense; they drew you in by making you believe the characters.

    That’s one of the reasons people laugh at slasher flicks when the most horrible things are being shown on the screen. You never believe, so it becomes cartoon violence, unreal and somewhat emotionally neutral. Rob Zombie on the other hand will scare the pants off of you; he has that talent of drawing you in emotionally and he is utterly ruthless, not remotely as gentle as Hitchcock and Spielberg. I find his films unbearable and traumatic, much more shocking than the Psycho shower scene. I’ve never dared watch any of the other talented gore genre directors. I’m too much of a chicken and I don’t want those images lurking in the dark recesses of my mind.

  7. #7 Elle
    February 18, 2008

    Yes, 6EQUJ5. Perhaps the same mechanism is behind the horror induced by the imagery in such films as The Silence Of The Lambs, in which there is no anticipating how suddenly Anthony Hopkins’ character leans forward to bite the prison guard’s face, for example. Afterward, one might imagine anyone doing that.

    Empathy, I suppose.

  8. #8 Labinot Marku
    February 18, 2008

    Hitchcock was a brilliant talented “psychoanalyst” of the movie audience, and a genius regarding the stimulation of the emotional life particularly “emotion of fear”.