How Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ Changed How We Watch Movies in Theaters Forever
Art and Experience: Everyone knows all about Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, but few people know how it changed cinema forever.
If you’re like me, you love the movie Psycho. It’s a perfect film. It’s one of the first slashers and a movie Hitchcock made on a shoestring budget after the insane success of North by Northwest.
No one wanted to make a tawdry murder movie with the first scenes of a woman and man in bed…pre-marital sex implied. The horror! Lucky for us, Hitch was kinda sick in the head.
The movie, based on the book of the same title, was an insane gamble by Hitchcock, who was (and still is) possibly the most famous director of all time. His name was a brand. It turned out millions if not billions of people to the box office. His movies were must-sees. Social events.
But if Psycho had gone wrong? He’d have been written off instantly. He’d have squandered everything he worked so hard to get.
However, when Psycho came out in theaters, people lost their damn minds. The movie made millions over its budget and solidified Hitch’s place in Hollywood history.
But what if its lasting legacy is even more important than that?
What was Psycho’s Lasting Impact on Movies Around the World?
So much has been written about the impact of Psycho, and it’s impossible to negate the movie’s ongoing relevance. It has influenced filmmakers of every generation and spawned sequels, imitators, and the fear of showers and peeping toms all over the world.
But the real impact of the movie has less to do with what came on screen and more to do with the audience…
Back in the day, movies didn’t have official start times.
Theaters opened in the morning and started the showing. You could arrive at the beginning, the middle or the end, and if you missed some, just sit through the next showing to fill in the blanks.
This was an extremely laissez-faire way to do things, but it was the norm.
And Hitchcock thought that was bullshit.
He knew that movies were bigger than people had anticipated, that they drove culture, and he wouldn’t have something he loved ruined by people walking in and out or spoiling the ending. Hitchcock sent his assistant all over to buy as many copies of the Psycho novel as possible and he refused to screen the film in advance for critics.
The most important thing he did?
He changed movie seating for all time.
If you know Psycho, then you know the whole movie circles around the twist that Marion Crane is murdered at the end of act one, and the whole movie then twists as her sister and love come looking for her at the Bates Motel.
This twist leads to the even more shocking reveal that Norman Bates dresses like his mother and is the one doing the actual killing.
If you walked into the theater during the middle or the end it would have spoiled everything.
Even worse, if you were a movie talker, you’d be asking questions while the real fans sat enraptured.
There were no Alamo Drafthouses back then, so people would ruin the movie.
What’s an auteur to do?
Change the goddamn rules!
Hitchcock, along with MGM, got theaters to stop letting people see his movie.
Psycho was the first film that came with SCHEDULED MOVIE-TIMES.
At first, theater owners thought he was crazy, but then they did the math. Scheduled times meant they could sell more tickets. It made this movie exclusive and made people want to get there to see it.
So they bought in.
Once the movie started the doors were locked and no one could get in (or out). You would have to stand in line for the next show or come back later. The movie was marketed this way, as a must-see, and must-see on time, and it worked.
Crowds flocked to theaters to see the movie when it began. And stayed if they missed the first show.
Theaters wound up loving scheduled movie times. It allowed them to predict the rush, clean the houses and led to more ticket sales. It also turned going to the movies into a special event. This was art, like going to a ballet. There had to be a start and a finish.
So, the next time you go to a theater for an 8pm show, thank Hitchcock.
Unless there’s a long line.
What’s next? Learn all about Film Theory!
Basic knowledge of Film Theory could be your ticket to making a compelling argument, a classic film, or winning at Jeopardy. So read on!