'Psycho' at 60—Eight Things You Might Not Know About Alfred Hitchcock's Horror Masterpiece

60 years ago today, cinema was changed forever. That might sound hyperbolic, but it really is hard to overstate just how much of an impact Psycho had when it first premiered in New York City on June 16, 1960.

Its shocking (for the time) depictions of violence and sexuality, coupled with its shattering of Hollywood storytelling conventions, marked the beginning of the end of the strict studio system and ushered in a new era where film directors became the key creative force in moviemaking.

To celebrate 60 years since the film's release, here are eight things you might not know about Alfred Hitchcock's horror classic. Warning—there are multiple spoilers below. If you've never seen Psycho, treat yourself and then come back and read this afterwards.

1) The movie only happened when an Audrey Hepburn project fell through

After the success of Cary Grant caper North by Northwest in 1959, film director Alfred Hitchcock initially planned on working with Hollywood icon Audrey Hepburn. The planned crime drama, No Bail for the Judge, would have seen Hepburn play the daughter of a judge wrongfully accused of murder.

But Paramount, the studio financing the film, was aghast at Hitchcock's boundary-pushing script, which would have seen Hepburn disguise herself as a prostitute to investigate the murder, before finding herself dragged into the bushes and fending off a rapist. The studio tried to make Hitchcock omit the scene but the British filmmaker refused to back down. Reaching an impasse, Paramount associate producer Herbert Coleman halted production.

Thankfully, Hitchcock had another project in mind as an alternative...

2) The studio really, really didn't want Hitchcock to make it

If studio bosses were not keen on a rape scene, you can only imagine the pandemonium that broke out when Hitchcock pitched Psycho. Nudity! Violence! Transvestism! According to Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan, Paramount's corporate president, Barney Balaban, flew out from New York to L.A. specifically to voice his unease with the film.

Hitchcock insisted he could overcome the strict censorship obstacles that existed at the time and make the movie, but executives remained staunchly opposed to the project. The only reason Psycho didn't suffer the same fate as No Bail for the Judge was because talent agent Lew Wasserman suggested an innovative way the movie could be made...

3) Hitchcock directed the movie for free!

That's right; the studio only allowed the movie to go ahead because Hitchcock deferred his $250,000 salary ($2.2 million adjusted for inflation today) in lieu of 60 percent of the film's gross.

Paramount agreed to the deal as they believed the movie would perform poorly at the box office. They could not have been more wrong. The movie went on to become the second-highest grossing film of 1960 (behind Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus) and Hitchcock earned $15 million from it (a whopping $130 million adjusted for inflation).

4) Censors were really infuriated by a flushing toilet

It wasn't just the infamous shower stabbing scene that rang alarm bells with the Motion Picture Production Code, but also the scene preceding it, where a repentant Marion (Janet Leigh) works out how much of the money she stole she has spent and will need to repay back by writing it out on a piece of paper, and then flushing it down the toilet.

According to the film's screenwriter Joseph Stefano in Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello, "A toilet had never been seen on-screen before, let alone flushing it." But Hitchcock managed to convince the censors that such indecency was vital to the plot as it was evidence Marion Crane had committed the crime and had been at the Bates Motel.

5) You don't actually see any stabbing in the shower scene

Arguably the most memorable moment in cinema history, the shocking shower scene where Marion Crane is murdered is only 45 seconds long, but is composed of 78 camera setups and 52 cuts. It also took one week to film, a third of the film's shooting schedule.

The frenetic montage disorients the viewer, with the rapid cuts and close-ups of the knife giving the impression you are watching Marion be stabbed. In one shot it looks like her stomach is punctured by the knife. In reality, they placed blood on the tip of the blade and pulled it away from Marion's body, before reversing the shot afterwards to make it look like the knife is piercing her.

6) The "blood" is actually Hershey's chocolate syrup

Hitchcock would later explain in interviews that the main reason the movie is in black and white is because seeing the blood drain down the bathtub in color would have been too repulsive.

So what did they use instead? According to Marli Renfro, Janet Leigh's body double in the shower scene, they used a well known household item to simulate the gory death. "They had a can of Hershey's syrup, which was watered down, and that's what they used for blood," she said in 78/52, a documentary about the iconic scene.

7) Hitchcock initially wanted no music during the murder

The director originally imagined the movie's most iconic scene to be silent. But that all changed when he heard composer Bernard Herrmann's now legendary score.

It's now impossible to imagine the scene without his screeching violins. According to The Alfred Hitchcock Story by Ken Mogg, the filmmaker was so pleased with Herrmann's work that he said, "Thirty-three percent of the effect of Psycho was due to the music."

Psycho
Janet Leigh as Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho." Universal Pictures

8) The director was also behind the film's famous publicity campaign

As a co-owner of Psycho, Hitchcock also had unique leverage over how to promote the film. Already a household name for his television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, he set to work on a unique marketing campaign.

First, he refused to screen the film in advance to critics. Second, he insisted that no-one be allowed into the theater once the movie had begun. The gimmicks worked, creating a huge buzz for the film, and starting a trend still used today where studios advertise a movie's secrecy to lure in audiences.