We know that Hitchcock’s purpose in his very famous shower scene in Psycho was to shock us with not only the event of the murder itself but also the brutality of Mary’s murder. He dramatically switches the pace of the scene from the slow entrance of the dark figure to the quick cuts of the murder. (In one of my books, it was said that Hitchcock used 78 cuts in 45 seconds.) It’s as though Hitchcock’s exaggerated use of cutting was an intentional reference to the cutting of poor Mary.
In any case, the slow entrance and quick cuts is still a very effective cinematic jolt to an audience.
In the December 1, 1959, revised draft by Joseph Stephano, the shower scene is (by today's standards) ridiculously overwritten.
Here’s a portion:
The noise of the shower drowns out any sound. The door is then slowly and carefully closed. And we see the shadow of a woman fall across the shower curtain. Mary's back is turned to the curtain. The white brightness of the bathroom is almost blinding.
Suddenly we see the hand reach up, grasp the shower curtain, rip it aside.
MARY - ECU
As she turns in response to the feel and SOUND of the shower curtain being torn aside. A look of pure horror erupts in her face. A low terrible groan begins to rise up out of her throat. A hand comes into the shot. The hand holds an enormous bread knife. The flint of the blade shatters the screen to an almost total, silver blankness.
An impression of a knife slashing, as if tearing at the very screen, ripping the film. Over it the brief gulps of screaming. And then silence. And then the dreadful thump as Mary's body falls in the tub.
The blank whiteness, the blur of the shower water, the hand pulling the shower curtain back. We catch one flicker of a glimpse of the murderer. A woman, her face contorted with madness, her head wild with hair, as if she were wearing a fright-wig. And then we see only the curtain, closed across the tub, and hear the rush of the shower water. Above the shower-bar we see the bathroom door open again and after a moment we HEAR the SOUND of the front door slamming.
Here’s my question: using today’s industry standard format, wouldn’t Hitchcock’s famous shower scene be a SERIES OF SHOTS?
We know from our good friend,
If we're to rewrite this scene, perhaps it'd look something like this:
...she turns her back to the bathroom.
A figure quietly enters and walks toward Mary. The shadow of an old woman materializes on the shower curtain.
SERIES OF SHOTS – MARY’S MURDER
A) The figure rips aside the curtain and raises a knife.
B) Mary turns and screams.
C) The figure stabs Mary.
D) She tries to defend herself.
E) The figure stabs her again and again.
E) Blood pours onto the bathtub.
F) The silence of Mary's dying face.
G) The old woman leaves.
BACK TO SCENE
Mary falls against the bathroom wall and slides down...
This cleaner, simpler version implies the camera direction, as well as the slow build-up of tension and sudden quick cuts, without having to write camera angles or “we see.” (It also implies, without having to write it out, that we don’t really see this old woman's face.)
Too often newbies and pros alike opt for big fat chunky paragraphs in important scenes because they think that fewer words somehow means “talentless writer” when, in fact, fewer words is the strength of a screenplay. And simple techniques like a MONTAGE or a SERIES OF SHOTS can be really exciting on the page for a big scene like this.