From Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho to Justin Kerzel’s Snowtown, the shower has become the set of some of film’s most gruesome moments.
Actress Janet Leigh stopped taking showers unless absolutely necessary after she starred in the infamous scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 thriller Psycho. By exposing our comfort as our vulnerability, Hitchcock frightened movie-goers with violence yet unseen in cinemas. Facing censorship and disgust from the both film boards and the public, Psycho revolutionised the psychological effects possible within film, exemplified by the infamous shower scene.
Since then, the shower scene has become a staple in dozens of horror films. Whether through emotional torment, such as in the opening scene of Stephen King’s Carrie, or through supernatural horror as in 1990’s It, filmmakers have capitalised on the exposure of the victim in the shower, having us terrified in a place where we often feel most safe.
Of course, some of cinema’s most romantic or memorable scenes have also taken place in the bathroom. Think of the surreal beauty of Mena Suvari lounging in a bathtub of roses in 1999’s American Beauty, or Julia Roberts singing Prince’s ‘Kiss’ in Pretty Woman. The bathtub has also been used to comical effect as in The Big Lebowski, or with Al Pacino enjoying a cigar and champagne in an oversized bathtub in Scarface. Yet it seems when horror and violence are introduced into the bathroom the effect on us is stronger. Most will be more likely to remember the earlier scene in Scarface where Antonio (Pacino) is threatened with a chainsaw while strung up on the shower railing.
The horror of the shower scene has progressed with trends in film and filmmaking. Where Psycho was considered outrageous in its time, it now seems fairly tame in its violence compared to more recent instances of gruesome murder and torture in the bathroom. While Carrie and It may have us pulling the shower curtains tight, Justin Kerzel’s 2011 true crime film Snowtown features such intense violence during its own shower scene that it takes the concept to a whole new level.
Based on a true series of murders between 1992 and 1999, Snowtown presents rural Australia as a bleak, boring landscape where corrupt men influence innocent boys and brutal acts are justified by personal philosophies. Extreme in violence and uncompromising throughout, Snowtown was once criticised as being ‘as close to a snuff film as I ever wish to see…It’s appalling.’ This ‘appalling’ quality is exemplified by the shower scene.
The scene is an endurance test for the viewer. Kurzel took decades of shower scenes and decided to truly push the envelope in what can be shown and for how long. Transgressive and intense, the scene is the pinnacle of shower-horror. If Janet Leigh had been around to see it, she may never have taken a shower again.
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