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Alfred Hitchcock Promoted ‘Psycho’ in 1960 With Staged Tactics and Shocking Requests, See the Video [Watch]

First Posted: Jun 13, 2015 03:56 PM EDT
Alfred Hitchcock

Photo : Baron/Hulton Archive/Getty

The earliest maestro of terror and suspense in film, Alfred Hitchcock is revered by many as the creative genius that Hollywood was built on, with a storied career directing fantastic hits like "North by Northwest," "The Birds" and of course his epic "Psycho."

But according to Wired, "Psycho" was lacking something that his other films did not -- namely a financier.

Executives at Paramount Pictures originally shrugged away his efforts to get the film off the ground and refused to finance his film. So Hitchcock had to dig up his creative talents and find new ways to get the film made, one of which included financing the movie himself for $800,000, by putting his own house up as collateral.

This led to Hitchcock getting total creative control over Psycho, so after the feature was made, all he had to do was allow Paramount 40 percent of the gross for the film in exchange for marketing and distribution.

But full creative control also affected how Hitchcock went about promoting the film in a weird, fascinating way.

It started out on the production set, with Hitchcock forcing his collaborators, actors and crew to take an oath of silence to avoid spoilers -- this, before the Internet, spoilers, and the now-standard non-disclosure agreement. That theme would later play a part in his promotion efforts as well. 

At the time, horror films were considered B-movies that weren't capable of getting big box-office numbers. Flouting the common wisdom, Hitchcock cast A-List actors and actresses to help in his promotion efforts for the film.

But it was his "word of mouth" tactics that would give him special notoriety for the promotion of "Psycho" -- specifically, the way he got people in the theater seats -- by using stunts that would create such an onslaught of intrigue that the showrooms would fill up, out of pure curiosity.

To drum up interest, Hitchcock first issued a manual for people in theaters that warned them of the possibility of having a heart attack while watching the film.

He then followed that up by stationing nurses outside the theater to "assist" people who "may" experience health problems during the course of viewing "Psycho." This included people supposedly having heart attacks, fainting or any other health issues brought on by watching the film.

The stunt worked and people filled theaters in its initial limited release, which later expanded and became a huge hit.

But word of mouth is also something Hitchcock then railed against, at least for people who had seen the film, insisting that they do not divulge the plot of the film to their friends, thereby spoiling the experience. He also instructed theater owners not to let people in after the film begins, which was strongly enforced by the theater chains.

See the archival video below shot in 1960 that showed Hitchcock's unusual promotional efforts for the now legendary "Psycho."

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