Hitchcock, the Dude
What led Hitchcock to make a film about hating your mother, loving your mother, and being generally messed up about your mother?
Well, you can't say for sure, but we do know that Hitchcock had a weird relationship with his own parents. Born in England to a Catholic family, his family was cold and distant. We're not saying he wanted to poison them and then keep their corpses in his attic. But what we are saying is that weird mommy dynamics would fascinate Hitchcock throughout his career. (Source)
Before he made the movie about killing the parents, though, Hitchcock had already had a long and illustrious career. He started out in the film industry in Britain in the 1930's, making spy films like The 39 Steps (1935).
He went to Hollywood in the U.S. in 1939, and there made his most famous movies, including Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958). Both of those films featured creepy voyeurism directed at icy, attractive blondes. And hey: that's a theme in Psycho too.
"Blondes make the best victims. They're like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints," Hitchcock famously declared. To which we say: ick. But we also say (much to our discomfort): let's watch all the Hitchcock movies.
Because dude's a genius.
Hitchcock, the Meme
By the time he got to Psycho, Hitchcock was already insanely successful and well known. He was a pop culture personality in his own right, in a way that few directors today get to be: think of a cross between Joss Whedon and Kylie Jenner, and you're approaching what ol' Hitch was back in the 1950's.
Hitchcock regularly appeared in promotional materials for his films. He even had his own television show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, beginning in 1955.
The show was an anthology horror series; Hitchcock would appear at the beginning of each episode and introduce it. He was such a brand in himself that he even appears as the main figure in this trailer for Psycho. Think about that; marketers figured that Hitchcock standing there babbling about "dire horrible events" would sell movie tickets more briskly than showing you actual dire, horrible events. (Source)
You know what that means? It means Hitchcock was a Big Deal.
Hitchcock, the Psycho
Psycho made Hitchcock even more famous than famous, though. The film was by far his most successful, making more than $15 million its first year, and spawning a ton of sequels and imitations.
Maybe the most shocking thing about Psycho in terms of Hitchcock's career, though, is that it's in the wrong place. Psycho is a low budget independent film (see Production Studio). It takes crazy risks, kills off its main character, has no happy romance ending, and generally looks like the work of a hungry film school grad showing off what he can do.
But it wasn't. Hitchcock was sixty-one when the film came out; he'd already spent the better part of three decades as an old Hollywood hand. His most daring pictures (Psycho and The Birds) came towards the end of is career, not at the beginning. Like Psycho, Hitchcock's narrative was spliced up. He liked to surprise you.