By Ben Holcomb

A movie came out last weekend that only managed to raise $300,000 dollars at the box office. Sounds like a disaster, doesn’t it? That film was Hitchcock, and despite its low box office grabs its generating buzz in Hollywood over its own Oscar potential. A vehicle for stars such as Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, dealing with the subject of one of Hollywood’s most famous directors, Hitchcock has the makings of a runaway hit.

So how come no one’s heard anything about it?

This film has been a long time coming. The idea sprang out in 2005, when the Arts & Entertainment announced their plans for an adaptation of the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. That book, written by Stephen Robello, was published in 1990, twenty-two years ago by today’s date. It dealt with the inner darkness with Alfred Hitchcock, his marriage, and the process that ended with the making of the revolutionary film Psycho. Time Magazine critic Richard Schickel referred to the work as “one of the best accounts of the making of an individual movie we’ve ever had.” It was praised for its expansiveness and depth. But it sat on bookshelves for some 15 years. There was nothing anyone could do with it. It was a book, wholly and wonderfully.

Ivan Reitman and his production company The Montecito Picture Company bought the rights to the book in 2007, but couldn’t figure out how to translate it into a major motion picture for four years over at Paramount, Hitchcock’s original home. The process of turning a book about the making of a movie - into a movie - proved to be too much for their crew to tackle.

After things fell through at Paramount, Hitchcock slipped into the Hollywood void, meandering around the primordial stew of Los Angeles in a state of helpless non-existence. But then Sacha Gervasi stepped in. Gervasi, best known for his work as a writer of the film The Terminal, worked closely with John J. McLaughlin 1 on a script, and soon began casting the film. After six years, Hitchcock was going to happen.

The filmed gained a lot of buzz early on for their casting of Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock and Helen Mirren as his wife – both of whom have won Oscars for best acting in their respective categories. But those two are aging actors representative of a cinematic generation that’s on its way out of Hollywood, replaced by the likes of younger talent in CGI-heavy films like Twilight and Transformers. Alas, their Hollywood is almost unrecognizable to the one we know today. Gervasi and his fellow producers recognized that though, and quickly secured starlets Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel in supporting roles. At this point, before principal photography had even begun, all eyes were on Hitchcock as a potential player at the 2013 Oscars.

The film itself is not a biopic, but a focused, thoughtful examination of Alfred Hitchcock at the time surrounding his making of the film Psycho. He was a successful director by that point in his life, 1960, with classic films already under his belt like Rear Window, Dial M for Murder, North by Northwest, and Vertigo. His legacy was established, but there were thoughts that his best days were behind him. That’s when he got his hands on the novel Psycho by Robert Bloch. With it came an obsession. He didn’t want to turn it into a film – he had to. It engrossed his life, and affected his marriage. 2012′s Hitchcock aims to explore the time surrounding that film, where the famous director dived deeper into the chasms of his soul than ever before, and arguably revealed the true essence of his inner struggle and darkness.

In 1960, revolution was coming, but it wasn’t there yet. There would be Woodstock, Civil Rights, and the Hippie Movement rebelling against the stiffness of the decades preceding it in favor of free love, unquestioned drug use, and a general cultural Laissez-faire environment. That was a few years away, and Hitchock’s ambitions of turning Psycho into a motion picture that Americans actually viewed, was seen as lunacy at the time. It was repulsive, and obscene, and no one would ever let it slide. He pursued it anyway.

And with its production, Hitchcock had opened the floodgates for the slasher film genre. From its release in theaters, other filmmakers began to recognize the power of gore and violence as a mechanism of terror in film, and copycats began sprouting up in droves. Blood Feast came out three years later, followed by movies like The Nanny and Homicidal. As for the production company’s trepidations that society would revolt against such a “filthy” film? They couldn’t get enough of it, lined up around the block in the hopes of securing a ticket to a showing, helped the film break box-office records the world over and turned Alfred Hitchcock into one of the richest men in Hollywood.

Not too bad for a slasher flick. To this day, Psycho is considered one of Alfred Hitchock’s most famous and defining films, and the American Film Institute still has it atop their list of 100 Greatest Thrillers. It is a classic in the American Cinematic Cannon. But what 2012′s Hitchcock recognized was that the story behind the film is just as, if not more, fascinating than the film itself. There was so much history and groundbreaking decisions that occurred in the process of making that film, many things the public has never been shown. But more importantly, the man behind the film, Alfred Hitchcock, had inner demons in his own life that led him to the point of making a film about a woman getting stabbed in a shower. That process, an examination of the human condition, is a fascinating, and often untold narrative of one of America’s most beloved directors.

It’s an ambitious effort with a purposeful story to tell. So why’s it generally unheard of? The producers of the film released Hitchcock last week in a very select number of theaters so as to qualify themselves for consideration in the 2013 Oscar race. They plan to expand the film to more and more theaters in a roll-out fashion in the weeks and months to come. Nevertheless, it did only gross $300,000 worldwide. But it’s been a critical darling. The Huffington Post’s Tom O’Neill said of the film that, “When the film unspooled at AFI Fest on Thursday night, the audience burst into wild huzzahs at the end. This Hitchcock is so well made, so much fun and so suspenseful that it would make the original Hitchcock proud … It’s a serious contender for Best Picture, lead actor, lead actress, adapted screenplay, makeup, music score, and maybe art direction.”

I haven’t seen the film yet, but am lucky to live in Los Angeles, so it is in theaters around me. I plan to attend in the coming weeks, and hope others get excited about a film that’s taken the less conventional route of limited advertising as their feature begins to play around the world. You haven’t seen commercials or billboards, but you deserve to know about the dark horse candidate for every major category at the Oscars.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

  1. A screenwriter on the film Black Swan.