Hitchcock’s Psycho Truly Terrifying When Seen in Million Dollar Theater

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Los Angeles Conservancy‘s Last Remaining Seats. And last night, they kicked off the 29th annual series at the Million Dollar Theater with a sold-out screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).

As a typical millennial, before last night’s screening, I had only seen Psycho one other time on a laptop screen–which (shockingly!) is not a terrific way to see any movie, let alone one as intense as Psycho turns out to be when you see it in its intended setting.

And by the way, Hitchcock didn’t just direct the movie; he directed the movie-going experience. He famously barred late-comers from entering the theater to see Psycho. The Conservancy wasn’t that draconian, but they didn’t need to be. Hours before the film started, a line of fans snaked around 4th and Broadway of those eager to get in and fetch good seats.

Built in 1918 with the capacity to seat 2,024 people, The Million Dollar Theater is one of L.A.’s exquisite movie palaces on Broadway. “There’s nothing quite like the Million Dollar. It was Sid Grauman’s first venue in Los Angeles, its decoration is totally unique (did you notice the bison heads and longhorn steer skulls on the outside façade?), and it has a unique feat of engineering – the world’s first reinforced concrete girder,” says Cindy Olnick of the Los Angeles Conservancy. “They had to use concrete because of the steel shortage during World War I. The Million Dollar was one of the first movie palaces in the U.S., and we’re so glad it’s still around.”

About a half hour before the film started, the theater was so packed to the brim with people, you could acutely feel the crowd’s collective body heat. They played a series of trailers of many of Hitchcock’s iconic films including The Birds and Frenzy. Executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy Linda Dishman gave a short introduction, and councilman Jose Huizar, who spearheads the Bringing Back Broadway initiative, spoke about the Conservancy’s role on Broadway.

Original props from the film were on display at the theater. Floorplan of the house next to the Bates Motel.
Original props from the film were on display at the theater. Floorplan of the house next to the Bates Motel. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

The screening began, and as the trailer played, the intensity of the experience became instantly overwhelming.

It was truly the perfect and most terrifying way to see the film. Bernard Hermann’s score seemed unusually loud and pulsed through each scene–truly adding to the terror. It was such a rush to feel as though I were transported back to 1960 and seeing it in theaters upon its release.

My friends and I seemed to be by far the youngest in the theatre, and I’d say to fellow laptop-watching brethren: you don’t know what you are missing.

There are still tickets left to a couple of the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Last Remaining Seats screenings.  How to Marry a Millionaire Saturday, June 20 at The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Wed., June 24 at the Orpheum.

See a trailer of Psycho below.

All photos by Stephen Russo.