The melon tale alone is worth the price of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. Having painstakingly filmed Psycho's notorious shower scene, Alfred Hitchcock needed just the right sound to imitate a knife entering a human body. He got a prop man to round up different sizes and types of melons cantaloupes, casabas, honeydews then closed his eyes and listened as the assistant went to work with a blade. After the table was covered with fruit compote, Hitchcock opened his eyes and said simply, ''Casaba.''
There's more where that came from, but while Stephen Rebello's book covers every niggling detail of 1960's Psycho, from its original true-life inspiration (mass murderer Ed Gein) through its unexpected commercial success, he also delivers the larger picture. Shot on the cheap and planting unheard-of horror in the midst of kitchen-sink lives, Psycho marked a crucial turning point in movie history: It was the first Hollywood film without a shred of Hollywood romanticism the first modern movie. Even its maker didn't expect to touch such a public nerve. ''Here's this bloody piece of crap,'' Hitch is quoted as saying, ''and the money doesn't stop coming in.'' B+