PSYCHO (1998) – Universal – Rating: 1/10
Color – 104 minutes – 1.85:1 aspect ratio
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Principal cast: Vince Vaughn (Norman Bates), Anne Heche (Marion Crane), Julianne Moore (Lila Crane), Viggo Mortensen (Sam Loomis), William H. Macy (Milton Arbogast), Philip Baker Hall (Sheriff Chambers), Robert Forster (Dr. Simon).
Screenplay by Joseph Stefano
Cinematography: Christopher Doyle
Music by Bernard Herrmann and Danny Elfman
Why? That is the question that echoed in my head as I watched this pointless remake, and the question I continue to ask. I respect Gus Van Sant as a filmmaker. And I have nothing against remakes; there have been several good ones. Even Alfred Hitchcock did a remake of one of his own movies (The Man Who Knew Too Much, original 1934, remake 1956.) But there has to be an artistic reason to attempt a remake; usually a desire to do a “modern take” on something that worked well in an earlier era. Unfortunately, this film is in no way a modern take. This film is often described as a shot-for-shot remake. That is not true. It does come close to that, but there is probably a 5% variance between the two films, and none of that 5% makes the least bit of sense.
Van Sant claimed that he wanted to make Psycho appeal to a younger audience. Perhaps if he would have done a completely new version of the film, he could have succeeded in that goal. I can’t imagine a “young” person watching his version and finding it anything other than stilted, awkward and anachronistic. Hitchcock’s original seems more fresh and modern in comparison.
If Van Sant had chosen to make a literal shot-for-shot remake, his film would have been slightly better, although still stultifyingly boring and completely unnecessary. But the few arbitrary changes that were made only serve to make his remake seem more out of place. The late, great Roger Ebert said of this movie “it demonstrates that a shot-by-shot remake is pointless; genius apparently resides between or beneath the shots, or in chemistry that cannot be timed or counted.”
In choosing to make this movie, Gus Van Sant not only makes it impossible to avoid comparison with Hitchcock’s original film, but actively invites comparison in virtually every scene. Maybe that is the saving grace of this remake: it reaffirms, through comparison, how good the original Psycho was. So, since it seemingly serves no other purpose, let’s compare.
Vince Vaughn – Poor Vince. He doesn’t have the widest range as an actor, but within his limited range he is very good. He is the best schlub in the business. I’m not even sure what a schlub is, but when I hear the word, I immediately picture Vince Vaughn. Old School…Wedding Crashers…I can’t imagine any other actor playing those parts as well as he did. But he is so totally wrong for the part of Norman Bates. He lacks…well, everything that Anthony Perkins had.
Vaughn’s Norman is not sympathetic in the least; he is creepy and repulsive, and more of a caricature than a character. Vaughn so painfully tried to make Norman his own, but the affectations he chose to use (the lip pursing, the mad cackle at the end of sentences) are comical and pathetic. This whole movie hangs on the performance of Norman Bates; Vaughn’s failure is the movie’s failure.
Anne Heche – Relax Vince, at least you didn’t have the worst performance in the movie. The difference between Janet Leigh and Anne Heche in the role of Marion Crane is the difference between good acting and bad. Much of Marion’s performance is internal; she has several scenes where she is alone on screen. Where Janet Leigh conveyed her thoughts through a subtle and believable internal struggle, Anne Heche uses broad, over-emphasized facial expressions and eye movements. To call it caricature would be generous. Her broad pantomime is unintentionally funny, and out of place everywhere except a 1920’s silent film. I kept expecting to see title cards on the screen: WHAT WILL I DO? CRIED OUR DAMSEL IN DISTRESS. Her single worst acting moment in this movie (and there are plenty of bad ones) is the exaggerated roll of the eyes after the guy buying the house hits on her, then walks away from her desk. Marion would have dealt with dozens of men like that; he would have been forgotten before he took two steps, not treated to an eye roll that would make a 15 year-old girl say OMG.
Julianne Moore – She chose to take Lila in a different direction, making her more angry, which actually works well. I still give the nod to Vera Miles.
Viggo Mortensen – I never thought I would say this, but where is John Gavin when you need him?
Willliam H. Macy – Good job. He plays Arbogast straight, in a nod to Martin Balsam’s performance. Not bad.
Philip Baker Hall – Here is the one performance that actually improves upon the original. Granted, he is only in one scene (two in the original film), but Hall makes a very believable sheriff.
Robert Forster – Great actor, wasted on an unnecessary scene.
- Random observations to Gus Van Sant:
- When Marion encounters the highway patrolman, why would you eliminate her dialogue asking if she acts like something is wrong, and his response “Frankly, yes.” That was essential to the exchange, and certainly not dated. Unlike Marion having her vehicle registration in her purse (!), and the cop taking it to the front of the vehicle to stare at the license plate, both anachronisms in 1998.
Thanks for showing us Viggo Mortensen’s ass. Sure haven’t seen enough of that.
- The reason Patricia Hitchcock’s line “He must have seen my wedding ring” was so funny in the original movie is because Janet Leigh’s character was far more attractive. In your version, Rita Wilson is arguably more attractive than Anne Heche, thereby rendering the entire exchange meaningless.
- Why in the hell does Anne Heche have a parasol when she gets out of the car at the dealership? Is that supposed to be appropriate to ’98? Maybe if you’re talking about 1898. Why not dress her in a ruffled skirt and lace petticoat?
- Why did you show Norman Bates whacking off to Marion? So inappropriate, and a clear indication of how little you understood the character. Norman was most likely impotent; his sexual satisfaction would have come from the act of murder. Beyond the psychological implications,the scene was filmed and acted in such a way that it could only inspire laughter. Which it does.
- You changed Arbogast’s line from “If it don’t gel it ain’t aspic” to ” if it don’t gel, it ain’t jello”? Sure, that’s something the kids were all saying in 1998. Way to modernize the dialogue.
- The changes in the cellar scene? First off, all those different species of bird would never roost that way. And Norman says himself “I don’t know anything about birds. My hobby is stuffing things.” There is no logic to your scene on any level.
- The shower scene…do you not understand why Hitchcock’s montage was so effective? Your subliminal shots of roiling clouds deflate the emotional intensity of the scene. Complete failure.
- Ditto the subliminal shots in Arbogast’s murder scene.