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The F*cking Black Sheep: Psycho (1998)

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

Psycho (1998)
Directed by Gus Van Sant

“ To judge it based upon Hitchcock is an impossible task.”

Remakes. Everyone seems to got one. It's like a virus out of control. Or maybe it’s like a nasty girlfriend who you can’t stay away from. They’re painfully bad, yet for whatever reason, you keep coming back for more even though the ending is already known. However, hope remains that something new and different might just happen somewhere along the way.

To be fair, remakes aren’t anything new as Hollywood has always been the world’s biggest recycling machine. If it isn’t movies, then there’s always been the clip show or whatever. Of course, there’s varying degrees of remakes. There’s low-level stuff like The Fog or The Mechanic that’s annoying, but no one really cares in the end. But when true classics are recrafted, people get pissed (looks at the shit Evil Dead is getting!).

Case in point: Psycho. Yes, the biggest, grandest, most famous horror film ever created – a perfect film (minus the in-case-you’re-too-dumb-to-understand ending) in nearly everyway, but it is old, so perhaps that’s why Gus Van Sant decided we needed a newer version with that goofy new guy from Swingers (this is back in ’98 remember) and in stunning Technicolor! Actually, to be fair, Psycho isn’t this untouched sacred cow. It had three sequels and there’s even a prequel on the way very soon as the first promo pics just hit the web (not to mention the bio movies out). But to be fair again, these are spin-offs, ways to keep the franchise without stepping on the shoes (probably some orthopedics in there) of a great Hitchcock.

Now, many would say Van Sant’s Psycho pissed all over Hitchcock’s shoes, making sure they were good and damp then telling the world that it was done out of respect. It’s an easy movie to trash, really, especially since Van Sant decided to shoot the thing shot for shot, offering little if any new interpretation to the material. The few additions he did make, like Bates jerking off, didn’t really add anything. If producers yearned to create an updated version, they really should’ve brought new ideas, new concepts to the project. With that said, I don’t really care. Van Sant’s Psycho remains an entertaining exercise with plenty of dumb faults, but damn it if it isn’t enjoyable anyway. A truly bad remake is a train wreck. This isn’t that. It’s more of a …misunderstanding.

Why? Well, for starters, everything looks great. It sounds great, but mainly it’s the cast, who is all in, and if anything, I think the filmmakers made interesting choices. I actually forgot that Ann Heche was an actor considering I haven’t seen her since…Volcano maybe? Who knows, but damn is she's good as Marion Crane, giving the character a little more depth and a little more life to her. I knew she was gonna die, but I still rooted for her. William H. Macy has never disappointed but he plays the PI a little too standard, a little too 1960’s (and his death scene sucks. What’s with the sheep and naked chick?). Viggo Mortensen and Julianne Moore as the boyfriend and sister feel thicker, giving them a little more anger, but so what.

It's the Norman Bates show after all, and while no one will every duplicate Perkins’ eerie and believable character, Vaughn tries. Boy does he try. And mostly, he succeeds with some moments, especially the dinner scene with Marion. The problem is Vaughn's become a different actor now so it's odd rewatching him in a dramatic role when he’s been nothing more than the witty asshole for years. He's still good in the role, but Vaughn looks like he could be a killer. He's too tall, too thick. He looks like he might be able to kick someone’s ass. I think he would have been better off to play Bates slightly different, dropping the nervous laugh as he doesn’t create the unsure nervousness. Vaughn always looks too confident. He might as well played him slightly stronger. Why not. Make the thing your own.

With all that said, it’s not the actors who really caught shit for the movie. Van Sant got slapped pretty good, nearly ending his career (he didn’t do anything of note until ‘08 with Milk), but he was screwed either way, so think of the remake this way: dig it as an experiment meant only for lovers of film. To judge it based upon Hitchcock is an impossible task, which, of course, is why people bitch to begin with so don’t bitch for once. So get the family around for the holidays, relax, and try to watch the thing as its own thing, but be sure to keep a close eye on your mom or that odd brother you have. And if you can't do that, watch it like the most expensive film experiment ever.

GET PSYCHO DVD HERE

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