Psycho (1998) (1998)
Director: Gus Van Sant
William H. Macy/Arbogast
In this Gus Van Sant shot-by-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic PSYCHO (1960), cutie pie Marion (Heche) steals some dough from her workplace, hits the bricks and imminently find herself in deep “doo-doo” when she stops by the Bates Motel. Gus? Why, dude?
Having recently covered the original PSYCHO, it was not only odd for me to watch this shot-by-shot remake so soon afterwards, but it was also kind of bizarre to write this review in that…well…I pretty much addressed the same film already! Gus man...who’s Universal studio rod did you turtle-wax to get the green light on this self-indulgent opus? Whoever’s it was, you must have thought that stick one hell of a lesson! Although I did somewhat enjoy watching this “bad idea” as a curiosity item, this remake was beyond totally unnecessary. What a waste of 20 million clams!
SOME SPOILERS AHEAD
Firstly, I’ll admit that I did get off on comparing this carbon copy (which had original writer Joseph Stefano come in to retool his original script) to the original. I particularly dug seeing different actors take on the now “classic” roles and derived lots of enjoyment out of Vince Vaughn, in particular. I was freaking ecstatic that he didn’t attempt to mimic Anthony Perkins’ flawless act as Norman Bates. That would’ve been suicide! Instead, The Vaughn-Man gave us a more obvious and imposing showcase that granted, didn’t hold a candle to Perkins’ layered shtick, but still managed to be fascinating in its own right (that laugh rocked!). It was cool to witness a different type of Norman doing the kitchen-knife dance and Vaughn was my main anchor to the hi-jinx throughout. Furthermore, this remake actually managed to better one character, in my opinion, in the guise of Viggo Mortensen as Sam Loomis. The charismatic and mumbling Cowboy Twang Viggo put out was definitely more appealing than the “standard”, surface show that John Gavin had displayed in the 60’s version.
As a stand alone movie though, PSYCHO '98 worked mostly when Hitchcock was doing the talking as opposed to Van Sant. Let’s face it, all Van Sant did here was duplicate Hitchcock’s vision. So the fine film in here belongs to Hitch, not him! I’ll give Van Sant this though, I appreciated the fact that he did that “long continuous shot” that Hitchcock wanted to do at the time for his opening, but couldn’t due to technology not being up to snuff. Nice little homage to the Master’s wishes there, Padwan! Additionally, he got that “person’s” pupil dilating after his/her death, which was a sweet clean up on a Hitchcock oversight. Lastly, I boogied to a few variations: the additional violence/nudity (I needed something extra to keep me watching this copycat), the new creepy ambient sounds during key scenes and the atmospheric bird cage bit with “mother” (chilling stuff).
But apart from that, most of what Van Sant brought to the table in terms of his ideas were fairly weak. For example:
He had Bates jerk off while looking through the peep hole. That totally lessened and cheapened the scene. Urgh…
He slapped lame subliminal shots into the mix...one of a nude woman wearing an S&M mask and another of an animal standing in the road. WHY AGAIN? Somebody didn’t perform their daily whack and was dropping ACID on set.
He totally altered the PSYCHO house which didn’t look half as creepy as the one in the original.
He tried to improve on the final confrontation. Big mistake! It was totally botched due to the area being too vast, therefore lessening the tension of the original’s claustrophobic setting.
And he shot the film in color which failed to echo the dread-filled B&W aura of the original. It was too damn bright in here and that took away from the impact of the tale!
Like they always say: if it isn’t broken…f*ck off! So all in all, PSYCHO 98 was granted, a well-shot and on occasion, pleasant dub of the original, but that didn’t justify its existence. Why watch a lesser dub when I can see the real deal! To quote Vaughn’s Trent from “Swingers”: “Mikey, you don't want all that "Pirates Of The Caribbean" horseshit, or the "Rock and Roll Grunge Tip". Guys like you and me got to kick it here, old school!”
We get some gory slashings in the face and some bloody stabbings. The film was grislier than the original.
Anne Heche (Marion) offered a mousy and fairly sympathetic show that worked most of the way. Vince Vaughn (Norman) was gripping via his oddball, obviously loony-tunes and daunting show. It was mucho dissimilar to Perkins’ rendition and that’s one of the reasons I liked it. At last, something new! Julianne Moore (Lila) did fine with her “girl power” update of Lila while William H. Macy (Arbogast) owned hardcore in his colorful show. Viggo Mortensen (Sam Loomis) gave his part some added jazz through his rugged, butt-showing Cowboy act. You know the one he could do in his sleep? Yeah, that one!
T & A
We get Anne Heche’s bent over naked ass (nice position there...one that I heard Hitchcock wanted for his Marion that never came about) and the ladies get Viggo’s “viggoed” up buttocks!
When Van Sant copied Hitchcock all was dandy, but when he tried to get too creative he’d fall flat on his face half the time. I did dig on what he did with sound and a couple of his stylish shots though.
Danny Elfman emulated Bernard Herrmann's outstanding score adequately.
What’s the point of doing a shot-by-shot remake of a film? It’s like me taking a “Tim Bradstreet” drawing, putting a piece of thin paper over it, tracing it and then managing to sell it. Isn’t that stealing? More importantly, what’s the point of doing a shot-by-shot remake of one of the most revered genre films in cinema history? NONE whatsoever, but I guess that’s why PSYCHO '98 was, to some extent, fascinating to witness-- the taboo factor of viewing something that should never have been created in the first place. I say, if you want to be introduced to PSYCHO, see the original and THEN hit this remake to get some kicks off dissecting the two takes. That’s the only true worth I see in this re-creation. And always remember: “The beautiful babies don't work the midnight to six shifts on a Wednesday. This is like the skank shift.” Arrow out!
This remake cut out one scene from the original; an exchange between The Sheriff, Lila and Sam in front of a church.
This remake showed Lila finding obvious skin-mags. The original only hinted at it via Lila’s facial expressions when finding the books (no naked chick on the covers in the 60’s version).
The end credits of PSYCHO '98 read: “Thanks to John Woo for use of his kitchen knife.”