PSYCHO (1998) 

Vince Vaughn
Anne Heche
Julianne Moore
Viggo Mortensen
William H. Macy
Chad Everett
Philip Baker Hall
Rita Wilson
Robert Forster

Gus Van Sant


Time: 104 Minutes
Rating: R
Genre: Horror/Suspense

Gus Van Sant doesn't always create movies that I love, but at least he tries to be innovative within the medium. I understand the allure of PSYCHO. It's one of my favorite movies...that I can barely stand to watch. I first saw it at the age of 14 while doing my afternoon chores. I thought I could handle it. I couldn't have been more wrong. I, like most of the initial audience, had never seen anything like it. Hitchcock may have been the master of murder and mayhem, but he had never been as brutal and bloody as this. Especially to the character everyone assumes is the protagonist of the story. It was a brilliant master stroke of movie making and it frightens me to this day. The original is scary, not because of it's brutality, but because of the pure, unassuming, supposedly harmless nature of Norman Bates. His transformation is what makes the movie horrifying...and what makes this updated version downright laughable.

Since I am a big fan of the original, I was somewhat appalled at the idea of Van Sant filming this shot-for-shot remake. The idea of him doing a modernized interpretation gave me even greater pause, but I just couldn't understand what the challenge would be. Why a director would basically just copy someone else? What would there be for him to do? On the other hand, the fact that he did it, actually created an exact duplicate, with perfect lighting, the same sets, is a true marvel. It's kind of creepy, like a recurring dream with a different cast of characters, but the same dialogue and action. It's cinema déjà vu and he almost pulls it off, but alas...

The main reason it doesn't work – it's not original. Everybody already knows the big secret, which kind of takes the steam out of a horror movie. Is that to say you don't beg Anne Heche not to step into the shower? Of course not. You know what's coming, you can't wait to see it, but it still isn't the same. I thought it would be more brutal in color, but it actually wasn't. In fact, I find the Janet Leigh scene to be much worse. I was distracted by Anne's flesh against the whiteness of the tub. I kept expecting to see something, a naughty bit here and there. Obviously, since you didn't see Janet's you don't see Anne's, but still...she just seemed more naked. I also can't decide whether I liked the retro look of everything or not. He included some modern things – Lila Crane listens to a walkman – but everything else, from the clothes to the cars, has a distinct 50s feel, even though you know it's the 90s. Convenient for Van Sant the era is back "in" again. It definitely makes the color thing go down easier, giving the film an old-fashioned look and sensibility. Nothing bad ever happened in the 50s, so how could there be a lunatic running around stabbing people?




"She might have fooled me, but she didn't fool my mother."

Which brings me to the films' main problem – the casting of Vince Vaughn. There are many reasons he isn't right for this part, the first one being he can't act his way out of a paper bag. I understand everyone thinks he's the best thing since sliced bread, but believe me he hasn't put in a decent performance since SWINGERS. What Van Sant was thinking when he cast this slick, pretty boy as the shy, disturbed, almost homely Norman Bates is a mystery to me. The only reason Marion agrees to spend time with him in the original is because even though she thought he was weird, he seemed harmless. A gross misjudgement on her part, but believe me, if you came upon Vaughn's Norman on your travels you wouldn't spend a single minute in his motel. He oozes wackiness and creepiness. You know this guy is a nut just waiting to crack. His expressions range from sleazy to stupid to downright silly. Plus he laughs like a 12-year-old girl. It's just plain ridiculous. Playing a part as subtle as Norman Bates is way out of Vince's league. PSYCHO may be a horror movie, but it wouldn't be a classic if it weren't for Anthony Perkins, pitch-perfect performance.

The rest of the cast is pretty good. Heche makes a good Marion, a woman torn by doubt at her actions, but unable to stop herself. Macy is great as private investigator Milton Arbogast. Just like Martin Balsam, he's one of the best character actors of his generation. Viggo doesn't do much except look good, which is all he's really needed for and Julianne gives Lila a modern spunk that I liked a lot. What can I say? This version is strangely compelling. I threw it into the VCR with the idea that it would just run in the background while I worked. I finally had to stop and just watch the action unfold. Despite its flawed casting, the story still works. The music has a great deal to do with that. Bernard Herrmann's score is used in it's full, creepy glory, just like the first time around, just updated a bit by Danny Elfman. If you have a choice, please, please, please watch the original version. However, if you want to see the results of this experiment, you probably won't be horribly disappointed. It'll still make you think twice the next time you're in the shower.

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