Psycho (1998) Gus Van Sant

Production Budget: $20 million

Worldwide Gross: $23 million

Gus Van Sant was always known for being a pioneer in independent cinema.  He achieved indie success with My Own Private Idaho and was most popular with his release of Good Will Hunting.  This lost him credibility with his core audience because they perceived Hunting as Van Sant selling out.  But what does Van Sant do with this popularity?  He makes a shot for shot remake of Psycho.  Whaaaaaaat!?  I’m a defender of remakes, but when you do NOTHING new, then what’s the point?  Now, that’s not entirely true.  He does add some new things.  For one, he updated the lines.  Like, when in the original a person said “Let me get my hat.”, they now say “Let me get my walkman.”  They also add a scene where Norman masturbates to Marion.  Yeah, cause if there was something severely lacking in the Hitchcock version, it was Norman whacking off to Marion.  The critics and the public alike both said WTF!? and then went about ignoring it.  After the failure of Psycho, he remade his own movie )Good Will Hunting) with Finding Forrester and then he tried to reclaim his indie cred with a trilogy of movies dealing with death (Gerry, Elephant, Last Days).

Is it any good?  I haven’t seen the remake, but I saw the original.  So do I really need to rent this?  There is no way you can beat Anthony Perkins’ performance.  He owned that role.  Now, if they had let the cast (Viggo Mortensen, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore) do their own thing, then it might be interesting.  But the question remains: why do I need to watch this when the original is on DVD/VHS?  What is surprising is that this comes from a director whom you would never expect this to come from.  This is a career move that is opposite from nearly everything he did before.  It’s like Quentin Tarantino doing Sleepless in Seattle.


I knew I could never get away with a cop out like the last review.  Even though it is practically a shot for shot remake I still need to see it to fully judge it.  Well, I have now seen it, and it still sucks.  I still wonder what the thought process was behind this.  Maybe Van Sant thought “Well, people don’t watch those black and white movies anymore.  So if I remake this movie in color with modern actors, maybe this new audience will love it all the same.”  I can’t think of any other reason that makes sense.  You have to do something new when you remake a movie.  You have to try to bring something to the table, otherwise why should people care?

Once again, I do overstate my case.  Van Sant does change a few things in this movie.  He adds some nudity, a scene where Norman masturbates to Anne Hache, and splicing in shots of nudity and I believe animal mutilation in with the murders.  I hate to parrot what other reviewers think but Roger Ebert has a point when it comes to the masturbation scene.  It shows the genius of the original to infer there was sexual voyeurism going on, and quite another to actually show it.  When you hear the sound of a zipper going down and the very loud sound of fapping, as well as Vaughn’s O face while cumming to Anne Heche of all people, it really makes you facepalm and give an embarrassed chuckle at the same time.  The dream shots of nudity add nothing, are so minor that if you blink you miss it, and it makes you think any film school reject would come up with that idea to make it more “edgy”.

This remake really comes off poorly.  Even though Van Sant slightly altered the dialog to make it sound more modern, it still feels like it is in another era.  The way people speak and their mannerisms suggest the time when it was originally made and not people with modern sensibilities and demeanors.  And I’m not sure how clear this will sound or if it will just be confusing but here it goes.  It feels like the actors aren’t playing the actual characters.  It feels to me like the actors are playing the actors as playing the characters.  It is very surreal.  I never once buy that Anne Heche (again just for an example) is Marion Crane.  I never see her as an actual character with emotions and motivations.  I see Heche trying to play someone trying to be in a Hitchcock movie.  It’s confusing, I know.

The biggest bit of miscasting is Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates.  He is simply too confident and cool to be playing someone like Norman.  Anthony Perkins had his once and a lifetime role and he perfectly captured the character.  He had a boyish Mayberry exterior.  While he was nervous and stammering, you can see why Marion initially thought he was somewhat charming.  Yet the longer you speak with him you see how damaged he really is.  The fractures on his psyche come out one by one until you are freaked out by this obsessive momma’s boy.  You could no more teach Vaughn to be Perkins as you could have Perkins be a swinger.  It would be like Bruce Campbell playing Crispin Glover in Willard; or Crispin Glover in any role for that matter.  The rest of the cast really doesn’t do much to stand out.  Even though Viggo Mortensen is in this movie he has nothing to do.  He brings nothing new to the character but I fault that on bad direction than bad acting.  The only person that only slightly comes out is William H. Macy as the private investigator.  His role is such that in anyone else’s hands it would have come off as really cheesy, but Macy sells it as believable performance.

Another scene that had me scratching my head was the final scene with the psychologist in the end.  This was only in the original movie because producers thought the audience would be confused.  The psychologist spells out the entire movie for the audience and it is widely considered to be a needlessly added extra scene.  You would think if the modern remake would change anything, it would be the deletion of such a worthless scene.  I guess I was wrong.


One Response to “Psycho (1998) Gus Van Sant”

  1. pointless remake dumb aweful sucked he should not have made this

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