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movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Psycho

Starring: Anne Heche, Vince Vaughn
Director: Gus Van Sant
Rated: R
RunTime: 109 Minutes
Release Date: December 1998
Genres: Suspense, Thriller

Review by Greg King
2 stars out of 4

When it was revealed that Universal studios and Gus Van Sant were planning to remake Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 classic Psycho the initial reaction was "Why?" The only legitimate reasons for remaking a film are to add something fresh and original to a film that is old and very dated, or because the technology has enabled directors to create effects that weren't possible way back when. There is a precedent for Hollywood remaking films. Most notably a number of European comedies and dramas have been remade by Hollywood, ostensibly bringing art house films to a multiplex crowd. Recently, Dutch director George Sluizer remade his The Vanishing for Hollywood, and John Badham directed The Assassin (aka The Point Of No return), a slavish shot by shot remake of Luc Besson's tough thriller La Femme Nikita. Hitchcock himself has been remade several times, from The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, and Dial M For Murder, to his own remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Brian De Palma successfully reworked Vertigo with his thriller Obsession, which perfectly captured Hitchcock's style.

This workmanlike and unnecessary remake of Psycho seems to exist for no other reason that to introduce this classic to a whole new generation of film goers who have never seen the original in a cinema, or who can't be bothered to sit through a black and white film. It is indicative of the bankruptcy of ideas within Hollywood when a director has to remake a classic film virtually shot for shot. It is an interesting cinematic exercise, true, but it fails to add anything fresh or interesting to the film, and Van Sant fails to stamp his own style upon it.

Original writer Joseph Stefano has been hired to rework his screenplay, but he adds little to the film. Psycho is a curiously old fashioned and dated film, and a number of anachronisms creep into the action and the dialogue.

Van Sant adds nothing of his personality to the film, and instead he seems to have replicated Hitchcock's style, right down to the close-ups and dazzling camera angles, without capturing the uneasy atmosphere. He even uses the original Bernard Hermann score to underscore the tension. But somehow, even the famed shower scene doesn't seem quite as frightening here. Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, etc) is the wrong director for this project - it probably required someone who reveres Hitchcock.

The biggest problem with the film lies in the casting of the central character, the unforgettable Norman Bates. Anthony Perkins had the nervous tics, the unnerving edginess, the haunted, gaunt visage, and the disturbing air that made him seem nuts. Vince Vaughn (recently seen playing another psychotic killer in Clay Pigeons) on the other hand is far too butch and masculine, and hardly seems convincing.

Anne Heche is fine as Marion Crane, the embezzler who checks into Bates' motel, for a night, and finds more than she bargained for. The supporting cast is fleshed out with solid performances from William H Macy in the Martin Balsam role as the private investigator, Julianne Moore as Marion's sister, and Robert Forster (from Jackie Brown, etc) as the psychiatrist.

The cinematography from Chris Doyle, the Sydney born photographer who is a favourite of Wong Kar-wai, often appears suitably washed out and drained, giving the film an aged look. However, Universal could have saved themselves a lot of money and critical anguish by re-releasing the original Psycho in a brand new, restored, pristine print. No matter what happens with this remake, this film will always be remembered as Hitchcock's Psycho, not Van Sant's. Aye, and there's the rub!

Copyright 1998 Greg King

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