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
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
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