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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 Edward Johnson-Ott
1 star out of 4

Generally, I take meticulous notes during film screenings, but about a third of the way through "Psycho," I simply closed my folder, sat back and put in my time. Taking notes on this exercise in cinematic mimicry seemed pointless. Almost as pointless as the movie.

When director Gus Van Sant made his decision to recreate Alfred Hitchcock's horror classic on as close to a shot-by-shot basis as possible, he forgot to factor in time. In 1960, "Psycho" was a shocker, but this is 1998 and Van Sant's pseudo-Xerox is flat, mannered and often downright boring.

Were Alfred Hitchcock alive and remaking "Psycho" today, the finished product wouldn't have looked anything like this. Hitchcock would have taken into account the myriad horror films released in the 38 years since the original, and revised his film accordingly. After exercises in terror like "Silence of the Lambs" and an endless stream of slasher flicks, it takes a lot to frighten contemporary audiences. Gus Van Sant refuses to acknowledge this and the result of his tunnel vision is sad.

His slavish adherence to the original is all the more frustrating because of the few cursory changes he does make. Aside from a couple of bare asses and some whacking-off sound effects, the most notable change is the dollar amount of the stolen money, bumped up from $40,000 to $400,000. If Van Sant saw the need to adjust for inflation, why did he stop there? Didn't he notice that his "Psycho" isn't particularly scary?

Most of the film just plods along, with Bernard Herrman's magnificent score providing far more momentum than anything onscreen. Except for Anne Heche, whose paranoid, guilt-ridden attempt at grand larceny is the most compelling part of the film, the cast comes up lacking. As Marion Crane, Heche gives the character much more depth than Janet Leigh, but her screen time is limited. Chad Everett overacts wildly in a minor role. Julianne Moore and Viggo Mortensen come off like a bargain basement Scully and Mulder, and William H. Macy, looking quite uncomfortable in ridiculously anachronistic clothing, is completely wasted.

And then there's Vince Vaughn. To his credit, Vaughn doesn't copy Anthony Perkin's landmark performance as Norman Bates. Unfortunately, Vaughn is too tall, too imposing and his acting too overtly sinister for the role, and his nervous giggle sounds affected. Norman Bates is supposed to appear deceptively mild-mannered, but Vaughn's Norman Bates appears merely deceptive. The talented actor was much more frightening in the recent "Clay Pigeons."

I went into Van Sant's "Psycho" with an open mind, but left the theater angry. The film is dedicated to Alfred Hitchcock, but does him a disservice by dragging one of his works into an age where it no longer fits. If all the publicity surrounding this project intrigues you, rent the original. You'll travel back to 1960 and enter an ominous black and white realm of shadows and suggestion. You can watch Hitchcock's "Psycho" and see a pivotal work that influenced a generation of filmmakers. Or you can sit through Van Sant's academic curio of the same name and leave the theater scratching your head. This shouldn't be a hard decision to make.

Copyright 1998 Edward Johnson-Ott

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