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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 Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

"You'd better watch out for the quiet guys," they always told us, and if you think that's just an expression, see "Psycho." Alfred Hitchcock's original 1960 version, based on a novel by Robert Bloch and a screenplay by Joseph Stefano, was so scary that three sequels followed, plus a TV movie, "Bates Motel." Some say that the Hitchcok murder set-pieces are so potent, they can frighten even a viewer who's seen them before. Because every detail of the Hitchcok offering was flawless, even the endlessly imitated score by Bernard Hermann, you can't blame Gus Van Sant for wanting to direct this third sequel--almost exactly following the script, design, and music of the classic terror trip made thirty-six years ago. And why not? There's a whole generation out there that has never seen the archetype, nor are many of its members the sort who'd rent videos of movies that are more than two years old.

Unfortunately, times have changed. The 1960 "Psycho" whose shower scene broke new ground in gore, is tame. The extra blood generated by the design team doesn't make a dent in shock value. Strangely enough, though, the prosaic poster showing murder victim Marion Crane (Anne Heche) behind a shower curtain was banned in Boston, but not even her limp body, now thrust across the bathtub's borders with backside gravity, would stir anyone who is even slightly less repressed than Ken Starr.

If it were simply a matter of time's passing the fever-pitch thriller by, we could tell director Van Sant, "Nice try." But while he has followed the master's style almost religiously, what's missing is the indispensable factor that separates art from technique. There's an indefinable something that Hitchcock brought to the movie, but if we were to define what's missing in four words, think "Anthony Perkins" and "Janet Leigh." Anne Heche is a fine actress but in this slightly dumbed-down version she is apparently directed to express her inner state by a series of grimaces and tics and moans. Janet Leigh did not need to do this: less is more. Not appreciating this concept, Van Sant installed a masturbation scene. When Marion undresses for her shower and is spied on through motel owner Norman Bates' one-way glass, Bates (Vince Vaughn) masturbates in much the style of Billy (Rufus Reed) in "Happiness," and Ted (Ben Stiller) in "There's Something About Mary." Not only is this overkill, but as Harry Knowles points out in his website review of the movie, homicidal maniacs do not get off by masturbation but only by killing.

"Psycho" deals with a young woman, Marion Crane (Anne Heche) who steals $400,000 form one of his boss's clients and, while hightailing it to some island, is forced by a storm to stop at a motel off the beaten path. Welcomed by the friendly Norman Bates (Vince Vaughn), who is obviously turned on by her, she has a sandwich in his office and then retreats to cabin 1 for a shower and sleep. She never gets past the tub. When her boy friend (Viggo Mortensen) and sister (Julianne Moore) search for her, they are at first charmed by the gregarious motel director, but find him not so pleasant and his mother even less fetching. Everything has been brought up to date except for the private investigator, who is played by William H. Macy as though he had just come out of a time machine from the 1940s.

Vince Vaughn simply does not convey Norman's inner madness with Anthony Perkins's elan, nor can Viggo Mortensen, who comes across as somehow eccentric, match the undeviating John Gavin in the 1960 work. Perhaps the producers should have heeded critic Leonard Maltin, who said thirteen years ago in reviewing "Psycho III," "just some gratuitous blood and unpleasantness...Good night, Norman."

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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