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Psycho
1998 - R - 100 Mins.
Director: Gus Van Sant
Producer: Brian Grazer, Damiel F. Wolf
Written By: Joseph Stefano
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortensen
Review by: John Ulmer
   
"Psycho" is not a bad movie. "Psycho" isn't even a bad remake. To say it is unfaithful to the original is like saying George Lucas' recent installments in the "Star Wars" movies have an ounce of creativity in them. It just comes down to one question: Why? Why make a scene-for-scene remake (literally!) of the 1960 classic, when people can simply watch the 1960 classic itself? To dupe stoned teens into seeing something modern while they are unknowingly watching a replicant of an earlier film? Do the filmmakers want these teens to come out of the theater with a newfound knowledge of essential cinema? I think not. If so, they would have had the smarts to film it in black and white, and make it more of a brother to the original than a disowned son.

I think it is simple: As many films' remakes are extraordinary, others are not, and "Psycho" tries to be that one-in-a-million special remake. I think that the filmmakers wanted to also pay an homage to Alfred Hitchcock: For what other reason would they shoot every scene exactly the same? Save the glimpse of Norman masturbating while watching his guest strip down (which happens for about two seconds), and some extended nudity and focuses on Bates' mother in the infamous Shower Scene, it is all the same. Even the camera techniques, such as when the PI walks up the stairs of the Bates residence and is slashed to death by a crazy old woman. There are, of course, small things such as facial expressions that differ, but if you think that I'm being humorous I am not. Maybe the keen observer will notice that certain things are not focused the same way, such as the stuffed birds in Norman's office--they are out of focus, softer, and not as sharp. We don't get a sense of paranoia, fear, or the feeling that we are being watched by dozens of small eyes. The film is just not as sharp, dark, scary, freaky or filled with paranoia. It is more of a soft "Psycho," which is odd since the film is often more gory than its father.

Gus Van Sant seems to have the purpose and the desire to make a good remake here, but when we know what is going to happen already, we want something knew. There is no sense of unknowing, no sense of fear. We know what is going to happen. This would have been the great chance to provide some more gritty detail into the tale, to modernize things. Of course, if the film had been made this way, no doubt people would have complained it was too different. It's a catch twenty-two.

And Alfred Hitchcock is a much better director than Gus Van Sant. It is easy to mimic another film exactly. It is like a toddler mimicking its parents: If you stuff a toddler in a room by himself, the chances he will pronounce "Momma" perfectly will be much smaller than the chance of putting speaking parents in the room with that toddler. Gus Van Sant is the toddler, and Alfred Hitchcock is in that room with him, feeding him the words. All Van Sant has to do is mimic them.

Another of the film's flaws is the casting of Norman Bates. Vince Vaughn just isn't freaky enough, or scary enough. Anthony Perkins always gave me a sense that he was a lonely man inside a wretched soul. He was insecure, and he made the audience feel that if we were in that motel room with him, we'd feel pretty uncomfortable, too, just like Janet Leigh's character was in the 1960 version. Norman's laugh doesn't have enough insecurity in it. When Perkins laughed, it made us feel as if he was nervous to do so, as if he expected to be picked apart for laughing at the wrong thing. When Vaughn laughs, it's more of a giddy laugh, an airhead's laugh as opposed to a maniac's.

It all comes down to the fact that though "Psycho" is a good film, and a faithful remake, it has no specific purpose. Why would any audience want to watch a scene-for-scene remake of a much, much better film, when they can simply watch the much, much better film? You tell me.

And as the credits role, notice the "thanks to John Woo for his kitchen knife." Needless to say, John Woo's kitchen knife isn't going to be worth as much as the one used in the original.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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