Psycho (1998)

DVD Cover (Universal)
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Overall Rating 42%
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Ranked #1,556
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Connections: Psycho

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Vince Vaughn
Vince Vaughn
Anne Heche
Anne Heche
Julianne Moore
Julianne Moore
Viggo Mortensen
Viggo Mortensen
William H. Macy
William H. Macy
Review by Chad
Added: October 22, 2008
Gus Van Sant's remake of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho is a film that I have put off watching ever since it was originally released - yes, just a scant ninety minutes ago marked the exact moment in my life when I first sat down to watch this new interpretation of Hitchcock's masterpiece. In my eyes, this remake just couldn't work: changing anything would have angered my inner fanboy in a way that few other films could, but at the same time, attempting a shot-by-shot remake would fail due to... well, have you ever seen a Hitchcock film? There's a reason that he's considered to be one of the masters, and it's not because he was a slouch when setting up shots and getting great performances out of his cast. For a filmmaker to take a look at the original film and think that he or she could shoot the exact same scenes that Hitchcock did and improve upon them at the same time is just pure lunacy, but this is exactly what Van Sant did. The result is a film that sort of feels like an imitation Mona Lisa; it looks good, but viewers can never shake the feeling that they're simply gazing upon a cheap counterfeit.

Instead of typing up my own synopsis for the film, I'm going to copy Billy Ray's plot outline from his review (found at the above link) because as mentioned, this film was a shot-by-shot remake, and thus, only the names have changed. With that said, let the copying begin:

The film opens with the beautiful Marion Crane (Anne Heche) as she "finishes up" with her boyfriend Sam Loomis (Viggo Mortensen). Marion then proceeds to steal $400,000 from her boss' rich client and flees town. Her crimes take her to the Bates Motel, on an isolated road in the middle of nowhere, where she meets a strange yet somewhat inviting desk clerk named Norman Bates (Vince Vaughn). We can tell something is a little off with Norman, as he has odd conversations with his mother who lives in the old house behind the motel. Eventually, Marion Crane is murdered in her shower. Enter Lila Crane (Julianne Moore), Marion's sister, who starts to worry about her sister and goes on an investigation with Sam, a search which eventually leads them to the Bates Motel and to Norman Bates. William H. Macy co-stars as Detective Arbogast, who is also on the trail of Marion Crane for different reasons.

If the trivia section over at IMDb is to be believed, Van Sant watched scenes from Hitchcock's original for reference while filming his own renditions of said scenes, and let me tell you: it shows. It would seem as though there was zero direction going on during filming other than "See this scene? Say those lines and perform those actions." Granted, if I somehow found myself in his position, I probably would have done the same; after all, how can you improve upon one of the greatest horror films of all time? What could you possibly bring to the table to add to the story? Van Sant did insert a couple of his own ideas into the mix, but the vast majority of the running time is a carbon copy of the original film.

Assuming that you're reading this review because, like me, you put off watching this particular remake, you're probably thinking to yourself that if the original was a horror classic and if this is a shot-by-shot remake, why, it has to be great... right? It may not have had the same impact upon its original release due to the fact that Hitchcock's was original and this remake came out after over forty years of imitators, but it's still an excellent movie... correct? Well, no. You see, Gus Van Sant is certainly no Hitchcock, and watching his attempts at recreating Hitchcock's magic is almost embarrassing at times. Hitchcock made everything on the screen matter; Van Sant threw in an ass shot and a brief glimpse of some boobies. Hitchcock inserted enough symbolism and metaphors to keep a film scholar occupied for months; Van Sant thought that a scene featuring Norman Bates jerking off would be sufficient in giving the audience something to chew on. I can't say that Van Sant completely dropped the ball while watching this as a standalone film, but as a remake, it simply doesn't hold a candle to the original.

Perhaps this film could have been slightly more appealing with a better cast, but again, I just wasn't feeling any of these actors. Anne Heche was the best of the bunch as I felt that she did a great job with the role, but when you compare her performance to Janet Leigh's in the original, it's just no contest. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I felt that Vince Vaughn was horribly miscast as Norman Bates. In the original film, Anthony Perkins played this character as a shy, awkward, slightly off-kilter fellow who seemed to have lived a sheltered life and didn't seem to have everything together upstairs in what is easily one of the best portrayals of a serial killer in cinematic history. Here, Vaughn gives us a character that seems as though he just stepped off of the short bus and is ready for a day of edukashun at the local school for the "gifted." The rest of the cast is just sort of there - nobody stands out, nobody steals any scenes, and everyone just sort of goes through the motions.

I touched upon this up above, but to drag down my enjoyment even more, Van Sant decided to insert a couple of his own ideas into the mix with disappointing results. You're probably thinking that I'm just being an overzealous fanboy here, but truthfully, I'm not: the things that Van Sant added to the film did nothing to enhance it, and in fact, each and every last one of them hurt it. How about the scene in which Lila Crane has just learned that her sister is probably dead and the private investigator assigned to the case has vanished, so she decides to head out to the motel... but first... "let me grab my walkman." This was an attempt to modernize the film a little (in the original, Lila wanted to grab her coat), but seriously - there's a world of difference between "let me grab my walkman" and "let me grab my coat" when dealing with a situation like this, and I literally cringed when I heard this line.

Let's see... did we really need to see Norman Bates jerking off? Did Van Sant honestly look at the original film and say "You know what? That's a great scene, but it needs more masturbation"? Why would you reveal the truth behind Mother Dearest during the shower sequence? The original film had an ending that shocked audiences, but here, we see "her" face thirty minutes into the film and realize exactly where it's going. Also, whose bright idea was it to insert a random clip from a Nine Inch Nails music video into a pivotal scene in the film? I rank early Nine Inch Nails as one of my favorite bands / artists, but this caused me to die a little inside.

As a standalone film, this effort wasn't completely horrible: I enjoyed watching the story unfold once again, and I thought that the opening traveling shot that Van Sant did was better than Hitchcock's (only because the technology didn't allow for it during Hitchcock's time, but still). Regardless, this is a remake that should have never happened: it's a shot-by-shot recreation of something that is just as relevant and frightening today as it was upon its release, so what was the point? Assuming that Hitchcock's version of the film didn't exist, I think that a 7/10 would be appropriate here, but since the original does exist, this one isn't worth much more than a 3/10.
Crispy #1: Crispy - added 10/22/2008, 10:37 AM
This is one of those ever common movies in this genre that needs more boobs, just to give the viewer some justification in why they put themselves through that. I know I'm losing cred here, but I've never seen the original Psycho. I know, it's on the to-do list. Anyway, I admit it's been a long time since I've seen this, but I remember thinking this had a lot of drag in it.
George Snow #2: George Snow - added 10/23/2008, 06:38 PM
This is a movie that is an insult and slap in the face to anyone who watches or loves movies. It's like remaking Gone With The Wind.

If I was in the position of Betty in Argento's Opera I'd have the needles hit my eyes before watching this

Is that a bit strong?
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