Review: Psycho (1998)

I still can’t figure out for the life of me why this movie was ever made!

Screenplay By: Joseph Stefano
Directed By: Gus Van Sant

There are two moments that leave no doubt as to the lesser quality of Gus Van Sant’s version of Psycho. The first is when Norman Bates makes his initial appearance, the second is when we last see Norman Bates. Both scenes involve Vince Vaughn, and the problems involve Mr. Vaughn’s acting, but I don’t place the blame on Mr. Vaughn. I like Vince Vaughn as an actor, when he wants to be he can be quite the compelling and charismatic figure. It’s a shame that Mr. Van Sant wasn’t willing to let Mr. Vaughn be his usual charismatic self in Psycho. The character of Norman Bates requires a certain amount of charisma and charm, left without said qualities the character is too obvious to be effective. When Norman chuckles in this version of Psycho it is an obviously off putting laugh. When Norman looks at the camera at the end of Psycho it paints a man who is obviously cuckoo. Where Alfred Hitchcock was subtle and willing to rely on the charm of Anthony Perkins, Gus Van Sant is obvious and unwilling to trust his lead actor.

The obviousness of this version of Psycho being a remake comes through in every frame, but it comes through in the worst possible ways. The actors, even Viggo Mortensen who I absolutely adore, are going through the motions. They are following a predetermined course and they have no control over their characters or their acting choices. When Anne Heche talks it is painful because it’s not her acting but it’s her attempting to sound like Janet Leigh. This holds true for the entire cast, there was never a moment where I bought them as anything more than people on a stage attempting to act out a revered movie.

Stylistically Mr. Van Sant does make a few changes, but they don’t add to the picture. The famous shower scene has a few touches added to it that only serve to make it look shoddy and detract from the subtle voyeuristic qualities of the scene. By showing clear as day what happens to Marion, complete with side boob and ass shot, the scene takes place in the open as opposed to through the narrow lens of a voyeur. Mr. Van Sant was aiming for Psycho to be a shot for shot remake, and he only went off the reservation sparingly, but when he did the results were disastrous.

The main reason for Psycho’s failings are that the shot for shot aspect is also quite disastrous. This is a film being directed by one of my favorite directors and starring some actors who I really like. Yet I hated every second I spent with them, I yawned my way through all of Mr. Van Sant’s version of Psycho. I try not to make comparisons to the original when I write, but in this case Mr. Van Sant has left me no other choice. I spent all of his Psycho wishing I was watching Mr. Hitchcock’s Psycho. That is probably the biggest indictment I can levy against this version of Psycho.




4 responses to “Review: Psycho (1998)

  1. Yeah, that was crap. I reviewed it for my Van Sant Auteurs profile. I often think of it as an avant-garde remake where Van Sant decided to just do it shot-by-shot and see how bad it can get. And you know something, I think myself and everyone wanted to see Anne Heche killed in that film because she was horrendous in this. There was an air of smugness into her performance while Vince Vaughn seemed very uncomfortable in his approach to play Norman Bates. It’s not Van Sant’s worst film because technically, it’s not really his film. It’s just a bad copy of Alfred Hitchcock’s version, which is a classic.

    Van Sant’s worst film is “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues”.

  2. I have yet to see Cowgirls, but as of now I would still label this as GVS’s worst film because of the moments where he moves away from the original. I know he intended for it to be a shot for shot remake, but he did change and expand certain scenes, and in my mind that makes it his film, and presently his worst.

  3. Jordan Richardson

    Still haven’t ventured into the void with this one and, thanks to your review, I don’t think I ever will. Sounds awful.

  4. It is quite awful, if not for being a huge GVS fan I probably never would have gotten around to seeing it.

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