Catching Up: “Psycho (1998)”

IMG_5131-0You hear that sound? That’s the sound of Alfred Hitchock pounding on on his coffin. He was originally turning over in his grave, but that wasn’t working, so he resorted to the next best thing.

The Universal Pictures film “Psycho”, well, yeah… I don’t think I need to say it.

This unnecessary remake stars Vince Vaughn (upcoming season “True Detective”, “Delivery Man”), Julianne Moore (upcoming “The Hunger Games: Mockinjay Part II”, “Seventh Son”), Viggo Mortensen (upcoming films “Far From Men”, “Jauja”), William H. Macy (upcoming “Walter”, “Shameless (U.S. TV series)”), Chad Everett (“Undercovers”, “Mulholland Dr.”), Philip Baker Hall (upcoming “Playing It Cool”, “Rake (U.S. TV series)”), Anne Haney (“Providence”, “Ally McBeal”), Rance Howard (“Bones”, “Kroll Show”), James LeGros (“Person of Interest”, “Constantine (2014 TV series)”), James Remar (“State of Affairs”, “Lap Dance”), Rita Wilson (“Girls”, “The Good Wife”), and Anne Heche (“Wild Card”, “The Michael J. Fox Show”).

This film was directed by Gus Van Sant (“Promised Land”, “Restless”) and written by Joseph Stefano (“Two Bits”, “The Outer Limits (1963 TV series)”). It is based on the novel of the same name by Robert Bloch.

The film originally hit theaters on Dec. 4, 1998. The film would later be nominated for three Razzie Awards, winning two.

For some time now I’ve had a digital copy of this film just waiting to be seen. What? It was free. When I saw that “Psycho” was going to be on, I knew now was a good enough time as any to watch it! I’ve been curious for some time as to what it looks like. I wish that curiosity had killed a cat instead. The only thing I truly liked was a special thank you at the end of the credits that read “John Woo for his kitchen knife”. Now that is funny!

This film was painful. Well, okay, except for the score, but it’s the score from the film “Psycho”, so how could it be bad? It did sound a little crisper, which could just be that it was recorded using better technology or something, I don’t know. Whatever it was, it just sound a little better. I still thoroughly enjoyed it, and must say that other than the original “Planet of the Apes”, I don’t think I’ve like an older films score as much as I do this one.

The main thing about this, and if you haven’t ever read about it or seen it, is that it’s basically a shot for shot remake. Remaking this film wouldn’t have been bad enough, instead Van Sant had to go and shoot, basically, the same damn thing.

Just having a slightly different opening title sequence, different cast, and it in color doesn’t mean it’s worth it or that you have a good film. Things get worse as you watch and notice little things that were changed, and things that weren’t. For starters, there’s the going from $40,000 to $400,000, a different motel sign, different year, and the absolutely unnecessary, nudity. None of those I can figure out.

There’s also the fact, in case you missed it, that Stefano (who wrote the original) is credited as being the writer for this film. If you remember the original, like I do so well (duh), it’s the exact same script. This goes hand in hand with being a shot for shot remake, and makes the whole thing all the more annoying. Not many, but a few times, does this whole approach not make any sense. When we first meet Heche and Mortensen, there’s a line that just stood out more than it should’ve. “I’m late, and you have to put your shoes on.” This makes no sense as Mortensen is standing there naked, which you can clearly see.

Later, there’s the conversation between Heche and Vaughn, which is even more awkward than the original to begin with, that doesn’t quite work either. She says, “…put her someplace.” He replies, “Do you mean an institution? A mad house?” When a conversation like this is supposed to be this serious, you wouldn’t find anyone saying mad house. By just going with the original script, changing nothing, it makes the film even more awkward than it already is. This need to follow the script so much is only more confusing when you hear the line, “Let me get my walkman.” Oh dear god. Van Sant could change that, to make it fit with the times, but not more or just get a new writer. Very sad.

Then there’s also the characters. They’re even less interesting than in the original. The only one that seemed like a major improvement was Moore’s Lila Crane. She was made more assertive, concerned, as well as aggressive. The finale and big “reveal” about Norman Bates was probably the best thing, even though it as a whole sucked still, because Moore was being an active person. She didn’t just stand there dumbfounded. She reacted. She kicked Vaughn in the face so Mortensen could restrain him. Definitely fit well with this characterization of Lila Crane. She actually seems to have an interest that extends beyond just being a way to push the story forward. Everyone else just is. Not exactly bad, but not nearly as interesting.

The problem with Heche is she doesn’t have that innocent woman look that came so naturally for Janet Leigh. I don’t exactly think she, or anyone for that matter, was trying too hard to achieve that look, which shouldn’t be a problem, but somehow is. Next there’s the issue of lack of any kind of chemistry. Everyone would probably have been better served if this had been some sort of staged reading of the script.

Vaughn was a bad choice. He just looked like a creeper. Straight from the beginning, he didn’t have that look of innocence that Anthony Perkins had. The thing that doesn’t send red flags up immediately, which it should’ve done. Things get worse when, for whatever reason, Van Sant had Vaughn go beyond being a creep to being a perv. They had to throw in the unzipping of his pants and subsequent masturbation to tell us nothing. It did nothing. Was just there to add another reason for the “R” rating. One scene that wasn’t very good was when Macy was asking him questions about Heche. Vaughn just looked guilty as hell. No matter how he tried to cover when he misspoke or explain something, everything about him was off. To make his character more annoying, there was his little laugh he did. While it was only a few times, it didn’t achieve even creepy. Just irritating.

While I now detest this film even more than before, there’s something that’s a bit funny. The only reason I was paying enough attention was too see how things looked when compared to the original. I didn’t pay nearly as much to the original as I did this one. Very sad. The only thing left is to mention a thought I’ve had on this. It shouldn’t have been this bad. Stage productions do this all the time. When actors have to replace other actors during a run, or when you have a revival (or two) of some show, you get a slightly different take. Why didn’t it work even with this? Is it just because stage and film are completely different in the entertainment industry? There’s something about this thinking that just makes it impossible to apply it to film.

I know this next statement is pretty much going to be blasphemous, but I must say it. I think audiences would’ve been somewhat more receptive to a remake like we see today, than what was offered with this. The outcome couldn’t possibly be any worse, could it?


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