Psycho (1998)

Please! Do Not Reveal the End of This Picture… again

I was sorely tempted to dig up the old James Agee review of Psycho from 1960, change a few adjectives and update the references – but I doubt anybody would get the joke.

Director Gus Van Zandt has given a lot of reasons (defenses) as to why he made a remake of Psycho. He wanted to know what it was like to make that movie. He was thinking that a lot of young people have never seen it and he wanted to show it to them. And of course: why not? But I tend to think of it more in terms of an analogy he made to a band doing a straight cover of a classic recording.

This is something that’s never been done before. Sure, there’ve been filmmakers who have remade films as close to the original, especially to take advantage of new technology, such as when they reshot The Unholy Three in sound. But here we have a case of another artist reproducing the work of a genius, for little more reason than curiosity’s sake.

I’ll admit, I’m game for any bit of cinematic oddity. Van Zandt’s Psycho is a singular work precisely because it’s such a copy – the experience surely works for those who have never seen the original, and I saw plenty of patrons jumping in their seats at the screening I attended – but it also works in a completely different way for those of us that are very familiar with it.

Here is a thriller that I’ve seen many times before, yet this is also the first time. The turns of the plot hold no suspense, other than wondering where Van Zandt will stray from the template. Yet, I found myself growing fond of Anne Heche’s Marion Crane just as I had Janet Leigh’s, however I was totally resigned to the fact that she would have to go. Vince Vaughn’s acting suffers in comparison to Anthony Perkins. He makes a stab at doing something different, playing Norman Bates as more of a giggly misfit, but comes off something akin to a tall, broad-shouldered Peter Lorre. Julianne Moore truly scores by fleshing out and loosening up the part of the tight-ass sister, making Vera Miles’ original interpretation seem frigid while pushing Viggo Mortensen into the scenery.

Overall, this is an interesting but forgettable way to spend a couple of hours – hardly worth the uproar. Remember how riled up people got in the ’70s over the remake of King Kong? Not many do, and not many will think too much about this year’s Psycho in a decade or two.

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