In a world that is oversaturated with remakes, reboots, and peoples constant complaints about these films, I don’t think there’s any better time to revisit one of the biggest mistakes in film history. Before the major craze of remaking horror films, Academy Award nominated Gus Van Sant decided that the follow up to his 1997 film Good Will Hunting would be a remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic, Psycho.
Before we start I am going to heavily compare this film to its 1960 counterpart. I know that many remakes shouldn’t necessarily be compared to the original as the remakes need to stand on their own, and sometimes (though rarely) they surpass the original. But, this film NEEDS to be compared to the original for reasons that will be clear very soon.
The 1998 version of Psycho has many, many problems and it will become incredibly clear that I flat out hate this movie. I am not going to sugarcoat it, this film makes my blood boil. I am not a fan of remakes in general, however I do usually give them a shot. I may enjoy the franchise and who knows, maybe the remake will begin a new franchise with a new storyline, actors, characters, etc. There are some films however that do not need to be remade and should not be remade. Psycho is definitely one of them. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that there is not one Hitchcock film that needs to be remade. But in 1998, Universal did just that, so let’s delve into this dung heap of a movie.
Gus Van Sant was the “director” of this film and I put “director” in quotation marks because he really didn’t direct anything. The film is a shot-for-shot remake of the 1960 version. Yes, you read that right, a shot-for-shot remake. Meaning that every single shot is identical to the 1960 film. What the hell was the point of remaking this film then? If you’re just going to copy the original film 100%, then what’s the point of making it? Just go watch the original film! I cannot understand why Universal decided this was a good idea; it boggles my mind! So in reality, Van Sant should not receive a directing credit, Hitchcock should. Van Sant may have directed the actors (or maybe he just had them watch the original film), but he sure as shit didn’t choose angles or anything. This must have been the easiest directing job in the history of film.
I want to point out that there is VERY little changed from the original. Among the changes are: the film is now in color instead of black-and-white, the amount of money stolen is more to reflect the time change, Norman Bates masturbates while looking at Marion Crane through the hole in the wall (wow, can’t believe Hitchcock missed that one) and Lila grabs her Discman instead of her coat before going to the Bates Motel towards the end of the film. Oddly, there is an entire scene missing from the film for some reason. In the original, Sam and Lila go to speak with the Sheriff as he and his wife are leaving church. In the scene, Sam and Lila tell them that they went to the Bates Motel but there was no one there and that they were going back. It doesn’t sound important and obviously the film makes sense without it, but I don’t get why they chose to not include it as they were just copying the original anyway. Finally, and as the biggest “fuck you” to the audience, fans of the original, the original cast and crew, and fans of classic Hollywood in general — they changed the fucking look of the house! And you want to know why? So would I. They literally built a facade and placed it in front of the original house. The Psycho house is iconic! That would be like doing a remake of The Wizard of Oz and replacing the ruby slippers with Nikes. What in holy hell were they thinking? There is literally no reason whatsoever to do that!
Those reasons aside, let’s talk about the casting choices. First off, the film was horribly cast. Even veteran actors like William H. Macy and Julianne Moore are terrible in this film. But the worst offender by far is Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates. Vince fucking Vaughn as Norman Bates! What a way to shit on Anthony Perkins. Perkins was a genius in the role, and he played the nervous guy brilliantly. Go back and watch the original Psycho and revel in the way that he stutters and trips over his words. That may seem easy, but to do it so convincingly is incredibly difficult. Now, let’s jump back to 1998 and watch Vaughn’s vomit performance. He literally sounds like he’s just trying to get through it as quickly as possible. There’s no pauses, there’s no tension, and he can’t pull off the performance at all. During the classic “A boy’s best friend is his mother” scene, he just bolts through it as if he’s reading off a cue card. Why Gus Van Sant thought Vince Vaughn was a great choice to play that part is fully beyond me.
I think part of the reason the cast was so bad was due to the shot-for-shot remake, the dialogue wasn’t changed. They’re playing in modern day with dialogue from damn near 40 years ago! So that may be why the performances were so off, but at the same time I don’t think these actors were giving it their all. And as for Vaughn, I think he was just a very, very poor choice to play the part. Vaughn has proven himself to be a comedic actor, but in a dramatic role? He is not good.
So, in closing I want to reiterate how much I truly, truly hate, hate, hate, hate this film. There was no reason to make it and even Universal realized it. A few years later they announced they were going to remake another Hitchcock film, The Birds, and almost immediately canceled it. Hollywood needs to back off with the remakes. Sometimes they work out pretty well (Ben-Hur, The Fly, Dawn of the Dead) but most of the time they fuck it up so badly that any chance of the franchise continuing on ends (Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street). I wish we could go back to the days when if a studio wanted to continue on making films, they would just make sequels. Those days are sadly over and we live in this shit world where studios want to remake or reboot everything.
I want to dedicate this article to geniuses Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Perkins and the cast and crew of the original Psycho — they are the ones who made a truly wonderful film.