Psycho ** (out of 5) (1998)

Cast: Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortenson, William H. Macy

Directed by Gus Van Sant


Treading on some serious hallowed ground here, folks. Director Gus Van Sant decides he wants the certain fruitless endeavor of remaking a masterpiece. Talk about doomed from the start!

A secretary is entrusted with the transport to a bank of $400,000. Being impulsive she decides to steal the money taking off, but poor weather conditions forces her to stay in an out of the way motel run by a quirky young man, with taxidermy as his main hobby. Her lover and sister both become worried when they haven't heard from her and decide to investigate, and are shocked at what they find.

There was a nagging question that occurred to me constantly while viewing this remake: "Why?" The original film is a landmark in movie history, a true American work of art created by a genius. If the original film were not so well-known, if every shot and plot device hadn't already been stolen by countless films, this may have worked. It doesn't.

This leads to two different types of viewers to try to please: those who have seen the original and those who haven't. Those who have seen the original will be totally bored because the film is almost shot-for-shot just like the original, which makes for some marginal interest for people trying to compare the new one to the old, but also means there will be absolutely no surprises in store. Coming from a film where people were not allowed in the theater after starting because of all the surprises, this makes for some tedious viewing.

People who haven't seen it before will be even more bored. The original has been virtually raped of all ideas by so many modern day films, that this remake offers nothing that hasn't been recycled dozens of times. To these viewers, I feel sorry. You really should watch the original first. This remake just holds nothing of interest to you since you don't even have the old-to-new comparison to keep you occupied during the monotony.

The film itself isn't horrible. It just suffers from B-list actors, a less-than-inspired director, an old fashioned script, and a lack of fresh ideas. Other than getting to hear Herrman's wonderful score (here done by Danny Elfman) done in stereo, it pales to the original in every other respect.

As an homage to the original, it does more to harm the original than to pay tribute. It makes a new generation of moviegoers, who already are ignorant of old films and the history of cinema, another reason not to see the original. Those who see the original after this remake will now be bored, but most will choose not to even view the classic because this one seems so weak and stupid it will make them care even less about seeking the 1960 film out.

Ideally, PSYCHO should never have been remade. But if it had to be, it would have been smarter to do like another Hitchcock remake did, A PERFECT MURDER, where they change so much from the original it breathes new life into a classic. (Coincidentally Viggo Mortenson also appears in that film). Brian De Palma made a career remaking Hitchcock films to great success by changing things to a whole new modern twist.

Hell, even Hitchcock changed things when he did a remake of one of his own films, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. If Hitchcock saw the need, Van Sant should have done the same. As it is now, this remake will remain a footnote for Hitchcock-philes and will be sought out only by curious PSYCHO fans of the original. There's probably no one in their right mind who thinks this version is better than the original, so I beg those of you who haven't seen either. Watch the original first!

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