Why Gus Van Sant’s Psycho homage doesn’t work

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Why Psycho 1998 doesn’t work – Anthony Perkins-Vince Vaughn – Courtesy of FrightDay, Shamley Productions, Universal Pictures, Imagine Entertainment

In 1998, Gus Van Sant dared to remake Hitchcock’s 1960 horror classic Psycho and match it shot for shot. Did this bold move pan out?

“Mother- what’s the phrase? She isn’t quite herself today.” – Norman Bates

The Road to Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions

Gus Van Sant is a fine director with impressive credentials under his belt. In the 90’s, he was the darling of the indie scene helming critically acclaimed films like the Academy Award winning Good Will Hunting, My Own Private Idaho and To Die For. He parlayed that success into the 2000’s with another Oscar winner, Milk starring Sean Penn.

However, some of his fans may have forgotten that in 1998, he did a remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho. An ambitious undertaking to say the least but in my humble opinion, totally unnecessary. I saw the film in the theater and rewatched it yesterday to see if I still felt the same way.

I did. When I first read about his project I was actually enthusiastic about it because he was planning to match Hitch’s original masterpiece shot for shot. He also wasn’t going to rewrite the script. This was totally unheard of because usually every director wants to put his or her stamp on a project.

Another thing that excited me about Van Sant’s approach to Psycho was the casting. The actors that he assembled were high caliber performers, not unknowns. These were proven Hollywood entities.

Of course, trying to pay homage to the original effort was going to be an uphill battle but with the script already in place (courtesy of screenwriter Joseph Stefano and Robert Bloch who wrote the novel) that was one less mountain to climb. Stefano was a proven entity in not only the world of film but also in television.

Bloch in addition to being a renowned novelist was also an accomplished television writer.  So, the material was definitely there and proven to be well received.

The A-Team

If you look at this list on paper, it is definitely a selling point. That is why I could see Universal and Imagine Entertainment going along with this idea. Let’s take a look at the players.

  • Norman Bates – Vince Vaughn
  • Marion Crane – Anne Heche
  • Lila Crane – Julianne Moore
  • Sam Loomis – Viggo Mortensen
  • Milton Arbogast – William H. Macy
  • Dr. Simon – Robert Forster
  • Sheriff Chambers – Philip Baker Hall

All of these thespians are known and have exceptional resumes. However, in theory it seems like a no brainer but in practical application, they just didn’t gel.

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