Sometimes, the critics are just wrong. This week, we’re bringing Gus Van Sant’s Psycho back from the dead.
Director: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, Julianne Moore
IMDb rating: 4.6
Metacritic rating: 47
Almost 40 years after the initial success of Alfred Hitchcock’s provocative and atmospheric horror Psycho, which left nothing but reverence in its wake, director Gus Van Sant opted to join the ‘remake’ trend with his shot-for-shot re-creation of the original. Upon release, this seemingly inane version of Psycho was greeted with nothing but reproach, from a myriad of critics who declared it a valueless entry to Hollywood cinema. Needless to say, a remake of Hitchcock’s magnum opus was unwarranted – his Psycho has retained its immortality ever since release and it bequeathed the horror genre with an unforgettable and everlasting stain.
The Psycho remake is presented as an experiment – Van Sant’s interpretation of the film as a film, an external and internal examination
Gus Van Sant’s remake was a futile exercise in reincarnating the true macabre that the original was renowned for, but Van Sant’s intentions weren’t typical of directors who have no interest concerning the artistic aspect of filmmaking. Gus Van Sant is an accomplished director with a few poignant narratives under his belt, Milk and Good Will Hunting being just two of the director’s ventures into inflammatory but exceptional cinema. Therefore the perplexing notion of venturing into remake territory could be regarded as a decline in his talent.
But it can also be argued that Gus Van Sant evidently had more on his mind than mere profit with Psycho. It was never his intention to taint Hitchcock’s original, made apparent by the fact that Van Sant made barely any considerable changes to his own vision of Psycho (except for a few obvious add-ons). The aim of the remake, from Van Sant’s oddly artistic motives, was to present the film as an experiment – his own interpretation of the film as a film, an external and internal examination.
To any average film enthusiast, both Hitchcock’s and Van Sant’s Psycho would be completely identical. Except for the drastic change in setting and cast, Van Sant’s Psycho is an undeniable duplicate of Hitchcock’s original. However, beneath the surface there are some minute but significant changes affixed to Van Sant’s Psycho. With a mere 20 seconds added and the sheer dedication applied to the reconstruction of shots, Van Sant demonstrates his perseverance in keeping Hitchcock’s masterpiece alive.
An appealing feature in Van Sant’s Psycho remains the casting, in particular the selection of Vince Vaughn to play Norman Bates
Van Sant slightly alters the infamous shower scene, by adding surreal imagery to the already potent murder sequence. Through peculiar landscape cutaway shots, Van Sant takes the original’s notion of forcing its viewers to witness the brutality of the crime at hand and adds distractions. The other major change is the addition of the masturbation scene, in which Norman Bates (played by Vince Vaughn) is seen not too subtly masturbating to the vulnerable Marion Crane (Anne Heche) whilst she is undressing in front of the bathroom mirror.
Whilst the idea of sexual prurience may not have been directly addressed by Hitchcock in the 1960 Psycho, Hitchcock subtly implied Bates was a depraved sexual pervert. Clearly, palpable depictions of the deed were not needed in Van Sant’s remake – Van Sant would have been better off restraining himself from such literal portrayals. But a significantly appealing feature in Van Sant’s version of Psycho remains the curious choice in casting, in particular the selection of Vince Vaughn to play Norman Bates, a psychopathic murderer.
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The nervous shuffling and the strangely compulsive mannerisms that form the dysfunctional character are difficult to depict on screen, and Anthony Perkins executed it perfectly, but Vince Vaughn certainly doesn’t disappoint. Vaughn exhibits his talent at and dedication to playing the notorious Bates. His performance may lack the incongruous charm of Anthony Perkin’s powerhouse performance, but he still portrays Norman with a surprising knack for homing the character. By adopting the disconcerting awkwardness that makes up Norman, Vaughn clearly makes the character his own.
Despite the negativity that this remake of Psycho has received since release, it could be argued that Gus Van Sant displayed some bravery in attempting to replicate one of the most respected and beloved horror films of all time. It may not possess the desired efficiency that Alfred Hitchcock’s work of art retains, but through Psycho, Van Sant shows his knowledge of the artistic aspect of cinema and validates that his film was not just a mere by-product of the tiresome remake trend. For fans of creativity and diligence, Psycho is a worth a watch.
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All images: Universal