psycho remake

Part of what made the 1960 Psycho so infamous was the sneaky way in which Hitchcock and screenwriter Joseph Stefano (who was brought back in to update his script for Van Sant’s film) make the audience think that Janet Leigh’s Marion is the film’s main character, only to kill her off early and switch focus to a completely new set of characters. What made this work was the sympathetic take on the character from Leigh. Marion is, after all, a thief, but Leigh played her as someone the audience can easily relate to, making her abrupt murder all the more shocking. Anne Heche’s approach is less compassionate. “I looked at the character and thought, what a lamebrain,” the actress said. “She pays no attention to what she’s doing. She doesn’t think about the consequences. Who is this doofus? So I kind of went with that. I went with her flightiness.” Heche’s Marion is aloof, completely oblivious to almost everything. It’s not so much that the character is stupid, it’s more that she’s blissfully unconcerned with the results of her actions.

Viggo Mortensen, as Marion’s lover Sam, employs a laid-back, lackadaisical approach to his part, while Julianne Moore, as Marion’s sister, is much angrier than Vera Miles was in the part. The cast member giving the most interesting performance is William H. Macy, as a private eye who meets Norman’s mother up-close-and-personal. While there’s occasionally a deliberate showiness to the other performances, a sense that the other actors are all operating with the original film’s performances in mind, Macy makes his character his own, and as a result, seems to be the only actor having fun.

As the story unfolds along a predestined path, Van Sant and editor Amy E. Duddleston occasionally cut in strange shots that are completely removed from the narrative, such as dark storm clouds rolling across an imposing sky during the shower scene, or a topless blindfolded woman and old footage of a cow standing in the middle of a rainy road. These additions don’t make much sense, and some may find them pointless, but there’s a distinct uneasiness when they flash on the screen. Van Sant is playing with the audience – we’ve grown so accustomed to his scene-stealing that when he introduces a new, unexpected element, we can’t help but be unnerved.

The Psycho Path

Gus Van Sant’s Psycho is a curiosity. It’s not so much a film as it is an art experiment, and there’s something wonderful about that. In the years since its release, it’s found its defenders. Quentin Tarantino, curiously enough, once said he prefered the remake to the original. In 2014, filmmaker Steven Soderbergh uploaded a feature-length version of Psycho that cut together scenes from the original and Van Sant’s remake, taking Van Sant’s experiment even further in the process.

Van Sant, for his part, seems content with the film, claiming in 2003 that the real goal of the film was “the experiment of seeing what would happen”

“There was nothing good or bad or right or wrong in the outcome,” he added. “The other part was whether the studio could make money with it, and that part was okay. It wasn’t a disaster. The project was designed in some ways to see what the studios would do if something like that made money. Would it be something they would occupy themselves doing, making shot-by-shot remakes of other movies? Which was sort of a prank, really.”

When studying Van Sant’s Psycho, one can’t help but think of the “uncanny valley” – the theory that a replicant that appears very similar to a human being, but not 100%, will elicit an uneasy feeling. Watching the 1998 Psycho, we’re familiar with what we’re seeing, and we know exactly how it should look, but it’s somehow different. Emotions can’t help but spring from this, and any film that has the power to cause some sort of emotion is worth exploring.

The 1998 Psycho is not an affront to Hitchcock’s classic. It’s a tribute, a film that has the nerve to take what the master of suspense created and attempt to replicate it, for better or worse. If you hold the opinion that Hitchcock’s original is a masterpiece, then it’s difficult to completely write-off Van Sant’s remake, since it’s telling an almost identical story in an almost identical way. When viewing Van Sant’s Psycho, one should check their emotional baggage at the front desk and attempt to view the film with fresh eyes. You might be surprised at what you discover.

The sheer audacity of Van Sant’s project is worthy of applause. The filmmaker found a way to make a major studio bankroll a star-studded art project. The thought of any major studio taking such a risk now, when most studios are more concerned with starting unimaginative cinematic universes, seems almost unthinkable. Remakes will always exist, but very few will dare to be as intriguing as Gus Van Sant’s Psycho. In attempting to recreate something identically he ended up creating something unique. Talk about crazy.

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