Thursday, March 16, 2023

Stab for Stab: Psycho (1998) Review [Scream Factory]

Director: Gus Van Sant

Notable Cast: Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Viggo Mortensen, Robert Forster


I originally saw the 1998 Psycho remake with my family when we rented it as a new release on VHS. I was a mere 15 years old at that time and had seen/owned the first 3 Psycho films on VHS. Upon viewing it, my family found it completely pointless and I remember disliking it myself. Being a teenager, sometimes your opinion can be influenced by the views of your family so when I picked up the original Psycho Tetralogy on Blu-ray (with the snazzy Scream Factory issues), I decided to pull the trigger and purchase the lambasted Gus Van Sant remake to see if my opinion was still the same 25 years later. Perhaps I could see the film in a new light through the filter of time and perhaps see some artistic integrity I initially missed. Welp, I can honestly say 25 years later, I still find it a completely pointless film.

Gus Van Sant, having clout after the financial and critical success of Good Will Hunting, was given carte-blanche for his next film, and out of everything he could have possibly chosen, remaking the Alfred Hitchcock classic nearly shot for shot was his choice. Now, why remake it shot-for-shot? The point of remakes is to update a classic story and give a different artistic take on the material. Remakes now overall get a bad rap but there are some truly great films that are, dare I say, ‘remakes’. My favorite film, John Carpenter’s 1982 version of The Thing, is such an example. Also, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Body Snatchers (1993), The Fly (1987) and The Blob (1988) were all well received, being true enough to the classic stories but not without updating the concept and the directors giving the story their own spin to make it unique. You will not find such artistic intent in the 1998 version of Psycho.

The cast is great for the most part, except for a notable few miscasting choices (namely Vince Vaghn as Norman Bates as he struggles to be convincingly creepy). I remember Anne Heche being criticized for the role at the time due to some personal eccentricities that made the news cycle, but I found her completely adequate as Marion Crane. Julianne Moore gives a more strong-willed performance as Lila Crane looking for her sister but it is William H. Macy that steals the show as Milton Arbogast, the private investigator looking for Marion.

Some of the notable differences are of course the house (which seems to be at the insistence of Universal otherwise Sant would have used the original design), some added violence during the iconic shower death sequence and an action by Norman when watching Crane threw a peephole. Those were welcome changes as they updated the material, and it’s a damn shame Sant didn’t do more. The script itself is virtually unchanged and many instances of the dialogue, character actions, and even wardrobe are painfully dated despite the fact the film itself states it takes place in 1998.

The Scream Factory Blu-ray retains the existing commentary by Gus Van Sant, Anne Heche, and Vince Vaughn as well as a documentary made for its initial Laserdisc and DVD release. There is a new commentary with the film’s editor moderated by the director of the Psycho Legacy documentary and it’s fascinating learning how hard the film was to edit in order to match the timing of the original. It is a shame all that effort went into a director’s pompous vanity project that ended up bombing in theaters and negatively affecting the rest of his career. It served as a good lesson to Hollywood, if you are going to remake a classic, you better make it unique and different enough to be worth a watch, otherwise you could go down in history as the most pointless remake of all time which I feel Psycho 1998 will undoubtfully hold until the end of days.


Written By Eric Reifschneider

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