You have to wonder if Gus Van Sant either garners an enormous amount of hubris, or just has a masochistic streak in him. Why else would he dive head first in to a remake of a hallowed horror and cinematic classic? And why else would he deliver a remake that’s exactly shot for shot? And “Psycho 1998” isn’t a remake that’s shot for shot with some liberties taken. It’s shot for shot to where director Van Sant copies every single shot of the original film, except with new actors. Van Sant fills the remake with a surreal tone in the vein of David Lynch to where the movie is adrift in a time period blurred between the fifties and contemporary time.
“Psycho” is one of the most loathed remakes ever created, and for good reason. “Psycho” didn’t need to be remade. And if it had to be, why not just create your own version? Offer a new vision on the shower murder, up the body count, splatter more blood with the murders, make Norman Bates African American, hell offer a finale where Marion Crane’s boyfriend and sister are actually killed allowing Norman to live in to the sequel. But director Van Sant wants to somehow see if he can mimick the mastery of Hitchcock. And sadly, we have to sit and watch because it was a major cinematic release, after all. It was advertised heavily in the late nineties, and greeted with scorn and anger. For all intents and purposes, Gus Van Sant is often a brilliant director, but this task of remaking “Psycho” is baffling. Movie fans still wonder why we even had to have, to this day.
I read a long time ago that Van Sant was planning to remake “Psycho” again, immediately after this carbon copy, but with a punk Rock/Goth motif. He also promised a much more dread filled and violent vision for fans. But that obviously never happened. Probably because he was so engrossed in wonderful films like “Gerry” and “Elephant” to bother with another remake. Who knows? Van Sant is a brilliant director, and his remake of “Psycho” feels like a mixture of egocentrism, self-indulgence, and satire that misses the mark. It’s hard to believe a man so knowledgeable about working with actors would miscast a remake of “Psycho” so painfully, too. Why else re-cast Norman Bates with the tall, hulking, and smarmy Vince Vaughn? Or Lila Crane as a bustier more Gothic character?
There isn’t much to say about “Psycho” since it’s a complete copy of the 1960 classic to the letter, and Van Sant seems to have more fun with the cast than he does taking liberties with the story. The cast is fantastic, sure, but they’re wasted in a sea of redundancy. I mean why watch this when you can very well pop in the original and appreciate the nuanced performances of Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh? Van Sant manages to copy Hitchcock, but he can’t capture the energy and sheer terror of the original film. Not by a long shot. If the experiment proves anything, it shows that “Psycho” was so tailored to and for Alfred Hitchcock that no director could duplicate it unless they strive for their own vision. And even then it’s walking in to a hornet’s nest of criticism and scorn. Van Sant is just lucky he’s talented enough to have survived the legacy of this universally reviled remake.