Psycho (Gus Van Sant)

A more flawed and pointless remake of a film may yet to exist and Psycho becomes a mess thanks to a seemingly confused and paranoid filmmaker.

Ok, I want to make something clear from the start of this review so you know where I’m coming from:

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is one of my favourite films.

While I don’t have a specific top 10 or top 5 movies, if I did this would certainly be in the 10 and most likely in the 5 as well, and I don’t say this lightly, as I not only like Psycho from a purely viewing experience but also from the perspective of someone who has studied the film in-depth and academically on at least two occasions.

So it was that I came to watching Gus Van Sant’s remake for the second time with a slightly dubious feeling.

Having watched the remake before this is going to be a slightly different review to most of mine, but anyway here we go.

Going into the movie I knew I had, in the past, been disappointed by it and the slight changes Van Sant had chosen to make and, from the opening bars of Bernard Herman’s score (rearranged in places by Danny Elfman), this sense of trepidation returned as, rather than stark black and white lines flying across the screen, we get a selection of almost neon coloured bars mimicking their forbears.

It’s this colour scheme that is the most consistently frustrating thing throughout, at least, the first half of the film.

While Hitchcock took the negative that was having to film in black and white (due to budgetary constraints) and used it to his advantage with Marion Crane’s (Janet Leigh) state of mind in particular being clearly denoted by her own personal monochrome colour scheme, in this remake Van Sant has chosen to dress his Marion (Anne Hehce) in bright oranges and greens which, to me, serves to remove any sense of meaning for the character.

Away from colour schemes Van Sant’s choices on what to add to Psycho seem strangely pointless as well and again this can be seen in the very opening scene of the film.

Here we meet Marion and her boyfriend, Sam (Viggo Mortensen), in a fairly sleazy hotel room as they continue their semi-illicit relationship. While the dialogue in this scene tells the viewer all they need to know about both the situation of the characters and their location, Van Sant chooses to add sound effects from other rooms which, certainly, highlight the kind of hotel this room is in, but, this seems a pointless addition that is just painfully unsubtle and unnecessary.

This over explanation, through sound effects and action, is something that continues across the movie reaching its height as Norman Bates (Vince Vaughan) spies on Marion as she prepares for her fateful shower.

Admittedly the second half of the film has less of these odd additions, however, it highlights another problem with the film which also comes out in the DVD’s accompanying ‘making of’ – it seems each actor and technical department seem to be approaching the film from a different perspective, with some trying to bring the story up to date and some sticking very firmly to the original way the film looked and was shot.

And from the interviews with Gus Van Sant, it seems he jumps back and forth between the two ideas as well.

So what this leaves us with is a near shot for shot remake of an undeniable classic that somehow at once manages to show us the film again while totally missing the point of what made the original so good.

So onto the extras, on the DVD edition these are sparse (but I’m not too shocked by that as this was an early DVD release), but the aforementioned documentary does shed a lot of light of how the film ended up as it did.

I’ve already mentioned the confusion it hints at between different actor’s and department’s approaches to the movie, but, what it also does, is very self-consciously try to justify the movie’s existence in the face of several comments from people who worked on the original wondering whether there is point in remaking Psycho.

What this says to me is that throughout the production not only was the desired outcome confused, but that the filmmakers were extremely self-conscious of their decision to even make the film and, unfortunately, it seems to me, that this is what lead to what is essentially a waste of celluloid and, what could have become an interesting exercise in remaking classic films, just became a pointless mess.

Ah well, we still have Hitchcock’s original (with a recently released new HD transfer on Blu-ray looking and sounding better than ever) – and if you’re only reason for watching the remake is that it’s in colour (as the making of suggests is another reason for its existence) take a trip out of your comfort zone and watch a black and white horror movie – Psycho may be one of the best, but there are a lot of other good ones out there too.

And to remind you of the genius of Hitchcock, here is the trailer to the original, 1960, version:

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