Tim's Movie Challenge Review
AWFUL. If I could get away with doing a single word review of this movie, it would be "awful."
I can give credit to directors early on in their career who show potential, even if they make a bad film. In the early days of Martin Scorsese, you could tell he was going places and that he genuinely had a knack for film. Quentin Tarantino's first film Reservoir Dogs was incredible for a debut, and it's one of the best films of the 20th Century. Christopher Nolan to date, in my opinion, does not have a bad film under his belt (though The Prestige is just okay). It's hard to believe, looking back on 1998, that Gus Van Sant could display such a travesty of a film. The remake of the 1960 slasher classic Psycho is regrettable.
I've watched a lot of terrible movies in my day. I've seen Salo: 120 Days of Sodomy. I've watched Rob Schneider films before. It's baffling as to how this film was ever made. Shot-by-shot remakes have rarely been successful and come to think of it, rarely even made. The motivation behind this abomination by Van Sant can only be described as "cash grab," which it failed at miserably. Considering Van Sant received much success with films like Good Will Hunting and the social commentary To Die For, Psycho proves that even the best directors can make the worst films. In comparison to someone like Oliver Stone, who usually means well at least in his failures, Van Sant's Psycho serves no purpose whatsoever. It's a blatant cop out.
Remakes can either be amazing or terrible usually. In the last few years we've seen some cult classics remade that have been relatively decent - Fright Night comes to mind, with Colin Farrell kicking Chris Sarandon out of the hot seat and giving a stellar performance. He'd try to replicate that success with Total Recall earlier this year to mixed results (I have yet to see it). But when you take a hard classic like Hitchcock's Psycho, it's a pretty tall order, and despite what some may think, you're ultimately destined for failure. The first mistake for Van Sant was remaking the black and white classic in color. He also steeped the 90s characters in a 50s like setting. So while there are 90s model and make cars, everyone dresses like they're from Grease. It's a truly idiotic gesture - one that results in painful juxtapositions, scene wise. None it makes sense once the final product is viewed. Viggo Mortensen looks like a punk, and he dresses like he may be metrosexual, something I doubt Hitchcock wanted to get across in the original when he cast John Gavin in the same role 40 years prior.
This brings up the whole casting issue for Van Sant's version. It's really a shame that so many valuable talents are wasted on such a homogenous shit-heap of a movie. Viggo underacts, a mailed in performance. Julian Moore pretends like she cares in most scenes, and her casting is completely off as Marion Crane's sister. Moore's first scene shows her walking into the convenient store with a backpack and listening to headphones - a 40 year old woman listening to a walkman. Is she pretending to be a kid or something? That wasn't in the original so why add it here? To make her more "hip?" To hell with hip. The character is served injustice and disservice within the span of 5 minutes. Imagine if Daniel Radcliffe's first scene as Harry Potter had him smoking a blunt. William H. Macy perhaps has the best job in the film, and probably the only smart casting choice - regardless if the film was actually necessary to be made in the first place. Macy's always been great at playing the scummy, second guessing character that irritates you. Fargo is forever etched in my mind as he whines once being caught leaping out a window. He's just scum, and he does it well here.
The two particular leads in Psycho are 100% miscast. Marion Crane was memorably idolized in the original by Janet Leigh. Her infamous death has inspired thousands of film makers. She may have passed away 6 years after this film was released, but I truly believe the cancer of this remake had something to do with it. Heche is wooden. If she was any more wooden, she'd have roots and leaves. One scene in particularly struck me as not only absurd, but not even unintentionally humorous. As Crane begins packing for her weekend away, she stares at the money with the obvious intent to steal it. This is completely opposite of Leigh presents herself in the original. Her eyes give way to the fact that she naturally, unquestionably, is unsure of what she should do. Will she take the money and run? You don't know at first. Perhaps its because this is a remake, and without stealing the money there would be no movie. But Heche tries too hard to be like Leigh instead of attempting to make it her own role. When Heath Ledger prepared for the Joker, he didn't copy Jack Nicholson or Cesar Romero. He made it his own. There's a belief that this film directly impacted Heche's film career. After this, she was less marketable, and relegated to B-movies for a while until the somewhat funny Cedar Rapids came out last year.
But perhaps the biggest disservice to this film lies within the best efforts of a fresh faced Vince Vaughn. He had only a handful of films under his belt at the time, one being Swingers, and he was noted for being a quick witted and snappy wordsmith in that. He's nothing here. Try as he may, a little too hard, there's no comparison between his Norman Bates and the iconic Anthony Perkins. Perkins was likable, funny, and sad. Vaughn is creepy, legitimately awkward, and obviously trying too hard. I've never been a fan of the actor to be honest, but his earlier work was better than his later work. Psycho was his attempt to crossover because he had yet to find his niche. Since Psycho he has not ventured out of the slapstick, goofy, vulgar, gross out humor genre at all. Psycho was the nail in the coffin for that direction. He rebounded but the scar of Psycho remains. My mind is tainted by the notion that Norman Bates masturbated to Marion Crane through the peephole, something entirely unnecessary in this already unnecessary remake. Norman Bates was not a pervert. He was disturbed yes, but he wasn't jerking it to porn all of the time, or a peeping tom. He dressed in his mother's clothing and killed people. He was a schizophrenic.
Certain aspects of this film just make me want to vomit. It's so absurd on so many levels. After viewing it, I legitimately wanted to piss on Milk. The shower scene is butchered completely, leaving me in completed shock and disgust. I can understand the desire to pay homage to Hitchcock. But it's another thing to stand on his grave and take a dump then light it on fire. The only reason this film should be kept intact is to deter first year film students from seriously considering their "dream projects." This gets one star simply because the box art was nice. I'm surprised Van Sant was able to rebound at all from this. Mobs have lynched people for smaller offenses.
MPAA Rating: R for violence and sexuality/nudity.
Runtime: 105 mins.
Director: Gus Van Sant
Writer: Joseph Stefano
Cast: Vince Vaughn; Julianne Moore; Viggo Mortensen; Anne Heche; William H. Macy
Genre: Horror | Mystery | Thriller
Tagline: A new vision of the classic nightmare.
Memorable Movie Quote: "A boy's best friend is his mother."
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Release Date: December 4, 1998
Synopsis: A young female embezzeler arrives at the Bates Motel which has terrible secrets of its own.