And with director Gus Van Sant's faithful, frame-for-frame recapitulation, "Psycho" has failed to find a new edge as a horror film in this day and age. Despite an eerily rounded lead performance by Vince Vaughn in the Tony Perkins role, "Psycho" is unlikely to attract more than the curioso and cineaste crowd -- who, in the characteristic reactionary manner of cutting-edge folk, will likely niggle about this film's up-to-date perfidiousness but complain rightfully about its overall moribund nature.
If you've been to a more than two-day film school, you know the story: sexually unfulfilled secretary on the lam (Anne Heche), after absconding with $400,000 from her boss, stops for a night at an off-the-beaten-track motel. Down-home, decent-seeming motelier Norman Vaughn) takes her in and offers to bring her dinner. He's a benign, kindly sort who, as we soon find out, has all sorts of demented mother-son problems.
Originally based on the atrocities committed by late-'50s Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein -- a reclusive nonentity who butchered his mother and made table lamps from her skin -- the scenario is a provocative insight into schizophrenia. It predated Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Wayne Williams, John Wayne Gacy and all those murdering maniacs we take much more for granted today. Truly, "Psycho" was a real shocker in its day, and marketeers capitalized on this with wild ad campaigns -- "No one admitted after the first 10 minutes, etc." In this heinous era, well, you'd probably have trouble making a tabloid or a court show with such a story.
Indeed, although Van Sant has distilled the inherent creepiness of the setting and laid bare the inner surface mania of Norman Bates' crazed murdering, by playing this classic so close to the vest, he has also failed to capitulate the story line to contemporary dimensions. Younger audiences, perhaps never having seen the original, will be disappointed that, say, Norman is not dragged-up enough for his dementia; in short, this Norman Bates, even by the loony, boy-next-door standards of serial killers, is presented in such old-fashioned garb and limned with such over-obviousness in his clothing and his belongings that audiences will be disappointed by its lack of subtlety.
In short, this new "Psycho" is not crazy enough. Unlike the original, this one packs no surprise, and by its faithful aesthetic, Van Sant has paradoxically failed to convey the essence of the Hitckcock's bizarre creativity.
Still, its smartly done in many aspects and, once again, screenwriter Joseph Stefano has deftly re-detailed this horrifying psychological tale. Nonetheless, the distillation at this time lacks the original's bravura and impact. It's still a brilliant tale, but a faithful remake does not transcend -- and certainly not equal -- the original.
Fair-cheeked Vaughn is well-cast as Norman Bates, a frightening boy-man with killer rage. As the Janet Leigh character, Heche's birdlike mannerisms and nervous peccadilloes make her a credible victim, but we don't empathize with her character as much as we did with Leigh's glamorous amorality.
The supporting characters are generally well chosen, particularly William H. Macy, whose intrusive, pesky performance in the Martin Balsam role of a private detective looking into the whereabouts of the murdered woman is perfect. Other cast choices, such as Philip Baker Hall as a meat-and-potatoes sheriff, are similarly on the mark and add textural oddity to this twisted tale.
Praise to Danny Elfman for his musical production and adaptation; Bernard Herrmann's assaultive, sharp score is truly one of moviedom's all-time classics and still brings uneasy dimension to this retro-ripper. Unfortunately, other technical contributions are, alas, faithful to the original -- they add little juice or verve to this true-to-the-line but unfaithful-to-the-spirit regurgitation.
Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment present
Producers: Brian Grazer, Gus Van Sant
Director: Gus Van Sant
Screenwriter: Joseph Stefano
Executive producer: Dany Wolf
Director of photography: Chris Doyle
Production design: Tom Foden
Editor: Amy Duddleston
Costume design: Beatrix Aruna Pasztor
Music produced and adapted by: Danny Elfman
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Based on the novel by: Robert Bloch
Associate producer: Joseph Whitaker
Sound mixer: Ron Judkins
Norman Bates: Vince Vaughn
Marion Crane: Anne Heche
Lila Crane: Julianne Moore
Sam Loomis: Viggo Mortensen
Milton Arbogast: William H. Macy
Dr. Simon: Robert Forster
Sheriff Chambers: Philip Baker Hall
Mrs. Chambers: Anne Haney
Running time -- 106 minutes
MPAA rating: R
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