The exterior motel set was the same one used in the original Psycho (1960). However, the house was a new set constructed directly in front of the old house on the backlot at Universal Studios. On completion of filming, they moved this second house alongside the first for the backlot tour.
In the original Psycho (1960), Alfred Hitchcock wanted his opening shot to be a long, complete pan/zoom over the city into Marion's hotel room. Sadly, the technology was not yet perfected, and he achieved his effect through a series of pans and dissolves. The new Gus Van Sant remake does a complete travelling shot, as Hitchcock had intended.
During filming, Gus Van Sant brought along a DVD player and played the original Psycho (1960), and they used it for reference. When he spotted a mistake (a door opening without a key), van Sant decided to put the same mistake into his film.
Although this remake was critically panned, it did get a blessing from Alfred Hitchcock's daughter. She even claimed that remaking a film shot-for-shot is something he would have done. She seemed to forget that Hitchcock did indeed remake one of his own films, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) as The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), but it was not shot-for-shot.
In a grisly ironic twist in timing, the murderer of Janet Leigh's shower stand-in was finally discovered. Myra Jones appeared in some of Alfred Hitchcock's film, notably as a splayed hand, and was also the voice of Norman Bates' mother. She was raped and murdered in 1988 at the age of 71. Her killer was arrested and charged just days after the film's premiere.
Gus Van Sant doesn't consider this film a copy of 'Alfred Hitchcock''s original. He remarked "If I hold a camera, even if it's in the same place, it will magically take on the character. Our "Psycho" showed you can't really appropriate. Or you can, but it's not going to be the same thing."
In Mr. Lowery's office the following exchange is heard: CASSIDY (to Marion): You should take a vacation in Las Vegas, playground of the world! MARION: Thank you, but I think I'll spend this weekend in bed. CASSIDY: Only playground to beat Las Vegas. The last sentence was in the original script used by Alfred Hitchcock for Psycho (1960), but he had to cut it due to the censors. Gus Van Sant put it into Psycho (1998) as Hitchcock originally intended.
The opening shot zooms into the Westward Ho Hotel just north of downtown Phoenix. The corresponding shot in the original Psycho (1960) shows the Heard Building, which at that time had a radio broadcast antenna atop it; but by the time of the remake, the tower had been removed, so Gus Van Sant used the Westward Ho, which still has one.
William H. Macy felt that Arbogast's fall down the stairs before his death in Psycho (1960) looked unconvincing, and volunteered to throw himself down the stairs for real. However, Gus Van Sant was adamant that they recreate the original shot in exact detail, using the same type of rear-projection that Alfred Hitchcock did.
When remaking Psycho (1960), Gus Van Sant wanted to flesh the supporting characters more, because one thing he didn't like about the original film was that Norman was the only fully developed character, while everyone else was portrayed to advance the plot. He relied on the actors to develop their motivations more fully. William H. Macy tried to play Arbogast as Martin Balsam did, but Vince Vaughn and Julianne Moore tried to interpret their roles differently to the way Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles played them. For example, Moore made Lila more aggressive. Also, the psychiatrist's long-winded description of Norman's condition was shortened in Van Sant's version. These changes were added to make the film accessible to a modern audience.
Early in the film, when Marion Crane (Anne Heche) drives through the main street of the town she has just entered, she passes a bus station that has a poster up for the 1998 romantic comedy "Six Days, Seven Nights". That film starred Harrison Ford and Anne Heche - who plays Crane.
Gus Van Sant: talking to someone looking just like Alfred Hitchcock, in the beginning of the movie when Marion Crane enters the office after her lunch break. In the original version of Psycho (1960), Hitchcock had a cameo in the same scene.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Two split-second, unrelated scenes are inserted during the killing of Arbogast. Right after the first knife strike, a scene of a nude blonde woman in a black half-mask appears. She is lying, propped on her side, and turns her head to the camera. After the second knife strike, a calf is seen in the middle of a country road with fog in the distance.