In Psycho (1960), Sir Alfred Hitchcock wanted his opening shot to be a long, complete pan and 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 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 this 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 negatively received by critics, this did get a blessing from Sir Alfred Hitchcock's daughter, Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell. She even claimed that remaking a film shot-for-shot is something her father would have done. 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 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 Sir Alfred Hitchcock for Psycho (1960), but he had to delete this due to the censors. Gus Van Sant put this into Psycho (1998) as Hitchcock originally intended.
Gus Van Sant does not consider the remake a copy of Sir Alfred Hitchcock's original film. 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 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. She was raped and murdered in 1988 at the age of seventy-one. Her killer was arrested and charged just days after the film's premiere.
When Robert Forster received the script, he believed the producers had accidentally sent him a copy of the script for Psycho (1960), and had his agent contact the producers to request a copy of the new script. Director Gus Van Sant then personally contacted Forster to confirm that they were in fact using the exact same script from the original movie.
Although the original motel exterior from Psycho (1960) had long since been demolished, the exterior motel set seen in this remake was originally constructed for Psycho II (1983). 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.
When remaking Psycho (1960), Gus Van Sant wanted to flesh out the supporting characters. He felt that, in the original film, Norman Bates was the only fully developed character, while everyone else existed merely to advance the plot. He relied on the actors and actresses to develop their motivations more fully. William H. Macy tried to play Martin Arbogast as Martin Balsam did, but Vince Vaughn and Julianne Moore tried to interpret their roles differently from the way Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles played them. For example, Moore made Lila Crane 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.
Director Ti West has been one of the few defenders of this film. He argues that Van Sant as a director - by remaking Psycho (1960) completely shot-for-shot - was experimenting and creating a commentary on the quality of a film. By taking a beloved classic that has been worshiped and acclaimed since its release by critics and film scholars, the fact that the shot-for-shot remake was so derived upon release is (to West) a fascinating result of this particular experiment, since Van Sant took a great film and copied this completely.
The opening shot zooms into the Westward Ho Hotel just north of downtown Phoenix. The corresponding shot in 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 was quoted as saying that he was so eager to work with director Gus Van Sant that he would have appeared in an adaptation of the phone book if Van Sant was directing. He also said that most people signed on expecting that Van Sant would put his own spin on the movie. Although Macy was very happy with his portrayal, he called the film itself an "ill-begotten picture" because Van Sant decided to make it a faithful remake.
Early in the film, when Marion Crane (Anne Heche) drives through the main street of the town which she has just entered, she passes a bus station that has a poster up for the romantic comedy Six Days Seven Nights (1998), which also starred Heche.
Just before Anne Heche as the character Marion Crane arrives at the used car lot to switch cars, a poster of Six Days Seven Nights (1998) can be seen at a bus stop on the right of the screen. Anne Heche also starred in that film.
Gus Van Sant: Speaking to someone looking just like Sir Alfred Hitchcock, in the movie's beginning when Marion Crane enters the office after her lunch break. In Psycho (1960), Hitchcock had a cameo in the same scene.
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 Sir Alfred Hitchcock did. Unlike the original film however, Arbogast is slashed across the face twice before he falls, and he audibly screams on the way down. There is also a brief point of view shot of him seeing "Mrs. Bates" descend the stairs.
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.