Cody Hamman and Priscilla Tuboly evaluate Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and Gus Van Sant's Psycho (1998).
There have been a lot of homages to Alfred Hitchcock in the movies Priscilla and I have watched as part of the Remake Comparison Project, from Fright Night being "Rear Window with vampires" to Sisters and Carrie being the work of Hitchcock devotee Brian De Palma, so it's only fitting that we finally got around to covering the master himself.
Near the end of 1957, America was rattled to hear news of a murderer coming out of the tiny town of Plainfield, Wisconsin. As if it weren't bad enough that his latest victim's body was found strung up like a deer carcass, the more details that were revealed about the personal life of the killer, a man named Ed Gein, the more ghoulish the story became.
Gein had lived his entire life with his domineering mother, who had poisoned and twisted his mind with her own psychological issues. His mother died when he was 39, leaving him alone in the world. He couldn't handle it. He snapped. He started robbing the graves of middle-aged women, taking the bodies home and using their parts as if they were arts and crafts supplies. He made soup bowls of skulls, masks of skin, covered chair seats with skin, turned a face into a lampshade, made a belt of nipples, etc. He even put together a "woman suit" from corpse flesh so he could wear it and pretend to be a woman himself. Eventually, his quest to add fresher parts to his collection led him to commit murder, at least twice.
The disturbing case of Ed Gein has gone on to inspire many tales told in the horror genre. Elements of his life were notably worked into The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Silence of the Lambs. One of the first stories inspired by Gein was a novel by Robert Bloch, an author who was living just thirty-five miles from the Gein farm when Ed Gein was arrested. Bloch's novel, Psycho, was first published in 1959. The cinematic adaptation of it began filming before the end of that year.
A review of Psycho caught the attention of Peggy Robertson, assistant to Alfred Hitchcock, widely considered to be one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Intrigued when Robertson showed him the review, Hitchcock bought the film rights to Psycho for $9500, and although Paramount Pictures, with whom Hitchcock had an established working relationship, had little interest in such a "repulsive" project, rejecting it even when Hitchcock said it could be made quickly, cheaply, and in black and white, the director was determined to make the movie happen. So determined that he offered to self-finance it and film it on the lot of another studio (Universal), and also chose not to take his upfront salary of $250,000, instead taking a 60% cut of the net profits. All Paramount had to do was distribute it. Because of this deal, Hitchcock made around sixty times what the upfront payment would have been. The movie no one supported ended up becoming a massive success and an instant horror classic.
The film starts off with a title sequence designed by its "pictorial consultant"/storyboard artist, famed graphic designer Saul Bass. Lines and fractured words move across the screen while the shrieking violins of the score composed by Bernard Herrmann fill the soundtrack.
The opening credits combined with the superb score make for the perfect way to prepare viewers for the greatness that awaits. The score is so deep and tense, it's unbelievably effective.
Herrmann's Psycho score is one of most iconic of the horror genre, and for good reason - it's awesome.
Open on Phoenix, Arizona at 2:43pm on December 11th.
Some very helpful title cards give us all of this information. I'm surprised they didn't throw in a weather report as well.
The camera pans over the cityscape, spots a cheap hotel, moves toward it, finds a window that's open a crack, moves into that crack to look into the room... There we find the characters of Sam Loomis and Marion Crane, slowly getting their clothes back on after a lunch hour tryst.
Sam and Marion are in a long distance relationship - she lives in Phoenix, he lives in a small town in California called Fairvale - and Marion is getting tired of the circumstances. Sam flies into Phoenix on business, meets up with her in secret, they spend some time in the hotel together, and that's it. She wants respectability, the end of secrecy, to have Sam over to her place for dinner with her sister. What she really wants is to get married, but Sam waves off the idea for monetary reasons. He's got two more years of paying off his late father's debts ahead of him, and he's paying his ex-wife alimony until she gets remarried. He doesn't want to drag Marion down with him.
Sam and Marion's relationship is complicated. She wants respect, a proper relationship, marriage. He's not into the idea. I've often wondered if he was really looking out for her, wanting to give her the life he thought she deserved, or was he just having fun and never really intended for it to go any further than that? Just seems like money was a lame excuse he was using, not to have to take that next step. It always feels like he wanted to keep it casual. Maybe he thought Marion wasn't fit for a wife, if she was subjecting herself to having that kind of relationship with him. It was the '60s.
I doubt someone being in debt puts a halt on too many marriages these days, but the big question is - why does Sam want to see Marion in secret? His ex is the one who stops getting paid once she's with someone else, it doesn't matter if he's in a relationship or not.
Marion gets Sam to agree to approaching their relationship in a more respectable manner before they part ways and she goes back to work at Lowery Real Estate.
As Marion enters the office building, Alfred Hitchcock makes his traditional cameo, seen standing outside. Hitchcock's daughter Pat is waiting for her inside, playing her fellow secretary Caroline.
When Mr. Lowery returns from lunch, he's accompanied by lecherous oil man Tom Cassidy, who's buying a house as a wedding present for his 18-year-old daughter with $40,000 cash. A cash transaction of this size makes Mr. Lowery visibly nervous, but Cassidy is a man who does what he wants, and probably usually gets what he wants, although his not-subtle-at-all flirting with Marion goes nowhere.
I find both Pat Hitchcock's performance as Caroline and Frank Albertson's as Tom Cassidy in this scene to be a lot of fun to watch. Caroline is amusing in her self-involvement and obsession with her husband, while Cassidy is a goofy creep.
This part is so amusing. The whole interaction between the characters is very interesting. I do get a sleazy vibe from Mr. Cassidy though, he almost goes too far with the open flirting.
As Lowery and Cassidy move on to knocking back drinks, Marion requests to go home early, as she's getting a headache. Lowery allows her to go, asking that she drop Cassidy's money in a safe deposit box at the bank for the weekend.
Marion doesn't take the money to the bank. She takes it home with her. She packs a suitcase, changes clothes, sticks the money in her purse, and heads out.
Earlier, Marion was wearing white underwear and had a white purse. She changes into black underwear, sticks the money in a black purse. Hitchcock's way of showing that the girl has gone bad.
I find it very captivating the way the character is explored. The way it shows that even the most honest person would risk everything for money, for a better life, given the opportunity.
What follows is a thirteen minute sequence of Marion on the road, driving from Phoenix, Arizona to Fairvale, California, now a criminal on the run. Her thoughts of what others might say to her or about her play in voiceover, showing how she goes from hopeful (thoughts of Sam greeting her at his hardware store) to guilt-ridden and afraid (Lowery and Cassidy realizing she has taken the money, police checking her out).
Marion didn't think things through very well. Not only is there a complete absence of planning, but she also does everything "wrong" for someone who wants to go under the radar. She ends up getting a lot of attention from everyone she encounters on the way to California, she reacts poorly during every interaction.
Part of what gets Marion worried is the fact that she's nearly caught before she's even out of Phoenix - Lowery and Cassidy walk past her car at an intersection. Then a cop takes notice of her. She drives through the night until she has to pull over to nap, and she's woken up in the morning by a cop knocking on her window, checking on her. The nervous and hurrying way Marion handles their interaction would arouse suspicion from anyone.
She gets a bit of sexism from the car dealer for free. "You can do anything you have a mind to. Being a woman, you will."
The trade doesn't do her much good. That same cop notices her at the car lot, parks across the street and watches the whole transaction.
It's even more clear that this is the first time Marion's done something like this, since she doesn't seem to realize that by having the cop see the new car she just bought, the whole thing loses all purpose.
Marion is really terrible at crime, which makes this sequence effectively tense at times. Even though anyone watching the movie these days knows that getting caught would be a better fate than what's ahead of her.
She's so unprepared for something like this that her new behavior has her acting extremely suspicious, even forgetting her suitcase back in her old car.
She continues on toward Fairvale. Night falls again, and this time a storm comes with it. The rain is coming down so hard, Marion can barely see the road ahead of her. A light appears in the darkness. The neon sign of a small motel.
The expression on Janet Leigh's face during this one last time of her imagining how people are going to react to her wrongdoing is so amazing. By now there's no fear showing in her big eyes anymore, only a complete "good girl gone bad" look. It's commendable.
The sign says there's a vacancy, but when Marion pulls into the motel parking lot the place seems to be abandoned. Nobody's working the desk. There's a hill behind the motel, at the top of which stands an old Victorian style home - the look of this house was inspired by Edward Hopper's 1925 painting House by the Railroad.
There couldn't have been a better way to introduce us to the Bates property. Black and white, pouring rain, fabulous cinematography. The house is frightfully staggering. Just grand...extremely grand. It's definitely a character on its own.
The design of the Bates property is incredible. The motel looks like any little mom and pop place around the United States, but the way the hill rises up behind it with stone steps leading up that wonderfully creepy house that towers over the motel... It's very striking.
A light shines brightly in an upstairs window of the house. The silhouette of a woman passes by it. Marion honks her car horn, and from the house emerges not a woman, but an awkward young man named Norman Bates.
Norman seems pleasant enough, although there are some odd moves that Marion doesn't notice, but the viewer is shown. Like the fact that he seems all set to give Marion the key to the third of the motel's twelve rooms, but grabs the key to cabin 1 when she says she's from Los Angeles. 1 is the room right next to Norman's office.
Marion finds that she's the only person booked into the motel for the night. Bates Motel doesn't get much business since they moved the main highway away. Marion got off the main road without realizing it. She also didn't realize until Norman says so that she's only fifteen miles away from Fairvale. Rather than continue on for the short distance, she decides to spend the night at the motel anyway.
Marion doesn't even want to go to the diner down the road to get something to eat. Sensing this, Norman asks her to have dinner with him. Sandwiches and milk. Marion accepts. And then, we get the first indication that something is wrong with the relationship between Norman Bates and his mother.
Norman's invitation was initially for Marion to come up to the house to eat with him. But as Marion can hear, even all the way down in her room, Mrs. Bates has a serious problem with that idea. An argument breaks out, and despite Norman's protests to the contrary, the voice of his elderly mother makes it clear that she doesn't think it's proper for him to have a young woman in their home. She's convinced Norman has lascivious motives.
Norman brings the food down from the house, saying his mother isn't quite herself today. Marion invites him into her room, but he declines. They can have dinner in the parlor behind the office.
As Marion eats in the parlor, they're surrounded by the corpses of birds Norman has stuffed and mounted. Stuck at home caring for his mother, working the motel desk, tending the cabins and the grounds, he fills his spare time doing taxidermy. He doesn't even go out with friends. "A boy's best friend is his mother."
Norman didn't seem to have any problems talking to women. He shows just enough interest without being creepy and keeps the conversation going smoothly. Marion finds him somewhat trusting and charming since she invites him into her room and is willing to eat with him even after realizing he had some deep mother issues. She also clearly feels bad for him.
Stefano was in therapy dealing with his own mother issues at the time of writing the script, which was surely a boon for the film. The way the unhealthiness of Norman's situation is shown is terrific, even down to little lines like Norman saying he does errands for his mother, "the ones she allows I might be capable of doing."
An extended dialogue scene is played in the parlor, during which Norman opens up to this stranger about being trapped with his mother, and Marion attempts to counsel him. By the end, however, she has been counseled more than Norman. His comment that his mother "just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes" makes Marion realize that she herself has experienced a period of madness, and she needs to drive that money back to Phoenix the next day.
Marion was a woman ahead of her time. We've seen that by her unconventional relationship with Sam, by almost turning into a criminal just to change things around, and now we see another great example of that during this dialogue scene. Women in the '60s were expected and taught to keep their mouths shut as much as possible, they weren't exactly allowed to have an opinion. Especially when talking to a man they didn't know.
Marion does the exact opposite. She gets into Norman's business and does her best to try and show him that he should be trying to change his situation, that the situation with his mom isn't good or "normal". And when Norman tries his best to defend his mother, Marion simply never buys into it. She has a mind of her own and isn't afraid to speak it.
Stefano had some serious dialogue writing skills, which are strongly displayed in the parlor scene. I love Norman's angry response to Marion's suggestion that he should have his mother put away somewhere, "People always mean well. They cluck their thick tongues and shake their heads and suggest oh-so-very delicately."
I really like the fact that their conversation ends up making Marion change her mind about the whole thing. Norman got to her more than she probably realized at the time.
Also by the end of their talk, Norman has figured out that "Marie Samuels" from Los Angeles is actually a "Miss Crane" from Phoenix.
Like we said, Marion is terrible at this stuff.
Returning to her room after dinner, Marion prepares to take a shower, not knowing that Norman is watching through a hole in the parlor wall. After a moment of perving, Norman goes up to the house.
Marion does some math on a piece of paper, figuring how much she's spent of the $40,000 so far. Then she tears the paper up and flushes it down the toilet in the first shot of a flushing toilet in cinema history. She then disrobes and steps into the shower.
As Marion showers, the form of an elderly woman enters the bathroom. The shower curtain is ripped aside and the woman begins viciously plunging a large kitchen knife into Marion, over and over, stabbing her to death as Herrmann's violins go crazy.
One of the best movie murders ever, brought to the screen with a series of perfect shots perfectly edited together.
It's classic, stunning, completely effective from top to bottom.
49 minutes into the film, the character we've been following since the beginning has been brutally removed from it.
So now this isn't the story about a woman who so badly wanted to turn things around that she was willing to do out-of-character things to get there. She won't be getting a happy ending. Unexpected and very well played.
The focus now shifts to Norman Bates, who is horrified to see what his mother has done, but of course the option of turning her in to the authorities never crosses his mind. Mother must be protected.
The next 11 minutes of the movie are dedicated to showing Norman cleaning up the crime scene. He wraps Marion's corpse in the shower curtain, mops the bathroom, puts the body and all of Marion's belongings (including, unknowingly, the newspaper the remainder of the $40,000 is hidden in) into the trunk of her newly acquired car, then sinks the car in a swamp at the back of the property.
Watching the movie now as part of the Remake Comparison series, I realized that this sequence is why Brian De Palma spent so much time on the crime scene clean-up in Sisters. Although De Palma had a split screen going on during it, while Hitchcock has us entirely focused on Norman.
I realized the exact same thing. And it also made me think that those 11 minutes of just showing the clean-up are deeply entertaining, something that wouldn't happen if it hadn't been done exactly right. And it's done that way for sure.
It's Saturday the 19th and Sam Loomis is sitting in the back room of his hardware store, writing a letter to Marion in which he's telling her he has come around on the idea of them getting married. Before he can mail it, he finds out that Marion is missing, thanks to the arrival of two people who are looking for her. Her sister Lila, mentioned earlier in the film, shows up because she's worried about her sibling. A private investigator named Arbogast shows up because he has been hired to track down that money she took.
Lila is loud, pushy and bossy. Apparently all Crane women were ahead of their time, which also caused them to be single. Though Lila seems more like the type of woman Sam would respond to.
Convinced that Marion must be staying in the area, Arbogast goes on a search of every motel, hotel, any place with a room for rent that he comes across. This search eventually leads him to the Bates Motel and a conversation with Norman.
The first stretch of the movie was watching Marion trying to get away with a crime, and now we watch Norman try to get away with a crime as Arbogast asks him if he has seen the missing woman.
By now we feel bad for Norman and kind of want him to get away with it.
Once again, Stefano's dialogue shines as Martin Balsam's Arbogast and Anthony Perkins' Norman go back and forth, and Perkins continues to impress, his performance is so natural and real.
Norman is not used to talking to someone like Arbogast. He's a very astute private investigator who asks all the right questions. He breaks Norman down pretty easily, and you can feel how uncomfortable the whole thing makes Norman. He's so nervous and uneasy.
Norman denies that Marion was ever at the motel, but his story unravels as Arbogast's words get the better of him.
Norman really gets tripped up when Arbogast brings up the idea that Marion might have been able to trick him. No woman can mess with Norman Bates. As he says, "She might have fooled me, but she didn't fool my mother." And with that he has told Arbogast that the woman up at the house, whose silhouette can be seen sitting in an upstairs room, had interaction with Marion. That's another person Arbogast needs to talk to, then. But Norman won't allow it.
Arbogast checks in with Lila from a roadside pay phone, letting her know that Marion stayed at the Bates Motel the weekend before, cabin #1. He clears Sam of suspicion, but is determined to have a chat with sick old Mrs. Bates. After his phone call, Arbogast heads back to the Bates place.
Norman isn't around, apparently busy changing the linens in the cabins, as Arbogast goes up to the house. Entering the house, the private investigator goes right up the steps, heading for the upstairs room where Mrs. Bates was sitting at the window.
Mrs. Bates isn't just relaxing now. From an overhead shot, we see the woman come charging out of her room as soon as Arbogast reaches the top of the steps, rushing him and slashing him with her knife.
Once again, Hitchcock makes genius choices in how to shoot a scene. The overhead shot keeps Mrs. Bates' face hidden, and as Arbogast stumbles backwards down the stairs, the camera goes right down the stairs with him.
This scene is one of my favorites. Genius is the right word.
As soon as Arbogast hits the floor below, Mrs. Bates and her knife are right on top of him.
Three hours later, Arbogast is at least two hours late for getting back to Sam and Lila at the hardware store, and Lila is worried out of her mind. So worried that she causes Sam to go out to Bates Motel and have a look around himself while she reluctantly stays at the store alone. Sam finds no sign of Norman or Arbogast (Norman is out at the swamp, having just sank Arbogast and his car into it), and the woman sitting in the upstairs bedroom of the house is too sick to answer the door.
Now Sam is worried, enough that he takes Lila to see Fairvale's Deputy Sheriff Al Chambers in the middle of the night, rousing the old man and his wife out of bed to talk about the situation.
Psycho was a source of inspiration for John Carpenter when he was making Halloween eighteen years later, which he made clear by giving a couple characters homage names. The doctor chasing down the madman in Halloween is Sam Loomis, a direct lift from Psycho. Carpenter's Loomis is introduced riding in a car with a nurse named Marion Chambers, a combination of Marion Crane's first name and the Deputy Sheriff's last.
Chambers is the first police officer to be brought into the case of Marion and the missing money, as everyone had been hoping she could be talked into simply giving it back. As we know, they had the correct read on her. He doesn't put too much effort into getting involved, simply confirming with Norman that Marion stayed there for one night and he had talked to Arbogast. The reason for Chambers' disinterest is that he doesn't put much stock in what Arbogast had to say. That's because Arbogast brought up this idea of Norman Bates' sickly old mother being up at the house and having met Marion.
Chambers and his wife drop a bomb on the characters and the viewing audience (at least those in 1960 who didn't know the twist): "Norman Bates's mother has been dead and buried in Greenlawn Cemetery for the past ten years." The only murder/suicide in Fairvale history. Mrs. Bates poisoned her boyfriend (the man who convinced her to build the motel) with strychnine, and then drank some of the poison herself. Norman found them, dead in bed. He has lived like a hermit ever since.
This raises confusion for Sam, since he saw the woman's form sitting in her bedroom window.
Chambers is content that there's nothing going on at the Bates Motel, but Sam and Lila aren't convinced. Lila suspects Norman might have killed Marion for the money, perhaps so he can close up his dead end motel and open a new one on the new highway. They head out to the motel with the intention of searching every inch of the place. They check in as husband and wife, and although they're booked into cabin 10, they enter cabin 1 at the first opportunity.
Oddly, the cabin door has been left unlocked.
Norman did a good job of cleaning the room, but he neglected to look into the toilet, where a scrap of paper with the number "40,000" has been left in the bowl.
Stefano was adamant that this movie feature a toilet being flushed, so Hitchcock advised him to write it in a way to make sure that the camera would have to show the flushing. This piece of evidence is how Stefano did it. In the book, Sam and Lila found a bloody earring in the bathroom.
I prefer the piece of paper over the bloody earring.
Sam and Lila are both very nonchalant about handling a piece of paper they just pulled out of a motel toilet.
Sam distracts Norman in the office while Lila sneaks up to the house to talk to Mrs. Bates, or whoever the elderly lady in there is. She's confident she can handle "a sick old woman". Sam is a bit too confrontational with Norman, however, which causes Norman to panic about Lila's whereabouts and rush up to the house. Seeing Norman running toward the house drives Lila down into the fruit cellar, where Norman has hidden the little old lady away. It's in the fruit cellar that the film reaches its shocking climax.
An epilogue is set at the County Court House, where psychiatrist Dr. Fred Richman reveals the whole story to Sam, Lila, Deputy Sheriff Chambers, and others gathered in an office. The story of Norman Bates, seriously disturbed ever since the death of his father when he was a young child, raised by a domineering mother as if they were the only two people in the world. Norman being pushed over the edge when his mother met the boyfriend she built the motel with. Driven by jealousy and a feeling of abandonment to poison them both. And then developing a split personality to be able to deal with what he had done. While keeping his mother's corpse in her bedroom, also keeping her alive in his mind. Thinking as her, speaking as her, dressing as her. Killing as her when someone got to him. Murdering Marion, Arbogast, and two young girls who are listed as missing persons in Fairvale.
Norman Bates has been arrested. And Norman Bates no longer exists. Mother has taken over his mind.
Why Alfred Hitchcock is considered one of the best directors of all time is evident in the masterful way in which he brought Psycho to the screen. It's a simple story on its surface, one that could have been done in a cheap, pulpy way, but Hitchcock made it with style and class.
What was supposed to be a simple story, really isn't. First it was about a regular woman, trying to better her life any way she can, then we meet a mama's boy - a deeply disturbed one - and we follow his steps, and by the time the movie approaches its end, it's something else entirely. It turns into a very elaborate and emotional tale of a lonely, troubled man who never had the chance to be normal, and now struggles to cope with the events that are a direct result of all of those unhealthy years he had with his mother.
Joseph Stefano's screenplay is very faithful to Robert Bloch's novel, but fleshed out with enrapturing exchanges of dialogue. I've always enjoyed Psycho as a classic of the genre, but the quality of the dialogue really struck me during this latest viewing.
Psycho is like a study of people's minds and how they all react during trying times. The dialogue exchanges are a huge part of what makes it possible to begin with.
The effectiveness of Stefano's words are bolstered by the cast. Janet Leigh, John Gavin (who almost became James Bond eleven years later, despite being American), Vera Miles, Martin Balsam, John McIntire, Simon Oakland, and others who have been mentioned all do well in their roles and make an impression, but the movie still wouldn't be as great as it is if Anthony Perkins hadn't gotten the role of Norman Bates.
Without this cast, the movie wouldn't be as flawless as it is. I can't think of a single actor/character who didn't do amazingly well. Even then, Perkins is something else. What an outstanding performance. It's like he is Norman Bates! Having his own demons to deal with probably helped a lot.
Bates would haunt Perkins for the rest of his career, and he would eventually give into it and make Psycho sequels and some other movies along the same lines, and while it's unfortunate that he couldn't break away from it more than he did, it's also a testament to just how incredible his performance is. His psycho is a believable, living, breathing, sympathetic character.
You feel bad for him, you almost understand why he's gone mad. The last scene in the fruit cellar is haunting.
Nearly 55 years since it was first released, with all of its secrets public knowledge, Psycho still holds up as a fantastic film that's well deserving of its classic status.
When there's a lot of hype about a certain movie, I sometimes fail to see why. That's not the case with Psycho. The movie is perfect, and if anything it should get even more hype and praise.
After the movie had a couple premieres in December of '97, January 1998 saw the wide release of the drama Good Will Hunting, starring Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Minnie Driver, and Ben Affleck, directed by Gus Van Sant from a screenplay written by Affleck and Damon. Not only did Good Will Hunting become the biggest mainstream hit of Van Sant's career, it also netted nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Director and Best Picture. It won two Oscars; Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor, Robin Williams.
While Best Picture ended up going to a special effects extravaganza about a big boat, Good Will Hunting was my pick for Best Picture that year, and is one of my favorite films, period.
Van Sant was riding high at the beginning of '98, and what did he choose to do with his new clout? He dove right into a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. And this was no ordinary remake, there was no going back to source material and putting together a new take on it. Joseph Stefano's screenplay for the original film would be re-used, just given slight revisions to update some of the dialogue for 1998. Van Sant also tried to replicate a lot of Hitchcock's shot choices. He made tweaks here and there, but Psycho '98 is nearly a shot-for-shot remake.
Because of this, it's a remake that can be directly compared to its predecessor.
The film starts off with the same type of title sequence as Saul Bass designed for the 1960 version, except now there are different names credited, Bernard Herrmann's score is being conducted as Danny Elfman, and the lines that accompany the fractured words are colored green, because green was the color Gus Van Sant had chosen to represent evil in his film.
It's the same type of opening, but that shade of green makes it look like something out of a video game. And the score sounds badly rushed for some reason.
Open on Phoenix, Arizona at 2:43pm on December 11th, 1998. A helicopter shot moves through the city, toward a cheap hotel, finds a window that's open a crack, enters the room through that crack, moving into a close-up of the nude man and the woman in her underwear who are lying on the bed, recovering from their lunch hour tryst. Sam Loomis and Marion Crane.
With this opening shot, Van Sant used modern technology to complete the shot Hitchcock wanted to do in '60. Hitchcock had to pan over the city and use dissolves and cuts to move closer to the hotel and through the open window. Van Sant was able to go seamlessly from the helicopter shot to entering the room through the window.
Marion wears a bright orange bra and then a bright peachy pink dress. It feels like they're trying to make up for the lack of color in the original, but it's too vibrant and unnecessary. The black and white was a great thing about the original, it gave it all that mysterious, classy vibe and atmosphere.
While Sam and Marion discuss the troubles with their long distance relationship and Sam's debt (the dialogue here has been cut down considerably), Van Sant plays up the sleaziness of the place they're in. The sound of other people having sex in a different room can be heard. He also cuts to a close-up of a fly crawling on Marion's uneaten lunch. Flies and death go hand-in-hand!
The whole thing feels way too cheap. A little class wouldn't hurt.
Taking over the role of Sam Loomis, Viggo Mortensen also plays up his character's sleaziness. When Marion mentions having him over for dinner with her sister, he makes a joke about being interested in hooking up with her sibling. His portrayal of the character oozes slime here, and it doesn't help that Mortensen chose to play the scene entirely naked. His back is covered with scars, disturbing patches that should be looked at by a doctor, and a tramp stamp... A tramp stamp, Viggo?
Sam is no poise and all sleaze in the remake. It doesn't work at all. Still, Marion is kind of trying to make an honest man out of him, although it seems like she's not really all that bothered by their relationship status. It doesn't seem to get to her as much as it did to Marion in the original. Different times, definitely.
Marion goes back to work at Lowery Real Estate, and as she enters the office building, Gus Van Sant makes a cameo in the same way as Hitchcock did in the original, standing outside the place. But while Hitchcock was standing alone, here Van Sant is getting yelled at by a Hitchcock lookalike.
The scene with Marion, Caroline, Mr. Lowery, and Tom Cassidy plays out in much the same way, although the amount of cash Cassidy is paying to buy his daughter's house/wedding present has been boosted from $40,000 to $400,000.
I like the actors chosen to fill these roles. While I find Pat Hitchcock's portrayal of Caroline to be more entertaining than Rita Wilson's, it's nice to see Rance Howard as Mr. Lowery, and Chad Everett is amusing as the creepy Cassidy.
Even though I like Rita Wilson, her Caroline fails in comparison to Pat Hitchcock's. And speaking of orange and sleazy, that describes Chad Everett. Love him as Mr. Cassidy and Rance Howard as Mr. Lowery.
Marion goes home early from work with a headache, and she's supposed to drop the $400,000 off in a safe deposit box at the bank on her way. She doesn't. She takes the money home. Packs a suitcase, changes clothes, stuffs the money in a purse, and heads out.
Hitchcock put Janet Leigh in black underwear to show she had gone bad, Van Sant puts Anne Heche's Marion in green underwear to show it... But does anyone other than those who were working on the movie know that green is the color of evil? I never knew that.
Again, more vibrant colors and patterns. I didn't know about green representing evil, either. I thought that green and orange might be the character's favorite colors.
Now a criminal on the run, Marion drives from Phoenix, Arizona to Fairvale, California during a twelve minute sequence. She's nearly caught on the way out of Phoenix when Lowery and Cassidy walk past her car at an intersection. The next morning, she's woken up by a highway patrolman after pulling over for a nap.
Great character actor James Remar plays the cop, who comes off as kind of sickly to me. Marion is nervous and hurried during their interaction because of the stolen cash she has on the seat beside her. I'd be nervous and hurried in fear that he might be about to vomit on me.
Anne Heche seems to be too smiley in the role. During the office scenes and here, she almost doesn't act suspicious. A little nervous, but nothing like the serious, big eyes performance we have from Janet Leigh in the original.
Having aroused the cop's suspicions with her behavior, Marion decides to get a different car at the nearest car dealership.
As Marion arrives at the car lot, Rob Zombie's "Living Dead Girl" can be heard playing from nearby. John Carpenter drew inspiration from Psycho '60 when making Halloween, a Rob Zombie song appears on the Psycho remake soundtrack, Zombie went on to remake Halloween. Everything is connected. All roads lead to Zombie.
Uh... no, Cody. Just no.
With the cop watching on, Marion trades her car and $4000 cash for an older model.
The car salesman's "Being a woman" line is still there, but James Le Gros (with whom Van Sant had previously worked on Drugstore Cowboy) does deliver it like the character knows it's not something he should say.
Marion acts very suspicious and uncomfortable with the car salesman, and I think that's partly because of his clothes and hair. He looks scary, and definitely not very late '90s.
Just like Hitchcock, Van Sant has Marion's thoughts play in voiceover over shots of her driving.
There was more of a trackable progression to Janet Leigh's reactions to the voiceovers. Anne Heche's sort of go back and forth from worried to amused to terrified.
It's not as effective. Her emotions don't show as clearly or as well. For the most part, she only looks worried to me... every other emotion going through her mind is not presented well, or at all.
Another night falls. A storm arrives with it. The rain comes down so hard, Marion can barely see the road ahead of her. In the darkness, a light appears. The neon light of a small motel.
The layout of the Bates property remains the same, but the buildings have gotten a redesign. They're updated, but certainly not improved. The motel itself is garish, with a large neon sign and fluorescents along the front, block walls in the rooms. The house was made to look like it was built in the '50s and while being rundown added to the creepiness of the original house, this house just looks ugly.
So, they're keeping pretty much everything else the same, but they mess with the sign and the house? Wrong move. The new sign is atrocious, and the house looks like an old farmhouse. I get used to it after a while, but it's nothing compared to the house in the original.
There's no one working the front desk, but when Marion sees the figure of a woman pass by an upstairs window in the house, she honks her car horn for assistance. Out of the house comes an awkward young man named Norman Bates.
After Marion checks into the motel under the false identity of Marie Samuels from Los Angeles and Norman gives her the key to cabin 1, right next to the office, he asks her to have dinner with him up at the house... An idea which does not go over well with his mother. From her room, Marion hears the two arguing, Mrs. Bates accusing Norman of having a perverted ulterior motive for inviting Marion into their home.
Verbally beaten down by his mother, Norman brings the food down for Marion to eat in the office parlor while the two have a conversation, surrounded by Norman's taxidermied birds.
Superbly written by Stefano, the parlor scene is a pivotal one. To see it replayed here is an interesting study in how different actors can deliver the same lines in a completely different manner.
The dialogue doesn't go so well in the remake. While it's one of my favorite scenes from the original, here it starts to feel boring after a while. I can't get as involved and it doesn't feel as real.
Vince Vaughn had the most to live up to, taking over the Norman Bates role that belonged to Anthony Perkins for decades, the role that made Perkins' career. His Norman seems more pathetic than Perkins', more off-putting. A little boy in the body of a giant who seems on the verge of breaking down in tears. Vaughn also punctuates some lines with a ridiculous little laugh, which ruins "We all go a little mad sometimes."
Vince Vaughn did have a certain charm just like Anthony Perkins at that age, but that's pretty much all they have in common. I'm not saying Vaughn was awful, but there is no way to compare him to Perkins. Like I said before, Perkins was Norman. No one else would've done better in that role.
Norman and Marion don't seem to connect as much in this iteration as Perkins and Janet Leigh did. Heche's Marion seems aloof and above-it-all. Maybe some of that is just her voice.
Their interaction is very shallow. It feels off and uninteresting.
The most controversial scene in the remake occurs when Marion returns to her room and prepares to take a shower. In the original, Norman just spied on her through a hole in the parlor wall. He goes further in this version. As he watches Marion undress and put on a robe, we hear him unbuckle his pants... Norman Bates masturbates.
I feel like even if that is something that the character would do - which kind of ruins the whole "sex is forbidden" thing Norman had going - it just doesn't add anything to the movie.
Some feel that if Norman has a release like this, he wouldn't go on to kill Marion. Vaughn defended the scene, saying that it's because he does something so nasty that the mother personality takes over and feels Marion must die. I can see it working either way, I just don't agree with the addition of the masturbation because Psycho should be classier than that.
Again... the lack of class in the remake is astounding.
Deciding to return the money to Phoenix in the morning, Marion does some (incorrect) math on a piece of paper to figure out how much of it she has left, then tears up the paper, flushes it down the toilet, and gets into the shower.
As Marion showers, the form of an elderly woman enters the bathroom. The shower curtain is ripped aside and the woman begins viciously plunging a large kitchen knife into Marion, over and over, stabbing her to death...
The shower kill isn't nearly as effective here as it was in the original. This attempt to re-do it just comes off as lame. There's a cheesy zoom into Marion's screaming mouth, the shots and angles don't work as well, it feels too choreographed. There's a shot in which Mrs. Bates' face can be seen too clearly; a poor choice, and it looks like the actor's face is covered in dark paint.
The dark, black face is silly. The lack of blood on the knife after repeated stabbings is too obvious, and even the shower curtain is distracting. Epic fail.
Van Sant adds an expressionistic touch by cutting in shots of storm clouds amidst the mayhem.
I don't like it. I'd rather he didn't.
We see Marion fall to the floor in an overhead shot that lingers way too long.
47 minutes into the film, the character we've been following since the beginning has been brutally removed from it.
Now it's time for a horrified Norman to clean up his mother's mess, which he does as night gradually turns into dawn. Marion, all of her belongings, and the remainder of the $400,000 are dumped into the swamp in the trunk of her car, the bathroom is mopped, Norman takes care of everything.
The clean-up sequence lasts nearly as long in this film as it did in Hitchcock's. It's unlikely that most directors would devote 10 minutes of running time to such a sequence in the modern age, but Van Sant adheres to the original even for this segment.
The way it's shown here, since the bathroom floor is so bright and white, it feels unrealistic that Norman would be able to get all the blood removed from the cracks of the tile floor just by using the mop like that.
Jump to Friday, December 18th and Sam Loomis is sitting at the back of Loomis Hardware (Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers plays the clerk), writing a letter to Marion to let her know that he has reconsidered the idea of them getting married. They might be happy together in Fairvale after all.
Since I've always been a Red Hot Chili Peppers fan, having Flea as the clerk is a plus in my book.
1998 is about the limit for the idea of a couple communicating just through snail mail. Any later than that and Sam would be wondering why Marion isn't replying to his e-mails.
The movie feels extremely dated to me. From the clothes to the locations and dialogue. It doesn't feel like 1998. It didn't then and it doesn't now.
Then Sam discovers that Marion is missing when her amped up, angry sister Lila shows up at the store, demanding to see her sibling. Sam has barely gotten her calmed down before a private investigator named Arbogast shows up in search of the $400,000.
Here we have a pair of great actors taking different approaches to this material. As Arbogast, William H. Macy wanted to follow in the footsteps of Martin Balsam's original performance, while Julianne Moore makes Lila an even more intense character. A tough chick with rock 'n' roll coming through her headphones who always seems about to kick some ass.
I really like Julianne Moore, but having her as Lila didn't work for me. I don't like that approach at all.
I love William H. Macy, and he does well as Arbogast, though he never sounds or acts as tough and clever as the original character. And it's hard to take him seriously wearing that hat. It just looks goofy.
Convinced Marion must be staying in the Fairvale area, Arbogast goes on his hotel/motel search that eventually leads him to the Bates Motel and a conversation with Norman. Arbogast's line of questioning breaks Norman down so badly that he goes from saying that Marion never even stayed at the motel to admitting that his mother had some kind of interaction with her.
As this scene plays out, it becomes more and more apparent to me that Vince Vaughn was miscast as Norman Bates. Whereas Anthony Perkins totally inhabited the role, nothing about Vaughn's line deliveries feel natural to me. Vaughn generally does a lot of improvisation, and he seems boxed in by having to stick to the script.
Other than the parlor scene, this is the one that's Vaughn's weakest in the movie. Nothing about it works.
The Arbogast/Norman scene also contains an example of lines being updated for 1998, with "If it doesn't gel, it isn't aspic" becoming "If it doesn't gel, it isn't Jell-O."
Arbogast checks in with Lila from a pay phone to let her know everything he learned at the Bates Motel - Marion stayed there, cabin #1, an old lady in the house talked to Marion, and he wants to go back and be able to ask the woman about it.
Much later than '98 and the fact that Arbogast uses a pay phone would be outdated, too.
Note the evidence that this phone is up against the side of a strip club - there's a neon sign of a woman's legs beside the booth. Van Sant obviously wanted to coat this Psycho with a veneer of sleaze.
Outdated and sleazy are the two main words that come to mind when describing Psycho 1998. No doubt about it whatsoever.
Arbogast returns to the Bates property, and with Norman seemingly busy changing linens in the cabins, the private investigator walks up to the house. He goes upstairs, headed for the room where he saw the form of a woman sitting at the window. When he reaches the top step, Mrs. Bates comes rushing out of her room, knife in hand, and begins slashing away at him.
Van Sant shoots this murder in the same way as Hitchcock did, and yet it doesn't work. The backwards stumble down the stairs looks silly, and the flashes cut in during the kill are absurd. A woman in nothing but underwear and a blindfold? A sheep standing in the middle of the road during a rainstorm? What the hell is this?
The first time (and only time I saw the remake until now) I thought there was something wrong with my DVD copy. It was just so completely random and out there, it's ridiculous. I still don't get it, and it ruins the scene, which wasn't even that great to begin with. Just makes it even worse.
With Lila nervous and agitated when Arbogast doesn't return to the hardware store, Sam stops by the Bates Motel to find no one around.
The kiss on the cheek Sam gives Lila before he leaves her at the hardware store is super awkward.
And again... kind of sleazy.
The only person Sam sees is the woman sitting in the upstairs bedroom of the house. The sick old lady unable to answer the door. A visit to Deputy Sheriff Chambers is in order.
This angrier version of Lila's exchange with Chambers is more heated. While they're talking, Sam makes another awkward move that Lila clearly doesn't appreciate when he tries to put his arm around her shoulders.
From Chambers, Sam and Lila get the information that Arbogast couldn't possibly talk to Mrs. Bates because the woman is dead, having poisoned her lover and herself ten years earlier. Chambers calls Norman to confirm that Marion stayed at the motel for a night a week ago and that Norman talked to the private investigator, both of them left, and the Deputy Sheriff is satisfied. Sam and Lila are not.
With so much attention being focused on the Bates place, Norman knows he has to hide his mother away in the fruit cellar for a little while. He goes into her room and we overhear the two arguing about the idea before he takes her to the fruit cellar by force, carrying her down the stairs.
Why was Mrs. Bates' corpse wearing pink? That just wouldn't happen. Black, or maybe navy or even a few shades of grey would work... but definitely not pink.
Vaughn's side of their argument sounds so awful. "Pleeeease, mother?" When I first saw this movie, I thought he did alright as Norman. Now I feel like they would have had to try to miscast the role on purpose to get it any more wrong.
An extra scene with Chambers and his wife outside their church on Sunday morning was cut, and the film moves right on to Sam and Lila driving to the Bates Motel to check in so they can snoop around.
Cutting the church scene makes sense, since it was basically just Chambers repeating the things he said during the scene at his house.
Checking in as husband and wife (Lila being a wife who doesn't like her husband touching her very much), being given the key to cabin 10, Sam and Lila investigate the unlocked cabin 1 at their first opportunity. The room has been cleaned well, but they find a scrap of paper with "400,000" written on it in the toilet bowl.
As in the '60 version, neither of them seem to mind touching a piece of paper they got out of the toilet.
People aren't all that worried about the germs, I suppose.
Determined to talk to whoever the old lady in the house is, Lila sneaks away while Sam distracts Norman in the office.
During Lila's search of the house, in Norman's room - a little boy's room full of toys and stuffed animals - there are different finds than what was seen in the original. A record player that had Beethoven on it in '60 now has George Jones and Tammy Wynette. Vera Miles was disturbed when looking at a book with blank covers. We weren't shown what she saw inside. Julianne Moore finds a porn magazine, and we see some of the inside pages as she leafs through it.
Any opportunity to lather on some sleaze.
Unfortunately, Sam's conversation with Norman gets too confrontational, ending with Sam getting a golf club upside his head and Norman rushing toward the house. Seeing Norman running her way drives Lila down into the fruit cellar, where she discovers Mrs. Bates and Norman's dark, shocking secret.
That night at the County Court House, psychiatrist Dr. Simon gives all the information on the situation at the Bates place to Sam, Lila, Chambers, and others gathered in an office. The facts about Norman's history and mental state remain the same, but the doctor's monologue has been given a polish, and the part about two young girls having been previous victims has been removed.
Norman Bates has been arrested, but Norman Bates no longer exists. The mother half of his personality, created to help him deal with the fact that he killed his mother, has taken over.
Psycho '98 received a wide release in the United States on December 4, 1998. One year to the day after Good Will Hunting's New York premiere. Twelve months for Gus Van Sant to go from his most highly regarded film to what is widely perceived as a baffling misstep. Van Sant gave different reasons over time for why he would remake Psycho, and remake it in the way he did. At first, he said it was an experiment and he saw it like a new staging of a play. During the build up to its release, he said it was a way to introduce Hitchcock's film to a new generation, kids who might not watch a black and white, forty year old film. Later, he said he remade Psycho so nobody else would have to.
I think the truth is a mixture of the three. The "introduce it to a new generation" one is more of a promotional line, but Van Sant has been very experimental in his career, especially since Psycho. Gerry, Elephant, Last Days, none of those are your typical movies. Psycho being an experiment for him totally makes sense. It was his biggest experiment. And indeed, him remaking it in 1998 did save us from Psycho being included in the remake boom of the 2000s, when someone could have taken a much more disappointing approach to it than Van Sant's attempt at near replication.
I think he was just wanting some money, honestly. The more you have, the more you want. It doesn't seem like a lot of effort or passion were put into this movie. It feels lifeless.
December 4 is the day before my birthday, so I saw this Psycho in the theatre during the weekend I turned 15. I thought it was decent at the time. Nowhere near the original, but not terrible. Which is interesting, the discovery that you can take the same script and shoot it nearly the same way, and yet not be able to recapture the magic another director captured decades earlier.
That wasn't a very good birthday present. I've never liked the movie... I hated it the first time I saw it, and I never checked it again until now. I still don't like it, but I guess I hated my first viewing more. Maybe because I knew what was coming this time around.
Van Sant even assembled some greats to speak the lines originally written by Stefano and shot by Hitchcock. I don't have a problem with Vince Vaughn in general, his Norman just doesn't work for me. Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortensen, William H. Macy, Philip Baker Hall, Robert Forster, James Le Gros, it's an awesome cast, and yet they're unable to make this version awesome. Why is that? Why doesn't it work better?
The cast is very solid. Even Anne Heche isn't someone I hate. She's alright. But there are two problems here: first is that most, if not all of the actors in the original made their characters so amazingly perfect, unique and effective that there's no room for substitutes; second is that it simply doesn't feel like Van Sant was really trying... it feels empty and lacking all around.
Van Sant made some missteps. I strongly disagree with his choice to add in the sleaziness, and with those strange cutaways during the murders. But something just feels off about the scenes in general.
He was relying on the actors being who they are and on the movie being what it is. He thought that's all he needed, but no... it needed an extra touch, an extra something, that wasn't sleaziness. It's sorely missed.
Part of the problem is that I find the movie hideous to look at. Set design and decoration, the costumes, it's horrendously ugly.
Everything looks cheap, bland and dated to me.
I still don't think Psycho '98 is downright bad. It can't be all bad, with Stefano's script and some of these cast members. It's an interesting experiment that resulted in a rather forgettable movie. There's very little reason to watch it.
It's not terrible, there are remakes I'm not willing to watch for a second time at all. This is clearly not one of them. It's just that if I'm in the mood for a Psycho movie, this won't be it. Not once.
During production, Viggo Mortensen pitched Van Sant an idea for a different way to remake Psycho: put it in a punk rock setting. This idea even gets mentioned at the end of '98's audio commentary, with Anne Heche saying, "Time for Punk Rock Psycho." Van Sant talked about pursuing this idea as late as 2003. Nothing more has been said over the last eleven years, so I don't think we'll be doing a Punk Rock Psycho addendum to this article any time soon, if ever.
Oh my. I really hope that won't happen. Sounds like even more sleaziness. I'm out.