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IN SHORT: Changed enough not to be called a Forgery. Not changed enough to be declared Original.
A "re-creation" of the film by Alfred Hitchcock, Rated R
Cranky will not say that there aren't moments in Gus Van Sant's Psycho that aren't downright creepy. There are. As Cranky never makes reference to Source Material, he was faced with the almost impossible task of reviewing a film that is such an in-your-face copy of the original that he decided to split the baby. I'm going to treat this version of Psycho as nothing better (and nothing worse) than a re-release of the original, which means there will be no dollar rating below and I can say what I want. If you're one of the thirty-seven or so people that have absolutely no idea what Psycho is about, read the next paragraph and go to the theater. Everybody else, continue.
On December 11, 1998, Miss Marion Crane (Anne Heche) of Phoenix Arizona took $400,000 in cash from the real estate office in which she worked and, instead of depositing it in the bank, got in her car and vanished off the face of the earth. So did a private detective (William H. Macy) hired to find her. Marion's sister, Lila (Julianne Moore), with the help of Marion's boyfriend Sam Loomis (Viggo Mortenson) had better luck. What they found, at the remote Bates Motel; and what they discovered about owner Norman Bates (Vince Vaughn) and what had come before was positively shocking . . . (now go to the movies)
FROM HERE ON IN, CRANKY ASSUMES YOU KNOW THE STORY . . .
So, What They Found, and what they discovered about what had come before was positively shocking . . . positively shocking for 1960. When Gus Van Sant announced that he was going to do a shot by shot remake of Psycho, Cranky suppressed the notion to go out and rent the original, just to be up to speed. With the exception of the shower scene, which is shown ad nauseam on almost every film retrospective, he hadn't seen the original on a big screen in twenty years and, honestly, has never seen it on a small screen. That being said, there are only three memorable scenes in Alfred Hitchcock's original: the shower, the stairs and the cellar. The roles of the boyfriend and sister, in the original, were so forgettable that Cranky had to look up the original actors in a book. In that respect, at least, there was room for improvement.
With the blessing's of the Hitchcock estate and the still twitching pen of original screenwriter Joseph Stefano, who updated part of his original work (based on a novel by Robert Bloch), Van Sant hired a damned fine pair of actors to step into the roles made famous by Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins -- Anne Heche and Vince Vaughn.Despite her real life preferences, Heche has never failed to pull off a "straight" role, except here. The sex has nothing to do with it. Heche is strait-jacketed by what seems to be an anal retentive attention to detail in the recreation of her part of the story. What jogged Cranky's memory as being different about this version are the more biological aspects of the aftereffects of a knife attack, and those are all cosmetic touches. The first act, and murder, are as disposable as the body. Vince Vaugn as Norman Bates brings his little laugh and some petite affectations to the role that make it interesting to watch. Simply, his casting was the one decision you couldn't argue with.
Which brings us to Private Detective Arbogast (William H. Macy). Macy brings more life to his role than the original (Martin Basalm) and his encounter with Norman Bates' mother at the top of the stair brought genuine gasps of horror and astonishment from the crowd in the theater Cranky saw the flick in -- there were no sneak previews of the flick 'cuz studio Universal pretty well knew they were damned if they did and damned if they didn't. Julianne Moore, as Lila, accomplishes something in her ballsy performance that Vera Miles never did. She makes you remember that she was on screen. Because of her segments, you'll also remember Viggo Mortenson as the boyfriend, but only briefly. His part was a minor, and mostly forgettable, part of the original and is not much more here.
With so much attention being paid to recreating the original, Cranky wonders why screenwriter Joseph Stefano was brought in at all. The "modernization" of the script is not much more than a change in the amount stolen by Marion and a more realistic representation of certain sexual aspects of the story. Psycho got away with a hell of a lot in 1960. Cranky remembers Norman doing the Peeping Tom bit, but not masturbating while doing it. Perkins may have, but I don't remember it. It's a logical addition, if so. Add to that a mention of the Sony Walkman, an occasional satellite dish in a shot and that about brings you up to date . . . except that you still need an operator to connect a rotary dialed phone call in whatever town in California the story occurs in.
I'll tip my hat to Gus Van Sant for having the balls to try and pull this off, but I'll point out the major disappointment of this mix. The music. Bernard Herrmann's original score, pretty much intact fails to scare the number two out of you at all the appropriate points. That's a soundmix error, and I wish I could blame it on the theater, but everything else was in balance. The screaming staccato violins should absolutely make the hair on your arms rise up every time you hear them. They don't.
As I said, no rating. Seeing Psycho, new cast and full color, was actually a bemusing experience. The first act looks like the TV show, rear projection travel images and all, that it did when Hitchcock's TV crew filmed the original. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
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