Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Something Nobody Wants To Celebrate: Gus Van Sant's PSYCHO Remake Turns 15 Today

Whether we're willing to admit it or not, the much maligned Gus Van Sant remake of Alfred Hitchock's Psycho from 1998 has left a legacy.  You don't have to be favorable or liked to have made an impression or leave your mark.  When discussions happen about remakes-their quality, their necessity, what to do and what not to do-you'll be hard pressed to find the remake conversation where this movie DOESN'T come up.  Today, I've decided on its 15th anniversary, to take a look back at the film that terrified people and made them scared for different reasons than the original film.  It opened film lovers' eyes and frightened them of the reality this film was the gateway for.  That NO MOVIE, no matter how perfect the first time around or how loved and adored was safe from being remade or retooled.

In 1997, director Gus Van Sant was coming of his most successful film of his career in Good Will Hunting.  The film was a success, with critics, audiences, box office and Academy Award recognition.  He was in a position of picking whatever he wanted to do.  So, he picked to do a shot-for-shot remake of Psycho.  Why?  When asked he has the bullshit answer of "So no one else would have to".  I can see the intrigue for it as a personal experiment.  An expensive one, but that's about where the interest lies.  Selling it as a motion picture event and as "The NEW, modern version" is a thing in itself that nobody wants.  Let's face it, as much as this thing is hated, if it WAS a personal experiment that Van Sant went out, shot and put in his personal collection never to be seen except for his own enjoyment, word would be out and people would be demanding to see it.  People would be demanding it on Blu-ray and DVD.  There would be an extreme curiosity to see this project.  Psycho, in color with different actors and a different production.  The question is...would it have been received as negatively as something that WAS actually pushed into the populace?  We'll never know that.
Within moments of its announcement, the film was already DOA.  The questioning of why and the disdain for actually going ahead with it were pretty vile and everpresent.  This was, after all, a perfect film in every sense of the word.  The film was rated as one of the best of all time.  It was incredibly engrained into pop culture at the time (and I'm sure still is in some form today).  You were never going to effectively recreate the shower scene or end revelation when everyone and their "mother" knows its coming and what its all about.  ESPECIALLY if you are doing a shot for shot remake.  Instead its like putting on a new version of a super popular play at a local theater. 
All of the disdain for the film eventually led to poor reviews and a bad box office.  There were changes to the film but they were slight and kind of annoying.  When I saw it opening weekend, this day 15 years ago, I was really pissed off with the decision to have Norman Bates beat off while watching Marion change in her room.  Also finding stupid were the weird things they cut to when the killings were happening.  They were like images out of a bad 90s music video.  I was like everyone else going to see it.  I was against it happening but incredibly curious to see what had been done.  And also like everyone else, my fists were up going in.
I watched the film again for the first time last night since my initial theater going experience.  It had been done, I am older, more mature, more experienced in film, so why not give these eyes a shot at it.  And, I'm sad to say...its still really no good.  Its an incredibly boring experience.  Everything is pretty much the same, but absolutely lifeless in comparison to its predecessor.  I took away only a few miniscule things I liked about it.  First, James Remar as the officer that finds Marion asleep on the side of the road was like the man's calling in life.  Watching the original Psycho, you'd almost swear it was him.  Second, I thought the new house, while not iconic as the original, looked very creepy and intimidating.  The last thing I thought was ok, was Viggo Mortensen (his 2nd Hitchcock remake in the 90s!) and Julianne Moore's performances.  Mainly, because they were the only people that brought "something" to this movie and didn't make me feel as if I was watching somebody going off memory or trying to replicate scenes.  The audience is familiar with the original and, aside from those two, the casts' performances come across as being familiar too.  Its as if my friends and I were going over scenes from Psycho in my garage.  And Vince Vaughn's Norman Bates comes across as way too damn obvious the whole time.  The actor knows Norman's secret and its showing.  I'm normally a fan of Anne Heche, but she brings nothing here.
While the film did tank and was reviled, it did open a big door.  Now that this damage had been done, who cares what's next?  If Psycho could be redone, then nothing else is sacred.  It would be 5 years though, before it would become popular and start a trend with Platinum Dunes' The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but I can't help but think Gus Van Sant's film sort of ushered in or broke the barrier of "You can't possibly do that".  This remake also goes to show how important it is that if you are doing a remake to put your own stamp on it and make it your own.  Don't just do the same damn story again.  Fanboys will whine and complain that you didn't do X "right" or didn't do it just like "Y" was.  If you do it the same, then they're going to tell you it was "pointless" and the original did it so much better.  So why not make your own film?  I agree, the same thing redone completely is totally boring.  That's why I think the "reboot" route has been far more successful as far as reception is concerned.  You'd do well to find and explore something new within something old.  Devin Faraci recently claimed that the Psycho remake now stands as a prophetic vision of what was to come with remakes the following decade and I can't argue that.
In the end, I think the most amazing thing about this Psycho remake is that it didn't really ruin or severely damage anyone involved's career.  Which is surprising considering how things were back then.  Its a pretty bad and boring slog of a film.  I don't think you need me to tell you to just go and watch the original. 

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