If there’s one thing I like doing for Remaketober, it’s remakes of extremely important movies. I wish I could say that it was entirely because I love examining films that were influential and the ripple effects they had on culture (and don’t get me wrong, that is part of it). But honestly, the main reason I love doing them, is because there is an extra level of outrage built into my coverage of the remake. Rarely can the remake even begin to live up to the original sure, but how dare they remake it in the first place, right? And from that angle, this week is the jackpot; I literally don’t think there’s any horror film that even comes close to this one’s level of importance, that has a remake.
…Okay, maybe Nosferatu.
To say that Psycho is an important film is to massively understate it. In terms of horror, movies like Halloween, The Exorcist and The Shining are important films. Psycho is THE important horror film, perhaps only exceeded by The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I have occasionally heard people refer to this towering giant of a movie as ‘cliched’ but such an opinion can only reveal the speaker’s ignorance; If Psycho appears cliched, it’s because it invented and perfected the cliches that the viewer is recognizing.
It’s also an excellent film in its own right (and people who assume that a movie that’s important has to be good, should probably watch Heaven’s Gate, one of the most important films of the 1980s, and which is borderline unwatchable). Psycho still gets to me, even on repeat viewings, using a combination of excellent filmmaking, good acting, and a great script. And there aren’t too many horror films that can get to me after this many viewings (I think I’m on 6).
It’s also on the short list of movies I think is objectively better than its book. The book was based on infamous not-quite-serial killer Ed Gein (who also inspired Silence of the Lambs and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), and it does a lot in the way of making both Marion and Norman more interesting, stuff which the book lacks, and omits a lot of the more bizarre and unpleasant stuff that makes Norman less sympathetic. Further, and this is odd for a visual medium, but I feel it cheats a little less with the end twist. There’s no way for me to discuss the reasons for this without spoiling, but trust me, the way the book handles the twist is much less about concealing information than it is about straight up lying to the audience.
There are other things I could go on about this movie, such as its incredible screenplay, its great use of visual foreshadowing (look at the way the birds are arranged in the conversation in the office), or even just a multi-paragraph rant about how incredible the shower scene is, and why its one of the most iconic scenes in all of movie history. But I’m trying to keep these articles to around 1,000 words, and not only do I know that I can (and have) go on about Psycho for pages, but I also have a lot to say about the remake. Besides, we all know Psycho is great. We’ve all seen it. And if you haven’t, fix that immediately.
Psycho is the weirdest remake I’ve ever covered. If I said that about another movie, I was wrong. Watching this movie directly after the original is a bizarre experience, like shifting into an alternate universe slightly to the left of ours. The director (Gus van Sant, a fine director in his own right) has defended it at various times as an odd experiment in making a shot for shot remake or as something made (and I quote directly) “So no one else would have to,” but it remains an incredibly hard to defend film.
And when I say shot for shot, I mean shot for shot. This is the first time I’ve ever seen the remake, so I assumed the reports of it being shot for shot were at least a tiny bit exaggerated. And while there some odd additions (such as weird nature montages added anytime anyone gets killed or Norman Bates um…how to phrase this right…failing to be Master of His Domain. Do people still get that reference?) but aside from those oddities, it’s basically the same movie. Same soundtrack, same camera work, same editing, same script even.
Which is what makes it bewildering that it’s also bordering on completely unwatachable. Part of that is merely the bizarre expectations placed on a remake of one of the most important films of all time; The Magnificent Seven is a fine film on its own merits, but it must always be compared to Seven Samurai, which is a fight it’s gonna lose. But its more than that. The remake is going through the same motions as the original, but drained of its life and energy, a hollow and lifeless exercise. Gerry was more interesting to watch, if only because it’s weirdly boring as opposed to just regular boring.
The only other issue I want to address is the (admittedly necessary) recasting. The secondary cast is a litany of a great actors (Viggo Mortensen, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy) who all do good jobs, but the leads are completely incapable. Anne Hesche is reading the same script as Janet Leigh, but is reading it all wrong and her character winds up being 100 percent less interesting. Vince Vaughn is the big drag however, as he’s not a very good actor (thanks for f**king up True Detective Vince) and he can’t sell the kind of vulnerable sadness that the script calls for, to conceal the twist. He ends up magnitudes more creepy than the original, on top of his natural belligerent asshole persona.
Roger Ebert said on this film that genius lives between the shots. I don’t quote other critics often, but I think that turn of phrase is so perfect for what’s wrong with this film that I want to reuse it. I want to believe that Gus van Sant’s experiment was a success, even if I’m not certain what the point was, because I don’t know if I could take another remake this weirdly bad.
Next week (yes there are 5 weeks of Remaketober this month, there are 5 Saturdays this month) we go into a movie that has a remake I actually like. After all, I need a movie I actually like to…Help. Meeeeeeeeeeee. Oh god that was forced.