The first question is why. Why do people pay $45 to see four guys imitate The Beatles? Why is one of the longest running shows in Las Vegas a revue of celebrity impersonators? Is it because people feel the need to connect with their nostalgic roots?

Are people so desperate for just one more taste of something they can’t have that they’re willing to accept an imitation? So that brings us back to the big question. Why? Why would someone want to do a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”? Not just a remake, but a literal shot-by-shot recreation in color.

I’m sure the age old argument about Generation X’s not being interested in a black and white classic so why not remake it in color came up more than once. I’m sure Alfred Hitchcock spun in his grave more than once.

Not that remaking Hitchcock is a bad thing. It’s been done before, most recently with “A Perfect Murder.” Hitchcock has also been ripe for comedy, hence “Throw Momma from the Train,” “High Anxiety” and “Foul Play.”

Yet, for some reason, and even though it’s shower scene has been often imitated, “Psycho” has been off limits. It’s almost as if the film is so revered that it would be sacrilege to tamper with or remake it. There have been sequels and prequels, and even numerous imitators, yet there is only one “Psycho.”

Now thanks to director Gus Van Sant, there are two “Psychos.” Does the world really need another “Psycho”? Does the world really need a “Psycho” in color? Are Generation X moviegoers so unsophisticated that the only way to get them to see a classic is to remake it in color and slap and “R” rating on it?

So the second big question is, is the damn thing any good? Technically, “Psycho” is a remarkable tribute to the original film. Director of photography Chris Doyle and director Van Sant do an excellent job of matching Hitchcock shot for shot. Their recreation of Hitchcock’s classic style does create a sense of nostalgia. So does Tom Foden’s production design, which offers a different take on the Bates house yet still evokes horrific memories. The film even incorporates Bernard Herrmann’s original musical score of haunting strings, updated and orchestrated by Danny Elfman, and Saul Bass’ original credits.

It’s all very nostalgic, and Van Sant has recruited a study cast to pull off the familiar characters. Still, there’s no sense of wonderment or discovery. It’s too familiar. While original screenwriter Joseph Stefano has modernized the script, and the film includes more nudity and sexual content than the original, the film never hits its stride.

Vince Vaughn is appropriately creepy as motel manager Norman Bates, the ultimate momma’s boy. Vaughn, hair closely cropped and wild eyed, does just fine as Bates. He’s shy, he’s handsome, and he’s a lady killer.

Anne Heche takes off her clothes once again (I’ve seen her naked more times than Ellen) as thief with a heart of gold Marion Crane, who winds up at the Bates Motel while on the run with $400,000 of her boss’ money. Marion is on her way to meet her boyfriend Sam (Viggo Mortensen), and hopes that the money will buy them a new life.

Marion never makes it to her destination. She takes that infamous shower, and becomes another victim of bad Motel management. Van Sant uses the “R” rating to go further than Hitchcock was allowed to go back in 1960. In the original, when Norman Bates peeks in on Marion getting undressed for her shower, the act was treated as nothing more than voyeurism. In the new film, Van Sant makes no mystery of what Norman is doing while he watches Marion.

William H. Macy shines as the private detective hired to find Marion, while Julianne Moore is strong as Marion’s determined sister. Van Sant has filled many of the film’s smaller roles with excellent character actors like Anne Haney, Robert Forster, Philip Baker Hall and Rance Howard.

For all of their hard work, the performers are just killing time. Perhaps teenagers unfamiliar with the mechanics of the plot will find it scary and intense. I appreciated the effort, and admired the performers and the production values, yet found the film remote and distant.

It just didn’t have that urgency that I felt the first time I saw “Psycho.” Perhaps Van Sant backed himself into a no win corner. Either he pays homage to Hitchcock by shooting the film frame-by-frame, or he changes the film and gives it his own stamp. Whatever the choice, he’s going to infuriate purists.

Unfortunately, I’m one of those. I don’t mind Hollywood tinkering with films that didn’t work the first time. Do they really need to tinker with classic films that are so indelibly ingrained in our subconscious? I say if they can’t bring anything new to the material, then leave my childhood memories alone.

Just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should do it. Now, if they could have turned ‘Psycho” into holograph, that might have been different. As it stands, it’s just a case of been there, done that.


Vince Vaughn, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Anne Heche, Viggo Mortensen, Robert Forster, Rita Wilson, Chad Everett, Philip Baker Hall, Anne Haney in a film directed by Gus Van Sant. 96 Min. Rated R.


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