Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) is widely influential. Many critics consider it to be the first slasher film. Even if you have not seen this Hitchcock classic, you have seen its tropes reverberate through modern horror cinema. In 1998, director Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, My Own Private Idaho, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) released a shot–for–shot, line–by–line Psycho remake.
Van Sant’s replication was received poorly by viewers and critics alike. In fact, it won the 1998 Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Remake or Sequel. The remake clumsily stuffs Hitchcock’s refined filmic innovations into an anachronistic reframing without the enrichment of reinterpretation or adaptation.
In the words of William H. Macy as Detective Arbogast in the Psycho remake, “If it don’t gel, it ain’t Jello, and this just ain’t gellin’. It’s not coming together somehow.”
The Psycho remake was touted as a mirror image of the original, yet Van Sant’s version “differs from the original in more ways than you can wave a butcher knife at.”  Some of these differences are an intentional marker of Van Sant’s authorship, while some reflect changes for contemporary audiences. Most variations from the original Psycho reflect a failure to replicate Hitchcock’s original sound, pacing, blocking, cuts, and camera movements.
Although Van Sant follows the original structure precisely and copies the most important shots mimetically, he also introduces variations, for better or for worse, that make his text different from the original. 
All in all, the tone of Van Sant’s replication reminds me of a maladroit high school production of Shakespearean drama. Van Sant himself has stated that classic films can be restaged in the same way that theater productions restage classic plays.  Unfortunately for Van Sant, his ‘restaging’ of Psycho is an inept husk of the monumental original.
An erring cast
In effect, Van Sant reinterprets the characters of Psycho through his choices in casting. By extension, he adjusts the psychoanalytic dynamics at play between the characters. Some of Van Sant’s casting choices successfully update the characters’ roles to the contemporaneous context of the late ‘90s. In particular, Juliane Moore invests the character of Lila Crane with more female autonomy than did Vera Miles. The few advantageous casting choices are, however, obliterated by the stunning inadequacies of casting for the leading roles.
Anne Heche plays a flimsy version of Marion Crane in the Psycho remake, and Vince Vaughn renders a gauche Norman Bates. Screenwriter Joseph Stefano, who first adapted Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho for Hitchcock and later worked with Van Sant on the Psycho remake, lamented that Anne Heche “play[ed] an entirely different character [… that] the dialogue and the character sounded like two different people.”
Throughout Van Sant’s Psycho, Marion Crane is less serious with her boyfriend Sam Loomis, less alarmed by figures of authority (namely, the policeman and the car salesman), and less perturbed by Norman’s general creepiness. Heche’s Marion is more light–hearted and flirtatious, and thus “conveys almost nothing of Janet Leigh’s hard–boiled intelligence and mounting neurosis.” 
Heche’s ability to project a new version of Marion Crane is an achievement in comparison to Vaughn’s empty performance of Norman Bates.  When I first viewed the Psycho remake knowing that Vince Vaughn would portray Norman Bates, I actively shed my associations with Vaughn’s typecasting but still found myself unable to accept his performance. Vaughn clunkily mimics Anthony Perkins’ gestures in a “stale imitation” without embodying any modicum of the absorbing, eerie poise that the original Norman Bates personifies. 
Like the art student copying Van Gogh, [Vaughn] does not create a character at all, but merely copies someone else’s, an endeavor that cannot help but fail as an act of creation. 
For one thing, unlike the original Norman Bates, Vaughn’s Norman emits a jarring, inorganic chuckle after he speaks. To me, this repetitive gaffe symbolizes the Psycho remake as a whole: it inexplicably insists on inserting an ineffective and pointless variation into what purports to be a replication of its source material. Additionally, Vaughn as Norman radiates faux femininity that awkwardly presupposes Norman’s inculcation by the Mother aspect of his psyche.
Many critics take note of the inversion of body types in casting Marion and Norman in the Psycho remake. In the original, Marion’s “fine soft flesh” is softer and more curvaceous while Norman is lean and angular; in the remake, Heche’s Marion is thin and light while Vaughn’s Norman is of a heavier, more masculine build. Norman’s ability to at turns look alternatingly feminine and ferocious and the resultant “visual rhyme” of his doubling identification with various characters is thus interrupted in the remake.  The inversion of the leading actors’ body types was undoubtedly intentional on Van Sant’s part, and perhaps injects a more direct insinuation of heterosexual desire into Norman’s character. 
A shot–for–shot failure
What irritates me most about the Psycho remake is its wavering between re–inventiveness and replication. The film initially strives to be the mirror image of Hitchcock’s Psycho. Its insertions of variation from the original are sonorously vacant of meaning contextualized within the laborious replication. These ineffectual deviations from the original in the shot–for–shot Psycho remake are underscored by Van Sant’s inability to perfectly replicate Hitchcock’s directorial style. Let’s examine the aberrations in the Psycho remake that I personally find most dissonant because they are the essential, change–making shots in the original film: the motel parlor scene and the classic shower scene.
In the Psycho remake, the Bates motel itself is transformed into a neon eyesore. The set design converts from a campy, rustic motel in the original into a motel that wants to belong in Las Vegas (which is, incidentally, where Tom Cassidy suggests Marion Crane should spend her weekend). The exterior set design of Bates Motel is a much more faithful depiction of Hitchcock’s original. The interior mise–en–scène of the Bates Motel in the Psycho remake is a satisfyingly accurate recreation of the original.
When Norman invites Marion to dine with her in the motel office parlor in the remake, we are forcefully confronted with both Heche’s and Vaughn’s inability to convey the nuanced characterization of their source material. Beyond this collapse in the characters’ rendering, Van Sant’s framing of their interaction qualifies the Psycho remake’s failure to replicate Hitchcock’s film.
In the original, Norman’s taxidermied birds that surround the room are sharply defined by a deep focus lens. Their sterling portrayal, combined with low–angle shots of Norman as his sense of dominance inflates, are essential for communicating the power dynamics exchanged between Marion and Norman. In the remake, a stark failure to achieve this deep focus contrast reduces the stuffed birds to background noise and deprives the viewer of any sense of the characters’ relationship to objects in the scene. 
A short while later, we suffer through a new rendition of the peephole scene. The painting covering the peephole that Norman has carved from the office parlor and into Cabin 1 was “Susanna and the Elders.” In the remake, it is replaced with “Venus with a Mirror,” intoning themes of female narcissism and rape.  The biggest and most obvious difference, however, is that Norman is shown masturbating as he watches Marion remove her clothing before taking her shower in the Psycho remake. To me, this is outright gratuitousness. The implication of Norman’s lust for Marion is needlessly underscored, and the focus is removed from Norman’s literal male gaze.
The biggest blunders in the film, however, befall the murder sequences that follow. Van Sant fetishizes the well–known shower scene by prolonging it for four seconds, eight extra shots, and nine extra slashes of the knife.  After the murder, when the shot fades from Marion’s blood swirling down the drain to a spiral pan out from her unblinking eye, Van Sant’s lack of subtlety in the phase of these transitions mars the cinematographic brilliance of Hitchcock’s original. We are once again reminded of a high school theatrical production miming the profound art of classical plays.
To me, the most maddening and unacceptable variations from the original in the Psycho remake are the bizarre cut–ins to (supposedly) surreal imagery during the murder sequences. During Marion’s murder, the scene contains cut–ins to dark, racing clouds in the sky. When Mother/Norman later murders Detective Arbogast, the scene cuts into unsettling imagery of a masked, nude woman and a goat on a wet road. These cut–ins serve absolutely no purpose other than to mask the director’s ineptitude at replicating Psycho’s iconic murder scenes that defined the slasher film genre. I would love to give Van Sant the credit of adding his own authorial mark, but, again, these variations are vacant of meaning and out of place in a shot–for–shot remake.
Some things cannot be done twice
With all the incompetence of the Psycho remake in comparison to Hitchcock’s filmic mastery, its meaninglessness is surpassed by the historical context of cinema. Hitchcock’s deliberate marketing and promotion of Psycho changed the film industry forever. Hell, it even changed the way people go to the movies. Before Psycho, it was common for moviegoers to enter the theater in the middle of a feature. Then, each theater that screened Psycho received a manual with specific instructions on how the film should be marketed, including no admittance into the theater after the film began and establishing private security guards to enforce this new rule.
Hitchcock’s careful planning and detailed marketing promotion of Psycho, including tantalizing theatrical trailers with Hitchcock introducing the major sets of the film, speak to his genius as a businessman. His ability to concoct a revolutionary marketing scheme that concealed the biggest shock in cinematic history speaks to his mastery of suspense.
To understand the original impact of Psycho, you really must adopt the mentality of 1950s era moviegoers. You know how later slasher films and even modern films and TV series typically ‘kill off’ relatable characters early on or halfway through the plot? Hitchcock instigated that conceit. The impact of this authorial innovation cannot be overstated. Van Sant’s Psycho remake was robbed of this crucial factor even in pre–production.
Van Sant was remaking the film whose shocking story had provided its original audience with one of the biggest surprises in Hollywood history—the death of its heroine little more than halfway through the film—but the remake, no matter how accurate, would necessarily be deprived of that surprise by its original’s very success. 
Not everyone hates Gus Van Sant’s Psycho remake. Some critics laud it as a daring experiment in film adaptation while some value it as a sort of intellectual exercise. Director Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Django) even prefers the remake, claiming that he “feels that it’s more real.” More theoretically, Van Sant’s remake portends “hauntological issues of temporality, archival transferability, and the ontoeschatological ‘unity’ of a so–called ‘authentic’ text.”  Ultimately, the remake contributes to the impact of Psycho on collective memory. 
All told, I do not hate that Gus Van Sant’s Psycho exists. I find it immensely frustrating and deeply dissatisfying as a viewer and as a lover of Hitchcock. I have no desire to watch it ever again, whereas I could watch the original on a loop. But I do agree that the Psycho remake is worthy of critical attention by merit of its experimental nature. Although I look askance at it, I have to admit that I admire the tenacity required to remake one of the most influential films in cinematic history.
 Leitch, Thomas. “101 ways to tell Hitchcock’s Psycho from Gus Van Sant’s.” Literature Film Quarterly 28, no. 4 (2000): 269–273.
 Canet, Fernando. “Schizophrenic twins: A comparative study of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and Van Sant’s 1998 remake.” Journal of Film & Video 70, no. 1 (2018): 17–31.
 Naremore, James. “Remaking Psycho.” Hitchcock Annual: Volume 8 (1999): 3–12.
 Leitch, Thomas. “Hitchcock Without Hitchcock.” Literature Film Quarterly 31, no. 4 (2003): 248–259.
 Naremore, 8.
 Leitch (2003), 252.
 Canet, 23.
 Naremore, Leitch (2003).
 Canet, 24–27.
 Leitch (2003).
 Donaldson–McHugh, Shannon & Moore, Don. “Film adaptation, co–authorship, and hauntology: Gus Van Sant’s Psycho (1998).” Journal of Popular Culture 39, no. 2 (2006): 225-233.
 Canet, 31.