In 1998, director Gus Van Sant released a notoriously hated remake of Alfred Hitchcock's classic film Psycho, and here's why it was so bad. While his reputation as a human being isn't exactly golden, Hitchcock is deservedly regarded as one of the best directors of all time, boasting a resume full of excellent films. Perhaps his most famous is 1960's Psycho, which featured Anthony Perkins as split-personality serial killer Norman Bates. Psycho was a hit upon release and remains beloved to this day, as new generations continue to discover it.
Psycho's marketing was a big factor in it becoming a phenomenon, as Hitchcock famously insisted that theaters not allow patrons to enter the auditorium after a screening of Psycho had begun. The idea was to preserve the now well-known twist in which leading lady and seeming protagonist Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is killed off by Norman's "Mother" persona partway into the film. The "shower scene" as it's commonly referred to became the stuff of legend, and has been parodied and paid homage to countless times.
One wouldn't think a film that highly regarded would be ripe for a remake, but in 1998, Gus Van Sant disagreed. While often called a shot-for-shot remake, Van Sant's Psycho actually isn't quite that, although it's certainly close. Psycho (1998) bombed at the box office, and was also ravaged by critics, winning two Razzie awards. So why was it so bad? Let's take a look.
The Psycho Remake Is So Close to the Original It Feels Pointless
Directors of remakes often find themselves in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation, in that fans of the original will often complain both if too much is changed and if not enough is changed. In sticking so close to Hitchcock's film though, Van Sant's Psycho remake feels exceedingly pointless, offering everything the original did, but not executing it as well. Hitchcock's magic as a director can't just be copied, and neither can the greatness of Psycho's cast. Speaking of which...
The Psycho Remake Is Cast Poorly
Now, this isn't to say that Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, William H. Macy, Viggo Mortensen, and Julianne Moore aren't talented actors. They certainly are, in most cases. In this particular film though, they're largely miscast, especially Vaughn as Norman Bates and Heche as Marion Crane. Anthony Perkins' Norman was an unassuming, clean-cut young man that nobody would ever suspect of being a psychopathic killer, while Janet Leigh's Marion exuded an old Hollywood beauty and class that presented her as clearly out of Norman's league, as well as a smart resourcefulness. In Psycho (1998), the hulking Vaughn's Norman is creepy from the word go, and Heche's Marion comes off as more overtly sexual and far less glamorous than Leigh's version, also coming off as less thoughtful overall. If these were new characters in an original film, the performances might work, but considering how similar the rest of the film tries to be to Hitchcock, the differences stand out in a bad way.
The Psycho Remake Made Norman Unlikeable
While it's an odd thing to say about a serial killer, one of the original Psycho's strengths is just how likeable and sympathetic Perkins' Norman Bates comes off as. He really doesn't seem like a bad person, and even after his murders are revealed, the fact that he's so clearly mentally damaged still makes one feel for him. This aspect was further explored in the sequels starring Perkins, which focused on Norman's attempt to beat his demons and return to an honest life. Vaughn's Norman, as mentioned above, is creepy and off-putting from the beginning, and doesn't seem like someone anyone would want to spend time with. Add to that one of the worst changes made for the remake, that Vaughn's Norman is explicitly shown to be pleasuring himself to Marion's nude body in the shower, making him seem even slimier. The sound of Norman Bates masturbating is not something any film fan needed.