Directed By
Gus Van Sant
Produced By
  • Gus Van Sant
  • Brian Grazer
Screenplay By
Joseph Stefano
Based on
Psycho by Robert Bloch
Edited By
Amy E. Duddleston
Christopher Doyle
Music By
*Bernard Herrmann
  • Danny Elfman (adapting and conducting)
Imagine Entertainment
Distributed By
Release Date
4 December, 1998
104 minutes
Rating R.gif
$60 million

Psycho is a 1998 American horror film produced and directed by Gus Van Sant for Universal Pictures, a remake of the 1960 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Both films are adapted from Robert Bloch's 1959 novel of the same name, which was in turn inspired by the crimes of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein.

Although this version is in color, features a different cast, and has been set in a contemporary timeframe, it is closer to a shot-for-shot remake than most remakes, often copying Hitchcock's camera movements and editing, and Joseph Stefano's script is mostly carried over. Bernard Herrmann's musical score is reused as well, though with a new arrangement by Danny Elfman and recorded in stereo. Some changes are introduced to account for advances in technology since the original film and to make the content more explicit. Murder sequences are also intercut with surreal dream images.

The film was both a commercial and critical failure and is considered one of the worst movies of all time.

Plot[edit | edit source]

Marion Crane steals $400,000 from her employer to get her boyfriend, Sam Loomis, out of debt. She flees Phoenix, Arizona, by car. While en route to Sam's California home, she parks along the road to sleep. A highway patrol officer awakens her and, suspicious of her agitated state, begins to follow her. When she trades her car for another one at a dealership, he notes the new vehicle's details. Marion returns to the road but, rather than drive in a heavy storm, decides to spend the night at the Bates Motel.

Owner Norman Bates tells Marion he rarely has customers because of a new interstate highway nearby and mentions he lives with his mother Norma in the house overlooking the motel. He invites Marion to have supper with him. She overhears Norman arguing with his mother about letting Marion in the house; and, during the meal, she angers him by suggesting he institutionalize his mother. He admits he would like to do so, but he does not want to abandon her. Later that night, while Marion is changing, Norman secretly watches her from a peephole in his office and masturbates before heading back to the house.

Marion resolves to return to Phoenix to return the money. After calculating how she can repay the money she has spent, Marion dumps her notes down the toilet and begins to shower. An unidentified female figure, presumed to be Norman's mother, enters the bathroom and stabs Marion to death. Later, finding the corpse, Norman is horrified. He cleans the bathroom and places Marion's body, wrapped in the shower curtain, and all her possessions — including the money — in the trunk of her car and sinks it in a nearby swamp.

Sam is contacted by both Marion's sister, Lila, and private detective Milton Arbogast, who has been hired by Marion's employer to find her and recover the money. Arbogast traces Marion to the motel and questions Norman, who lies unconvincingly that Marion stayed for one night and left the following morning. He refuses to let Arbogast talk to his mother, claiming she is ill. Arbogast calls Lila to update her and tells her he will contact her again in an hour after he questions Norman's mother.

Arbogast enters Norman's house and, at the top of the stairs, is attacked and murdered by the Mother figure. When Arbogast does not call Lila, she and Sam contact the local police. Deputy Sheriff Al Chambers is perplexed to hear that Arbogast saw a woman in a window, as Mrs. Bates had been dead for ten years. Norman confronts his mother and urges her to hide in the cellar. She rejects the idea and orders him out of her room, but Norman carries her to the cellar against her will.

Posing as a married couple, Sam and Lila check into the motel and search the room Marion had occupied. They find a scrap of paper in the toilet with "$400,000" written on it. While Sam distracts Norman, Lila sneaks into the house to search for his mother. Sam suggests to Norman that he killed Marion for the money so he could buy a new motel. Realizing Lila is not around, Norman knocks Sam unconscious with a golf club and rushes to the house. Lila sees him and hides in the cellar where she discovers the mummified body of Norman's mother. Wearing his mother's clothes and a wig and carrying a knife, Norman enters and tries to attack Lila, but she is rescued by Sam.

After Norman's arrest, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Fred Richmond tells Sam and Lila that Norman's dead mother is living in Norman's psyche as an alternate personality. After the death of Norman's father, his mother found a lover. Norman went over the edge with jealousy and murdered both of them. He stole her corpse and preserved the body. When he is Mother, he acts, talks and dresses as she would. Norman imagined his mother would be as jealous of a woman to whom he might be attracted just as he was of his mother's lover, and so Mother kills any woman for whom Norman has feelings. When Norman regains consciousness, he believes that his mother has committed the crime and covers up for her. Richmond concludes that the Mother personality has now taken complete control of Norman's mind, erasing his existence.

In the final scene, Norman sits in a cell, thinking in Mother's voice. In a voice-over, Mother explains that she plans to prove to the authorities she is incapable of violence by refusing to swat a fly that has landed on her hand. Marion's car is shown being recovered from the swamp and is followed by the ending credits.

Cast[edit | edit source]

  • Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates
  • Anne Heche as Marion Crane
  • Julianne Moore as Lila Crane
  • Viggo Mortensen as Sam Loomis
  • William H. Macy as Milton Arbogast
  • Philip Baker Hall as Al Chambers
  • Robert Forster as Dr. Richmond
  • Chad Everett as Tom Cassidy
  • Rita Wilson as Caroline
  • Rance Howard as George Lowrey
  • Anne Haney as Mrs. Chambers
  • James LeGros as California Charlie
  • James Remar as Highway Patrol Officer
  • Rose Marie (uncredited) as Norma Bates (voice)

Production[edit | edit source]

The audio commentary track that accompanies the DVD release of the film, and the making-of documentary (Psycho Path) that the DVD includes, provide numerous details about where the film strived to remain faithful to the original, and where it diverged. Some changes are pervasive: as the film opens, it is made clear that it is set in the late 1990s, so minor changes are made throughout the dialogue to reflect the new timeframe. For example, all the references to money are updated (how much Marion Crane steals, how much a car costs, how much a hotel room costs), as are references to terms from the original script (e.g., "aspic") that would seem anachronistic in the new setting. According to Van Sant, in the original the only fully fleshed out character was Norman Bates; the other major characters were more iconic, purposely written and portrayed to advance the plot; Van Sant relied upon his main cast more to flesh out and make consistent their character's motivations and worked with them to determine to what degree their characters were similar to the originals.

According to the commentary by Van Sant, Vaughn, and Heche, some actors, such as Macy, chose to stay true to the original, while others, such as Vaughn and Moore, interpreted the dialogue and scenes from the original film differently; Moore's version of Lila Crane, for example, was much more aggressive than the one portrayed by Vera Miles, and there are differences in Marion Crane's evolving attitudes about the money she stole. The cinematography and the cinematic techniques were consistent between the two films in many of the film's most memorable scenes, including the shower scene, scenes of the mother, scenes of the swamp, and the scene of Arbogast on the staircase, but other scenes changed significantly, particularly the climax, and the Dr. Simon monologue at the end, which was much shorter. Van Sant's comments from the commentary track attributes many of the updates to the need to make the film more accessible to a new audience.

Reception[edit | edit source]

Box office[edit | edit source]

The film earned $37,141,130 in the worldwide box office, $21,456,130 domestically. The film's production budget was an estimated $60 million; while promoting his 2002 film Gerry, Van Sant said he thought the producers "broke even" financially.

Critical response[edit | edit source]

Psycho (1998) received mostly negative reviews; it was awarded two Golden Raspberry Awards, for Worst Remake or Sequel and Worst Director for Gus Van Sant, while Anne Heche was nominated for Worst Actress, where she lost the trophy to The Spice Girls for Spice World. Camille Paglia commented that the only reason to watch it was "to see Anne Heche being assassinated", but that "it should have been a much more important work and event than it was."

A number of critics and writers viewed Van Sant's version more as an actual experiment in shot-for-shot remakes. Many people refer to this film as a duplicate of the 1960 film rather than a remake. Film critic Roger Ebert, who gave the film one-and-a-half stars, wrote that the film "demonstrates that a shot-by-shot remake is pointless; genius apparently resides between or beneath the shots, or in chemistry that cannot be timed or counted." Screenwriter Joseph Stefano, who wrote the original script, thought that although she spoke the same lines, Anne Heche portrays Marion Crane as an entirely different character. Even Van Sant admitted that it was an experiment that proved that no one can really copy a film exactly the same way as the original.

Janet Maslin gave the film a positive review, calling it an "artful, good-looking remake (a modest term, but it beats plagiarism) that shrewdly revitalizes the aspects of the real Psycho (1960) that it follows most faithfully but seldom diverges seriously or successfully from one of the cinema's most brilliant blueprints"; she noted that the "absence of anything like Anthony Perkins's sensational performance with that vitally birdlike presence and sneaky way with a double-entendre ("A boy's best friend is his mother") is the new film's greatest weakness." Eugene Novikov for Film Blather was also in the minority of those who admired it by stating: "To my absolute astonishment, I enjoyed the remake more than the original."

Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide classified the film as a "bomb", compared to the four-out-of-four stars he gave the original. He describes it as a "Slow, stilted, completely pointless scene-for-scene remake of the Hitchcock classic (with a few awkward new touches to taint its claim as an exact replica.)" He ultimately calls it "an insult, rather than a tribute, to a landmark film."

The film held a 37% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 76 reviews and a 47% rating on Metacritic based on 23 reviews, indicating "mixed reviews".

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