PSYCHO VS. PSYCHO

Psycho (1960) 5 Stars
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Joseph Stefano based on a book by Robert Bloch
Starring: Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, John Gavin and Vera Miles.

Psycho (1998) 3 Stars
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Written by Joseph Stefano based on a book by Robert Bloch
Starring: Anne Heche, Vince Vaughn, Viggo Mortensen and Julianne Moore.

I have to admit that I like the “Psycho” remake. Yeah, it made number two in the list of worst remakes on some British poll and hit number one on the IMDB poll; but bollocks to it all. I admire the idea behind it.

Whether it was intended or not, the 1998 version plays like a clever satire of the whole remake trend. I even have this little fantasy that Van Sant was offered more money to do a remake than an original film and decided to have a little fun at the studios expense. It’s just a theory of mine, but I think that it holds water. Gus has a sense of humor. Remember him in Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back?

The Method:

I hadn’t seen the Van Sant version since it came out on video, and then only once. The last time I saw the original was even further back in time. So as familiar as I was with the overall film(s), most of the details were murky. What I decided to do was watch the remake first and then the original. That way I wouldn’t unconsciously like the Hitchcock version better just because “he did it first”. Also, if Hitchcock really did do it better, it would be even more apparent once I viewed the original 1960 version after seeing the remake.

I would like to warn the readers that this will be quite a long review. “Psycho” is such a seminal work and the remake has been so maligned that I feel they deserve this kind of thoroughness, anything less would be fluff.

Before we even get started on the comparisons, let’s get familiar with the movie itself. Then we’ll pick apart the differences in between the two versions.

The Story (Original/Remake):

We open with Marion Crane and her lover Sam Loomis in a cheap motel. They’re having one of those lovey-dovey arguments where they use cute language and make light of things when in reality they’re having a much more serious argument than neither wants to admit. Marion’s angry at his inability to commit to anything more than a series of quickies and wants to get married to lead a respectable life. He, on the other hand, is unhappily divorced and poor from paying his father’s debts. He doesn’t want to drag her into his misery and just doesn’t know what to tell her.

When she asks him when they’re going to get married, his face just drops. At the moment he’s living in the back of a store. He doesn’t even have a place to live and just can’t imagine himself with Marion in such conditions. She gives him an ultimatum and he reassures her. We can tell by their tones that this has happened many times before, the ultimatums, the reassurances, and the promises. It’s reaching its boiling point.

When she arrives to work at the real estate office, the combination of heat and worry has given her a headache. It doesn’t help that her co-worker keeps talking about her own marriage and how happy she is. Then a Texas oilman comes in with Marion’s boss and we arrive at what we in the writing business like to call “The Turning Point”. The oilman wants to buy a house as a wedding present for his daughter. Marion almost winces at the sound of the word “wedding”.

This is easily one of the most brilliant scenes from “Psycho”. It’s a squirm inducing moment where the oilman is unconsciously flaunting his money and his daughter’s happiness. “Eighteen years old and she never had an unhappy day in any one of those years.” The scene is brilliant because it doesn’t just make you empathize with Marion, but puts you in a position where you’d do exactly what she does. Especially since he brags that he can afford to lose the money, that he didn’t earn it honestly, and finally just hands it to Marion like it was pocket change saying that he likes to buy off unhappiness. At this point what he’s doing is the equivalent of waving meat under a hungry dog’s nose.

Marion’s boss tells her to put in a safe deposit box pronto. He doesn’t even want to see it in the office. She nods and asks him if she can leave early after the bank. Already, she’s thinking about doing something very rash.

In the next scene we see her in her apartment, packing. The money is on her bed. She’s stolen it. The whole situation with Sam has boiled over. She can’t take it anymore.

What then follows is another brilliant little montage of scenes where we begin to sense her guilt at what she’s done. Her little fantasy that she could just spirit away with the cash and pay off Sam’s debts is crumbling apart more and more for every mile she puts between herself and the scene of the crime. The composure Marion has had throughout is still there but her eyes are begging someone, anyone, to go back in time and shake some sense into her before she steals the money. She’s too scared to do anything except run.

When she ends up stopping at the Bates Motel, it feels like an oasis away from her troubles. The manager, Norman, kindly suggests that she have dinner with him. His manner is so charming that she accepts. While she waits for him to come back with the food she hears him have an argument with his mother. Not one of those “Awww mom.” types of arguments, but a real hurtful and nasty one. Norman makes light of it when he comes back. Again, his demeanor wins Marion over and they have dinner together.

This is the second turning point in the film and functions as a mirror to the earlier scene between the oilman and Marion. Only this time we don’t notice it’s importance to the plot, because the person who is having meat dangled under their nose isn’t as easy to understand as Marion was.

Norman is a gracious, if shy, host. He listens to Marion’s troubles and, in a roundabout way, offers some advice. Perhaps it’s her own sense of guilt that causes her not to notice how wrong things are at the Motel. Perhaps Norman’s half-hidden secrets and haunted eyes mirror her own so perfectly that Marion feels he’s a kind of kindred spirit. He too is trapped and trying to find a way out of his cage. His loud, overbearing, screaming mother is the cage just like that stolen money is hers. He too pretends that he doesn’t mind the cage, but he does.

Marion suggests that he go away if he’s unhappy. If his mother is as mentally ill as he’s alluded to, perhaps he should send her “someplace”.

Once Marion utters the suggestion, we get a peek at Norman’s true self. Like hearing thunder far away but not seeing the storm. He recomposes himself quickly and is so charming that we forget the venomous fury in his eyes.

By this time Marion is done eating and is so exhausted by the day’s events that she excuses herself. Norman smiles benevolently and says “Alright Miss…?”

“Crane.” She adds helpfully, and leaves.

When Norman checks the register, he sees that she wrote Marie Samuels. He smiles. The look on his face then changes from boy-ish to calculating. Still, under the circumstances it’s not out of the ordinary. She lied about her name and the entire conversation that they’ve had consisted of “running away from things”. Even when he removes a painting and peeks in on her, we don’t think that he’s doing it for any other reason than to snoop into what she’s doing. Despite the nutty mom and eccentric nature, Norman is nothing more than another nosy person who finds Marion suspicious.

Then “it” happens. You know what I’m talking about, the most famous scene in the film and the third turning point.

Even today, this scene is a masterpiece of editing. You don’t see anything, yet you see everything. I can only imagine how people in 1960 must have reacted.

Then when Norman finds out what happens and cleans up the mess, whoa. That must have sent the Ozzy and Harriet types in apoplectic convulsions.

Now the “Marion” part of the movie is quite over, it ends when Norman sinks her car into a nearby swamp, we enter the “Lila” part of the film where Marion’s sister comes looking for her.

This part is also the weaker of the two. We begin it by following private inspector Arbogast around as he tries to find Marion and stops at the Bates Motel.

Norman is a little nervous at the presence of this snoop, but fakes it pretty well until Arbogast asks him if he spent the night with Marion. Then the darkness we saw earlier returns in his gaze. When Arbogast sees Norman’s mother at the window and asks if he wouldn’t be hiding Marion there, the darkness deepens and he blurts out a diatribe against women that ends with “…she may have fooled me, but she didn’t fool my mother.”

If you listen closely to what Arbogast asked and what Norman replied, you’ll see that it makes absolutely no sense.

Arbogast tells Lila about Norman and then sneaks back into the house trying to talk to Miss Bates.

Exit Arbogast.

With no news from Arbogast, Lila and Sam go see the local Sheriff who informs them that Arbogast couldn’t have been sneaking back to talk to Miss Bates because Norman’s Mother has been dead for ten years. “The only case of Murder-Suicide on Fairvale ledges.” The Sheriff tells them. Seems that when Norman’s mother found out that her lover was married she poisoned him, then herself. Norman found them both in bed together, dead.

We then cut to a little Bates Motel interlude where Norman takes his mother down to the fruit cellar. The entirety of the dialogue convinces us that someone else was buried in Mrs. Bates coffin and that Norman has been protecting her all these years.

Lila and Sam then go to the Motel themselves to look for Marion. They hatch a plan. Sam will keep Norman busy while Lila explores the house.

The ending has been spoiled so many times that there’s no use trying to hide it. The big secret, of course, is that Norman’s mother has been dead for years. He dug up her body and stuffed it, like one of the birds on display in the hotel’s office. Now he hauls the dead woman’s desiccated remains around like some sort of Oedipal realdoll. Norman, not Mother, killed Marion. In the last moments of the film we find him sitting in a jail cell, taken over completely by his mother side.

Get further inside “Psycho” in part two of PSYCHO VS. PSYCHO>>>




Posted on December 1, 2004 in Features by
Buffer


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