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Norman, Is That You?

[whitespace] Psycho
Heche, Heche, Sweet Marion: Anne Heche gets all wet in 'Psycho.'

Vince Vaughn pollutes the memory of Anthony Perkins in the remake of 'Psycho'

By Richard von Busack

THE NEW Psycho is dedicated "In Memory of Alfred Hitchcock." Hilarious, isn't it? Erasing the memory of Hitchcock is what the new Psycho is all about. By now, the whole world must know the tale of the nervous motel keeper Norman Bates and his difficult mother. Mother and child are visited by a fleeing embezzler, Marion Crane (Anne Heche). After her fatal shower, Marion is traced to the Bates Motel by detective Milton Arbogast (William H. Macy) and his clients: Marion's sister, Lila (Julianne Moore), and Marion's boyfriend, Sam (Viggo Mortensen).

To be fair, the original Psycho isn't a complex film, aside from the mechanically brilliant sequences that have been reproduced shot-for-shot here. The key to Psycho is Norman, and as Norman, Vince Vaughn is a washout. Big, smirking bull calf that he is, vein throbbing in his temple, Vaughn is so obviously crazy (and loving it) that you can't see the terrible pressure to be a good boy that Norman's mother inflicted on him.

Anthony Perkins' Norman was someone you despaired for. By the time of Psycho II (1983), Norman was a tragic and nostalgic figure, a childhood terror gone to seed--after you'd heard of John Wayne Gacy, how could you be afraid of Norman Bates? There's nothing sinister about Vaughn; he sounds his own alarm loud and clear. Director Gus Van Sant has increased the ooze factor a little, directing Vaughn to lope the mule as he watches Marion disrobe through a peephole. Norman Bates masturbates--an artistic improvement.

The other important addition to the original that works isn't the dream-sequence cow inserted during the stabbing of Arbogast, it's Moore's Lila tipping Norman a wink to unnerve him. Through Lila's inexpensive clothes, her hair, and her mannerisms, we get an idea of how the low-budget Crane family lived. Lila's reactions during the finale are adroit. As the psychiatrist (Robert Forster) explains Norman's story, Lila knots up her face in a disgusted grimace that says, "Yeah, I though so." She's heard this kind of horror story before. Oddly, she's the only one in the movie who has.

Heche is helpless during the once-modish dialogue of the first third of Psycho. Taken out of historical context, Marion's archaic concerns about "respectability," the TV commercial-inspired gag about acid indigestion and the crypto-swinger's come-ons all seem bizarre. These sequences makes the original look dumb, just as dumb as if you played Good Will Hunting in knee britches. The young audience I saw this with trudged out, bored and unsatisfied. They'd heard Psycho was scary, but the movie wasn't laden with the pop-ups they craved every 10 minutes. How do you explain to high schoolers that Perkins' death's-head smile and horrified cry "Mother!" is what made the original stick? And how can you encourage such completely retrograde filmmaking by Van Sant--especially when this act of glorified plagiarism has already been encouraged by the small fortune Universal ladled out in advertising? The new Psycho is an act of taxidermy worse than anything Norman Bates ever committed.

Psycho (R; 106 min.), directed by Gus Van Sant, written by Joseph Stefano, based on the novel by Robert Bloch, photographed by Christopher Doyle and starring Vince Vaughn, Julianne Moore and Anne Heche.

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From the December 10-16, 1998 issue of Metro.

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