Psycho (1998 film)

Psycho is a 1998 American horror film produced and directed by Gus Van Sant for Universal Pictures and starring Vince Vaughn, Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortensen, William H. Macy and Anne Heche in leading and supporting roles. It is a modern remake of the 1960 film of the same name directed by Alfred Hitchcock, in which an embezzler arrives at an old motel run by an insane killer named Norman Bates. Both films are adapted from Robert Bloch's 1959 novel of the same name.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byGus Van Sant
Screenplay byJoseph Stefano
Based onPsycho
by Robert Bloch
Produced by
CinematographyChristopher Doyle
Edited byAmy E. Duddleston
Music byBernard Herrmann
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • December 4, 1998 (1998-12-04)
Running time
104 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$60 million[2]
Box office$37.2 million[2]

Although this version is in color, features a different cast, and is set in 1998, 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 Steve Bartek, 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 critical and commercial failure. It received three Golden Raspberry nominations and won in the categories of Worst Remake and Worst Director. Heche was nominated for Worst Actress.


During a Friday afternoon tryst in a Phoenix hotel, real-estate secretary Marion Crane and her boyfriend Sam Loomis discuss their inability to get married because of Sam's debts. Marion returns to work, decides to steal a cash payment of $40,000 entrusted to her for deposit at the bank; and, drive to Sam's home in Fairvale, California. En route, Marion hurriedly trades her car arousing suspicion from both the car dealer and a California Highway Patrol officer.

Marion stops for the night at the Bates Motel, located off the main highway. Proprietor Norman Bates descends from a large house atop a hill overlooking the motel, registers Marion under an assumed name she uses, and invites her to dine with him. Returning to his house, Norman has an argument with his mother, overheard by Marion, about Marion's presence. Norman returns with a light meal and apologizes for his mother's outbursts. Norman discusses his hobby as a taxidermist, his mother's "illness" and how people have a "private trap" they want to escape. Remorseful of her crime, Marion decides to drive back to Phoenix in the morning and return the stolen money hidden in a newspaper. As Marion showers, a shadowy figure appears, stabs her to death and leaves. Soon afterward, Norman's anguished voice is heard from the house yelling "Mother! Oh God, Mother! Blood! Blood!" Norman cleans up the murder scene, puts Marion's body, her belongings and the hidden cash in her car, and sinks it in a swamp near the motel.

Marion's sister Lila arrives in Fairvale a week later, tells Sam about the theft, and demands to know her whereabouts. He denies knowing anything about her disappearance. A private investigator named Arbogast approaches them, saying that he has been hired to retrieve the money. Arbogast learns that Marion spent a night at the Bates Motel. He questions Norman, whose nervousness and inconsistency arouse Arbogast's suspicion. When Norman implies Marion had spoken to his mother, Arbogast asks to speak to her, but Norman refuses. Arbogast updates Sam and Lila about his findings, and promises to phone again in an hour. When he enters the Bates home in search of Norman's mother, a figure resembling an elderly woman, emerges from the bedroom and stabs him to death.

When Lila and Sam do not hear from Arbogast, Sam visits the motel. He sees a figure in the house whom he assumes is Norman's mother; she ignores him. Lila and Sam alert the local sheriff, who tells them that Norman's mother died in a murder-suicide ten years earlier. The sheriff concludes that Arbogast lied to Sam and Lila so he could pursue Marion and the money. Convinced that something happened to Arbogast, Lila and Sam drive to the motel. Sam distracts Norman in the office, while Lila sneaks into the house. Suspicious, Norman becomes agitated and knocks Sam unconscious. As he goes to the house, Lila hides in the fruit cellar, where she discovers the mother's mummified body. She screams, and Norman, wearing his mother's clothes and a wig, enters the cellar and tries to stab her. Sam appears, and subdues him.

At the police station, a psychiatrist explains that a jealous Norman murdered his mother and her lover ten years earlier. He mummified his mother's corpse and began treating it as if she were still alive. He recreated his mother in his mind as an alternate personality, as jealous and possessive as she was in life. When Norman is attracted to a woman, "Mother" takes over: He had murdered two other young women before Marion, and Arbogast was killed to hide "his mother's" crime. The psychiatrist concludes "Mother" has now completely taken over Norman's personality. Norman sits in a jail cell, and hears his mother saying that the murders were all his doing. Marion's car is retrieved from the swamp.


Thomas Leitsch of the University of Delaware wrote that "In general, Viggo Mortenson’s Sam is a lot more laid-back than John Gavin’s."[3]

The first name of Dr. Richmond was changed from "Fred" to "Simon" while the wife of Al Chambers was given the first name "Eliza". Director Gus Van Sant, emulating Hitchcock's practice of making cameo appearances in his films, appears as "Man talking to man in cowboy hat" at the same point in his film when Hitchcock made his appearance in the original. According to the DVD commentary track that featured Van Sant, Vaughn, and Heche, Van Sant's character is being scolded by Hitchcock in the scene.


Marion Crane was initially slated to be played by Nicole Kidman, but was forced to leave the role due to scheduling problems.[4]

The original (top) and the remake (bottom)

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 strove 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 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 members more to flesh out and make consistent their characters' motivations, and worked with them to determine to what degree their characters were similar to the originals.[citation needed]

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[citation needed][who?] 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 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 in the remake. Van Sant's comments from the commentary track attribute many of the updates to the need to make the film more accessible to a new audience.

The famous shower scene was filmed in the same way; the stabbing sound effects were produced by stabbing a melon. Fake blood was used instead of chocolate syrup.[citation needed] Rick Baker designed the Mrs. Bates dummy. The new film heightened the violence to the levels of depictions of violence in films made circa 1998 by portraying two knife wounds in her back and blood on the wall in the shower scene. It also shows the buttocks of the Marion character when she dies, an aspect cut from the original film. The costume designer, Beatrix Aruna Pasztor, originally thought that the film was going to be a period piece, so she bought period clothing for the cast.[5]

To reflect inflation, the amount of money stolen was adjusted from $40,000 in the original film (equivalent to $181,000 in 1998) to $400,000 in this version.[5]


Box officeEdit

The film earned $37,141,130 in the worldwide box office, $21,456,130 domestically.[2] The film's production budget was an estimated $60 million;[2] while promoting his 2002 film Gerry, Van Sant said he thought the producers "broke even" financially.[6]

Critical receptionEdit

On Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 38% based on 78 reviews, with an average rating of 5.29/10. The website's critics consensus reads. "Van Sant's pointless remake neither improves nor illuminates Hitchcock's original."[7] At Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 47 out of 100, based on 23 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[8] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C-" on an A+ to F scale.[9]

Literary critic Camille Paglia commented that the only reason to watch it was "to see Anne Heche being assassinated," and that "it should have been a much more important work and event than it was."[10] At the 1998 Stinkers Bad Movie Awards, the film was cited as one of 37 dishonourable mentions for Worst Picture. Universal Pictures received the Founders Award "for even thinking the moviegoing public would line up and pay to see a shot-for-shot remake of Psycho."

Film critic Roger Ebert, who gave the film one-and-a-half stars, noted that the addition of a masturbation scene was "appropriate, because this new Psycho evokes the real thing in an attempt to re-create remembered passion." He wrote that the film "is an invaluable experiment in the theory of cinema, because it 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."[11]Janet Maslin remarks that it is 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."[12] Eugene Novikov for Film Blather is in the minority of those who admired it, stating: "To my absolute astonishment, I enjoyed the remake more than the original."[13]

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...What promised to be 'Drugstore Cowboy's answer to Hitchcock' is more like Hitchcock's answer to Even Cowgirls Get the Blues."[14]

The film 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.


A number of critics and writers viewed Van Sant's version as an experiment in shot-for-shot remakes.

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.[15]

Even Van Sant later admitted that it was an experiment that proved that no one can really copy a film exactly the same way as the original.[16] One favorable take on the film came from an LA Weekly retrospective article published in 2013, in which writer Vern stated that the film was misunderstood as a commercially motivated film when it was in fact an "experiment" and this was the reason for the poor reception.[5] Vern concluded that "Experiments don't always have to work to be worth doing."[5]

Despite the film's overall negative reception, it did receive a blessing from Alfred Hitchcock's daughter, Pat Hitchcock who stated that her father would have been flattered by the remake of his original work.[17]


On February 24, 2014, a mashup of Alfred Hitchcock and Gus Van Sant's versions of Psycho appeared on Steven Soderbergh's Extension 765 website. Retitled Psychos and featuring no explanatory text, the recut appears to be a fan edit of the two films by Soderbergh. Reaction to the mashup appears to reinforce the prejudice against the 1998 film. The opening credits intermingle names from both the 1960 and 1998 versions, and all color has been removed from Van Sant's scenes.[18][19][20]


The film's soundtrack, Psycho: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture, included Danny Elfman's re-recordings of some of Bernard Herrmann's score for the original film, along with a collection of songs in genres from country to drum and bass, connected mainly by titles containing "psycho" or other death or insanity-related words. Many of the songs were recorded specifically for the soundtrack, and included a sampling of Bernard Herrmann's score composed by Danny Elfman. The soundtrack also includes the track "Living Dead Girl" by Rob Zombie, which can be heard during the film when Marion trades in her old car for a new one.


  1. ^ "PSYCHO (15)". British Board of Film Classification. December 10, 1998. Retrieved June 1, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d Psycho (1998) at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ Leitsch, Thomas (2000). "101 Ways to Tell Hitchcock's Psycho from Gus Van Sant's". Literature/Film Quarterly. 28 (4): 269–273.
  4. ^ "Puffy preps for pics; 'Psycho' redo readies". Variety. Retrieved July 3, 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d Vern (December 5, 2013). "Gus Van Sant's Psycho Just Turned 15 – and Is More Fascinating Than You Remember". LA Weekly. Retrieved December 20, 2016.
  6. ^ Morris, Clint. "Gus Van Sant: Exclusive Interview". Retrieved March 30, 2009.
  7. ^ "PSYCHO (1998)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 1, 2017.
  8. ^ "Psycho (1998) Reviews" – via Metacritic.
  9. ^ "CinemaScore". CinemaScore.
  10. ^ "Arts". Salon. Retrieved October 25, 2013.
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 6, 1998). "Review of Psycho (1998 film)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved November 3, 2007.
  12. ^ Maslin, Janet (December 5, 1998). "The Mama's Boy, His Motel Guest And That Shower". The New York Times. Retrieved March 30, 2009.
  13. ^ "Good reviews for bad movies". ShortList. Retrieved June 11, 2018.
  14. ^ Maltin, Leonard (August 4, 2009). Leonard Maltin's 2010 Movie Guide. Penguin. ISBN 978-1101108765. Retrieved January 20, 2013.
  15. ^ Savlov, Marc (October 10, 1999). "Psycho Analysis: An Interview With Screenwriter Joseph Stefano". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved November 3, 2007.
  16. ^ Edelstein, David (July 15, 2005). "The odd world of Gus Van Sant". The New York Times. New York City. Retrieved November 3, 2007.
  17. ^
  18. ^ Psychos. Extension 765. Retrieved August 8, 2017.
  19. ^ Luxford, James (February 26, 2014). "The two Normans: Steven Soderbergh's Psycho double". The Guardian. Retrieved April 27, 2014.
  20. ^ Arons, Rachel (March 4, 2014). "Double "Psycho"". The New Yorker. Retrieved April 27, 2014.

External linksEdit