selected from Starburst #247
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PsychoA terrible idea from the start, Pop Art-cred director Gus Van Sant's reconstruction of Alfred Hitchcock's landmark shocker is a dreary addition to the current trend of shoddy remakes. Not so much the anticipated shot-by-shot colour clone, more a scene-by-scene account of the Joseph Stefano screenplay punctuated with Nineties nonsense in a wretched ploy to appeal to the Scream crowd, Van Sant's pointless white elephant is stuck squarely between arch imitation and vulgar embellishment.

We didn't need to see Norman Bates (Vince Vaughan) masturbating while watching petty thief Marion Crane (Anne Heche) undress through a hole in the wall in the original masterpiece. The intimation was left unspoken and to the imagination. But in Van Sant's dismal show-and-tell slasher, Vaughan furiously jerks off as he spies on his soon-to-be shower victim. It's this scene that turns the viewer's initial curious interest into intense dislike for such sacrilegious tinkering by the Good Will Hunting adulte terrible.

Adding insult to injury is Vaughan's dreadful performance as the Bates Motel janitor/part-time taxidermist with a nice line in stuffed birds in his office parlour. With his effeminate gestures and single-entendre sexual banter, Vaughan might just as well have 'Transvestite Maniac' tattooed on his forehead! The crassness of Vaughan's leering smarminess only serves to show up the brilliant subtleties Anthony Perkins brought to the same table playing the overgrown schoolboy with a fatal mental flaw.

It's hard to believe that the main reason why this questionable enterprise should never have been undertaken wasn't recognized as crystal clear from the very beginning. The 1960 classic depended on shocking twists and surprising turns that have now been done to death over the years since they were minted anew by Hitchcock. So Van Sant's stab at updating ambiguous terror for a generation that's seen it all was bound to be an epic failure. Hence the reason why the gore-drenched shower scene seems both grungily explicit in full colour yet nowhere near as powerful as Hitchcock's galvanizing presentation.

As for the sudden inclusion of storm cloud imagery in Marion's death (kitchen knife courtesy of John Woo says a mind-boggling credit!), plus subliminal shots of naked Anne Heche wearing an eye-patch and a sheep being slaughtered on a motorway in Arbogast's (William H Macy) staircase demise, there is absolutely no logical explanation. Except that Van Sant was probably panicked into adding something - anything - of his own idiosyncratic personality just to put his stamp on the far superior work of another artist.

Is there really any point in droning on about how Psycho Mark 1 is infinitely better in every way to the feckless Psycho Mark 2? Not really. We all knew that would be the case from the first time we heard about the remounting plan. There's just no comparison and I don't buy Van Sant's argument that he's only doing to a modern classic what people like Kenneth Branagh are doing to the works of Shakespeare. In every respect, from bland Anne Heche's horrible wardrobe and Julianne Moore's Lila saying "Wait, I'll get my Walkman" to Viggo Mortenson's hick Sam Loomis and psychiatrist Robert Forster's even more overstated final explanation for Norman's behaviour, this boring Psycho should be sued for defamation of caricature.

Strangely enough, while Van Sant's tricksy tribute looks instantly old-fashioned, Hitchock's splatter grandaddy (actually grandmama when you think about it!) still seems daring, fresh and provocative as the first time it was released. Stick with the Old Master and give this hopeless upstart homage a very wide berth indeed.

Starburst rating: –5 out of 10
Psycho picture copyright Universal

'Stick with the Old Master and give this hopeless upstart a very wide berth indeed'

Psycho: Producers, Brian Grazer & Gus Van Sant. Executive producer, Dany Wolf. Director, Van Sant. Screenplay, Joseph Stefano, based on the novel by Robert Bloch. Music, Bernard Herrmann. Music adapter, Danny Elfman. Special effects co-ordinator, Erick Brennan. Special effects make-up, Matthew Mungle. Starring Vince Vaughan, Anne Heche, Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortenson, William H Macy, Robert Forster, Philip Baker Hall, Anne Haney, Chad Everett, Rance Howard, Rita Wilson, James Remar & James LeGros. 109 mins. Cert R/18. Released America: December. Britain: January.
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