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
Produced byGus Van Sant
Brian Grazer
Screenplay byJoseph Stefano
Based onPsycho
by Robert Bloch
Music byBernard Herrmann
Danny Elfman (adapting)
Steve Bartek (adapting)
CinematographyChristopher Doyle
Edited byAmy E. Duddleston
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • December 4, 1998 (1998-12-04)
Running time
104 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$60 million[2]
Box office$37.1 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 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.

Plot summary

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 trooper 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 Sam, having regained consciousness, subdues Norman with Lila's help.

After Norman's arrest, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Simon 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.


  • Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates, the proprietor of the Bates Motel
    • Vern of LA Weekly wrote that selecting Vaughn to play Bates, due to his previous filmography, was "not as out-of-left-field" in 1998 compared to a 2013 audience's view of the actor.[3] He stated that "a more distinctive and interesting Norman might have warmed more people to the idea of the remake."[3]
  • Anne Heche as Marion Crane, a young woman who steals $400,000 in cash to start a new life with her boyfriend
    • Heche made deliberate changes to the character by acting in a different way than in the original. Vern stated that "Heche fares better as Marion" compared to Vaughn but that the changes in her portrayal of Marion interfered with the plot of the movie.[3]
  • Julianne Moore as Lila Crane, Marion's concerned sister
  • Viggo Mortensen as Sam Loomis, Marion's boyfriend. His relationship with Marion is under stress due to his looming debts
    • Vern stated that Mortensen was his favorite actor in this film, and that his being "manly enough to intimidate Norman" was necessary as Vaughn's body was bigger than that of the original actor for Norman, Anthony Perkins.[3]
  • William H. Macy as Milton Arbogast, a private detective hired to find Marion after she vanishes
  • Robert Forster as Dr. Simon Richmond, a psychiatrist
  • Philip Baker Hall as Sheriff Al Chambers, the local sheriff who knows Norman
  • Anne Haney as Eliza Chambers, his wife
  • Rance Howard as George Lowery, Marion's boss
  • Chad Everett as Tom Cassidy, the client from whom Marion steals the money
  • Rita Wilson as Caroline, Marion's co-worker at the real estate office
  • James Remar as a highway patrolman
  • James LeGros as Charlie, a used car dealer
  • Mike "Flea" Balzary as Bob Summerfield, Sam's assistant at the hardware store

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.


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.

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 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. Rick Baker designed the Mrs. Bates dummy.

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. Vern wrote that these clothes "fit the theme of people hanging on to and fetishizing pieces of the past."[3]

Vern stated that the remake was intentionally designed for an audience that had watched the original film or was already aware of the plot.[3]

To reflect inflation, the amount of money stolen was adjusted from $40,000 in the original film (equivalent to $220,382 in 1998) to $400,000 in this version.[3]


Box office

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.[4]

Critical reception

Van Sant's version of Psycho 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. 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."[5] 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, 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."[6] 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."[7] 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."[8]

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.'"[9]

The film holds a 38% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 78 reviews, with the consensus; "Van Sant's pointless remake neither improves nor illuminates Hitchcock's original,"[10] and a 47% rating on Metacritic based on 23 reviews.[11] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C-" on an A+ to F scale.[12]


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.[13] 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.[14] Vern stated in an LA Weekly article written in 2013 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.[3]

Vern stated that "the remake didn't catch on in the popular consciousness. A decade and a half later, I think we can safely put away the fear of talking to some young person about Psycho and realizing they're picturing Vince Vaughn."[3] However, Quentin Tarantino has gone on record stating that he preferred Van Sant's remake to the original film, saying that the remake was "more real".[15][16]


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.[17][18][19]


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. Psycho (1998) at Box Office Mojo
  3. 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.
  4. Morris, Clint. "Gus Van Sant: Exclusive Interview". Retrieved March 30, 2009.
  5. "Arts". Salon. Retrieved October 25, 2013.
  6. Ebert, Roger (December 6, 1998). "Review of Psycho (1998 film)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved November 3, 2007.
  7. Maslin, Janet (December 5, 1998). "The Mama's Boy, His Motel Guest And That Shower". The New York Times. Retrieved March 30, 2009.
  8. "Good reviews for bad movies". ShortList. Retrieved June 11, 2018.
  9. Maltin, Leonard (August 4, 2009). Leonard Maltin's 2010 Movie Guide. Penguin. ISBN 1101108762. Retrieved January 20, 2013.
  10. "PSYCHO (1998)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 1, 2017.
  12. "CinemaScore". CinemaScore.
  13. Savlov, Marc (October 10, 1999). "Psycho Analysis: An Interview With Screenwriter Joseph Stefano". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved November 3, 2007.
  14. Edelstein, David (July 15, 2005). "The odd world of Gus Van Sant". The New York Times. New York City: New York Times Company. Retrieved November 3, 2007.
  17. Psychos. Extension 765. Retrieved August 8, 2017.
  18. Luxford, James (February 26, 2014). "The two Normans: Steven Soderbergh's Psycho double". The Guardian. Retrieved April 27, 2014.
  19. Arons, Rachel (March 4, 2014). "Double "Psycho"". The New Yorker. Retrieved April 27, 2014.
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