This remake serves one very important purpose. By using the same script and most of the same shots, it is only different from the original in minor details (ie. casting, colour & lighting). And by doing so what it does is point out the flaws of bringing a 60's movie directly into the 90's without making major script changes to really update it. Personally, I found the remake weaker than the original (which was only vaguely interesting anyway, then again its pretty much the same movie). The more likable cast and new scenes improved it, but the atmosphere was sadly not as strong as in the original. Here's the breakdown: Pace: The main flaw is the pace, its far too slow to really work with today's audience. Way too much of a 'talky' thriller. Murder Scenes: Van Sant should direct more horror, the murder scenes were still in the slightly 'corny' sense of the original but were more brutal in a way which managed to make me jump a little bit - Macy's death being the obvious example. The inserts of stormclouds and cows being run over wasn't a good idea though. The ending scene in the basement is improved quite effectively, the fight extended to give Lila a chance to kick ass.
The best improvement in that scene though is the revelation of Norman. The original revelation is completely stupid - Perkins runs in smiling and laughing like a complete idiot. This version, 'mother' creeps up on Lila and the face is obscured until the last second - and at least this time its a more realistically serious facial expression. Still, earlier in the film there's one new shot that I'll remember for sometime to come. Its seen from Macy's POV as his foggy eyes look up at his attacker coming down the stairs towards him - monther looking her creepiest. That shot still freaks me.
Vince Vaughn: Perkins performance in the original suffered from two problems. The first being that before and during the Marion murder/cleanup scenes he was a nervous young man, but after that and for the rest of the movie he seemed like a totally different character - much darker and more shadowy, and with something to hide. The second problem is that back in the 1960's a 30-something year old man who only has his mother as a companion and enjoys running a small and almost always vacant motel is seen as just an everday, nervous young man stuck in a bad situation.
These days however he's seen as a complete freak, wierdo or a loser for not leaving that hellhole already - and so when we do find out he's a maniac its not much of a surprise. Vince Vaughn's early scenes with Heche seemed very strained, the dialogue not really convincingly flowing well. But he quickly improves, and his scene in the office with Macy is just wow - easily surpasses the original. The 'character split' which was so visible with Perkins isn't visible at all with Vaughn here, he thankfully cuts out the stupid giggle early on. As for the masturbation scene, what's wrong with it? Teenagers tend to laugh it off, Adults don't really care, its only those who get all fussy about sex that don't seem to like it in there. The guy is all alone out there, no naughty videos or sexual companion around and he gets a free peepshow - you really don't expect him (or in fact half the male population if they were in the same situation) to do it?
Other Actors: Anne Heche I've always been very impressed by and once again she doesn't let me down (not all, but some who bag her tend to do it because they can't separate her personal life from her acting - and they don't even bother hiding it in their writing). Compared to Janet Leigh? Oh I'd say about the same. Julianne Moore takes the very simple Lila Crane role and gives it a bit more of a 90's woman attitude - though why she was claiming her character's a lesbian in this version I have no idea as its not hinted to at all in here. Macy improves the role of Arboghast, but that's probably because he's such a likable actor. Viggo Mortensen thankfully makes Sam a lot less imposing figure, more of a kind-hearted simple guy. The rest of the cast are all decent. All are about the same level as the original (that last condition will depend upon your personal taste). Changes: What few new scenes Van Sant has inserted have improved on the original, though one wishes he would've been more creative - cutting out some of the slow scenes and added maybe another death or two (and possibly a different ending) to give it a 90's darker edge. In the 60's "Psycho" was a very scary, completely original thriller that shocked a generation. Today's audience have much higher demands, their taste is more sophisticated (in some ways), and they're much more desensitised to shocks (so it takes a lot more to scare us). Members of my generation (those in their teens/early twenties at the moment) have come to expect a fast pace, numerous twists, lots of deaths, numerous scares and most recently a sense of humour in our horror films.
"Psycho" to us, BOTH the old and new version, feels slow & awkward. Many fans of the original who see this remake come out disappointed by how little impact it has on them, well that's how the teenagers today feel when watching either version. "Psycho" is a film classic to the older audiences because there was nothing like it at the time it came out. Since then there have been innumerate clones which have taken elements of the formula and improved on it - and its these clones most people my age and younger see first. "Psycho" is a part of the 1960's and belongs there - we're going to have to wait sometime longer before a scary movie that shocks this generation comes along that will have as much impact as "Psycho" did in its time.