The 13th Floor

6 Things I Learned While Moderating The PSYCHO Remake Commentary!

PSYCHO is unarguably a masterpiece, both in the filmography of Alfred Hitchcock, but also in horror & cinema history. And so, who would have the nerve to remake something considered a classic?

Nowadays, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. BATES MOTEL recently wrapped it’s fifth and final season, and provided Norman Bates fans with a brand new take on the mythology. But alas, it wasn’t the first time the original PSYCHO was “reinterpreted.” Hot on the heels of his success with GOOD WILL HUNTING, director Gus Van Sant had long dreamed of doing a conceptional art piece; remaking a famous film using the same script and shots, but with new actors, and seeing if you can replicate greatness by doing it shot-for-shot.

And so, on the heat of a huge Hollywood success, Van Sant convinced Universal to give him $20 million dollars to remake PSYCHO in 1998. Considering we don’t speak very often of this “experiment,” you can figure out how well received the results were at the time. But alas, it’s a film experiment that is still debated, discussed and brought up as the punchline to a bad remake joke.

Is it time to revisit the 1998 PSYCHO remake? I’m not so sure. But, for the curious, and just in time for Mother’s Day, Scream Factory has released it on Blu-Ray. Carted over are all the previous features, including a pretty decent making of documentary titled “PSYCHO Path,” which chronicles the making-of the feature. There’s also a highly pretentious commentary track with Van Sant, Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche that was recorded in 1998 right before the film’s release.

Cut to 2017, I was tasked to moderate a brand new commentary track to the remake, and I asked editor extraordinaire Amy Duddleston if she’d join me on this journey. I’d met Amy while she was editing on DEXTER for Showtime. (She currently edits AMERICAN GODS on Starz.) Every time we bumped into each other during the DEXTER days, I always threatened to ask a bunch of questions about the PSYCHO remake. Finally, I got to do it while we watched the movie! I still have mixed feelings personally about the final product, but it was fun to watch it with the person that put the whole thing together. The Blu-Ray featuring our commentary is now available through Scream Factory, but for now, I thought I’d share with you 6 things I learned while moderating this PSYCHO commentary!

“Green Is The Color Of Danger”

Because the original film was shot in black and white, I never visualized what color the opening title sequence by Saul Bass would be. But the filmmakers opted for “green.” And green would become a common motif for the remainder of the film. The dress that Anne Heche’s version of Marion Crane wears is green. Obviously, money, and the stealing of it becomes the catalyst for PSYCHO’s primary plot. And that was all fully intentional, as Duddleston explained to me, “green is the color of danger.”

It’s Not Really A Shot-For-Shot Remake

Yes, technically, the goal was for it to be shot for shot, and to mimic and time out the original as close as possible, but actors will be actors, and everyone performs things differently. Duddleston confesses on the track that she had to stop cutting to match the original film, which was also loaded up on her Avid, and instead start cutting for performance. Actors have an inclination to try to do things with their own spin and that’s what makes movie magic. So, although it was advertised as a shot-for-shot remake, realistically only a few scenes here and there match the original movie perfectly.

Vince Vaughn Had To Reshoot His First Scene As Norman Bates

Vince Vaughn was just enjoying the success of the indie hit SWINGERS, and had been tapped by Steven Spielberg to do his JURRASIC PARK sequel THE LOST WORLD. But at the time of PSYCHO, he was still relatively an “unknown,” making him an interesting choice for Norman Bates, especially for those that saw him in CLAY PIGEONS where he also played a serial killer. However, on his first day of shooting, things didn’t click as well as everyone had hoped. Vince’s first scene as Norman Bates was the first scene that Norman appears in the film, and it had to be completely reshot. “Vince was so nervous,” explained Duddleston. “Gus, bless his heart, watched the footage and said, you know, I don’t like the keys on the wall, so let’s reshoot it.”

The Trailer Influenced The Murder Sequences

One thing that the studio spent heavy focus on was the marketing for PSYCHO. While they were still shooting and prepping to begin post-production, the official theatrical trailer for PSYCHO was released. And…. much to the surprise of everyone, including the people working on the film, it looks pretty darned awesome! Here’s that trailer:

As we’ll discuss momentarily when we get to the shower scene, one aspect of the trailer that influenced the actual movie was the slicing of subliminal images. When the murder sequences didn’t seem to work in the final edit, Van Sant and Duddleston decided to try putting in subliminal images as a way of showcasing things that the victims are seeing flash before their eyes as they die. Why William H. Macy’s Arbogast is seeing a cow in the road is beyond me, but it only makes me want to know his freakin’ backstory all the more!

The Shower Scene Didn’t Work

The shower scene is one of the most famous scenes in cinematic history. It’s compromised of 78 setups and 52 cuts, hence there’s a new documentary coming out specifically about the “shower scene” in PSYCHO titled 78/52. So, when it came time to redo the shower scene for the 98 version, the filmmakers replicated every shot as close as possible to the original. They even hired a different actress to play “Mother” in the sequence, in the same way that Perkins himself didn’t play Mother in the shower scene either. And when it was edited together? It just didn’t work. For whatever reason, playing back the shower scene in the 98 version didn’t work at all. And so, culling from that recently released trailer, Van Sant and Duddleston opted to put in frames of things that the victim would flash upon in her final moments. Also, regarding the excessive violence and blood, including the wounds on Marion’s back as she falls out of the shower, it was digital trickery!

Rick Baker Created Mother!

They had to reshoot the reveal of Mother’s corpse a second time to punch it up a bit. So, the version embedded above is what appears in the movie. And it was done by none other than an uncredited Rick Baker!

There is so much more covered in the feature length audio commentary, so if you want more of an analysis or explanation behind how this version of PSYCHO came to be, pick it up from Scream Factory!