'Psycho' Remake Director Details the Real Reasons For His "Experiment"

The world of horror more than any other genre is susceptible to remakes, with some films often seeing multiples versions come to fruition over the decades. One of the more controversial remakes of all time is the 1998 version of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, with director Gus Van Sant meticulously recreating the entire film shot for shot. Both a critical and financial disappointment, Van Sant recently detailed how the process was nothing more than an expensive experiment.

“There’s a whole reason behind it… I think the process of doing it was the learning, it wasn’t necessarily the result," the filmmaker revealed to Marc Maron's WTF podcast. "It wasn’t really about learning about Hitchcock, it was more that during the '90s the joke about the executives was that they would rather make a sequel than they would an original piece, because there was less risk. They would rather continue a story that’s already known in the public, and they were really searching for some way to do that. Now they’ve found out that comics is the way to do it… but back in the '90s they hadn’t found that yet.”

Following Van Sant's 1989 hit Drugstore Cowboy, the filmmaker was inundated with offers to direct virtually any script he wanted, which is what inspired his idea for the remake experiment.

"It just reminded me of that thing that they wanted to do, which is remake something," Van Sant recalled. "And I said, ‘What you guys haven’t done is try to take a hit and remake it exactly. Rather than remake it and put a new spin on it, just remake it for real,’ because I’d never seen that done yet as an experiment. The whole thing seemed experimental to me anyway so I thought why not, and they laughed, they thought it was silly, ridiculous, absurd, and they left—they said, ‘We won’t be doing that.’”

In 1997, the filmmaker had an even stronger reputation, with his film Good Will Hunting having scored a slew of nominations. Van Sant went on to recall that, before the actual ceremony, studios like to have deals in place, regardless of the results of the awards.

When Universal Pictures reached out to the filmmaker, Van Sant claimed, "I was like, ‘Universal, Universal…oh yeah, tell them Pyscho, frame-by-frame, new cast, in color, and that’s the idea,’ and then my agent calls back and says, ‘They think that’s fantastic.’ So all of a sudden they were in.”

Despite the film's failure, Van Sant claimed that it was an experiment worth enduring, and that lessons can be learned from its failure.

"It didn’t work. But the idea was whether or not you could remake something and it would repeat the box office," the director noted. "That was the sort of weird science experiment… It’s more important now I think, because people like yourself will ask questions about it. It’s more alive now than it was back when it failed, just with the art world or the modern world.”

More recently, the concept of Psycho was modified for the TV series Bates Motel, which ran for five seasons.


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