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3 Key Roles: Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ vs. Gus Van Sant’s ‘Psycho’

Posted at April 20, 2012 by 2 Comments

It’s no surprise that horror films are prime for remakes/reboots/prequels/sequels and whatever new iteration the movie industry seems to come up with. What’s even more intriguing is when those intentions aren’t solely placed on making a quick buck, but as an art project of its own. In comes Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the particular casting choices for canonical characters Norman Bates and Marion Crane.

I’m sure you’re all very well aware of the legacy Hitchcock’s Psycho has left behind and if you don’t, run to your nearest media-outlet and watch the film. The horror film is inspired by real-life serial killer Ed Gein, who went on to spawn hundreds of iterations. Several decades after Hitchcock’s film had been idolized and studied incessantly, Gus van Sant decided to remake the film through similar camera aesthetics, updating the movie with contemporary color film and adding some new spins on the old.

Norman Bates: Anthony Perkins vs. Vince Vaughn

The infamous performance that made Anthony Perkins a name actor also typecasted him into the role of Norman Bates, the owner of a motel tucked away from society. While Vince Vaughn had the incredible task of following up with his own take, Perkins was a much calmer display of acting. Where Norman’s disturbed mind resulted from deep-seeded neglect by his mother (who’d rather be involved with her lover than her own child), exclaimed to him “that a son is a poor substitute for a lover” and in turn infantilized Norman. Perkins played this preservation of being “a good boy” towards Marion while simultaneously watching her through a peephole, to which Vaughn’s Norman would sexually please himself while peeping in on Marion clearly setting a distinction between the two performances. Norman Bates disturbed mental state would also be informed differently: Vaughn was influenced by the onslaught of contemporary media, while Perkins was fed by his own isolation.

Marion Crane: Janet Leigh vs Anne Heche

Both Janet Leigh and Anne Heche were very well known actresses at the time when their respective Psycho’s were released, as they played Marion Crane with slight modifications to their characters motivation, but identifiable differences in the use of their sexuality. Janet Leigh would seemingly brush off oil king Tim Cassidy’s sexual propositions as if she’d been hit on all her life, while Heche lured the men so that she can take advantage of them. Leigh had a much stronger sense of control, whenever there was an opportunity to be seized. Heche in turn had a more flighty persona, recklessly giving into a fantasy affair and a better life with Sam by stealing the money from her boss. Thinking this would provide a better outlook, both Marion’s drive up to meet with Sam. Leigh smirks at the thought of what kind of conversation would transpire after she steals the $40, 000 and Heche perceives that same conversation with worry and uncertainty to what might happen when she’s found out. When conversing with Norman about Mother, Heche questions Norman’s choice to live with his mother (instead of putting her in a group home) and consequently is slightly destabilized by his intimidated response. Leigh instead commands the scene as having misunderstood and yet sympathizing with his choice, a more respectful exchange of words instead of Heche’s condescension.

Lila Crane: Vera Miles vs. Julianne Moore

The character of Lila Crane, Marion’s worried and neurotic sister is the second most influenced character by their respective eras of the film’s events. Vera Miles acts as the expected woman in distress, a complete opposite to Leigh’s Marion, and highly dependent on Sam to help guide her to truth about her sister’s disappearance. Julianne Moore in turn is sure of herself and not entirely dependent of the men around her, in contrast with Heche’s Marion. Moore drives the character with a sense of self-concern, but it also makes her a stronger character that will only stay out of Marion’s life if she’s told by her own sister. Moore’s Lila is also the display of media evolution in listening to her walkman, in an attempt to state that her independence is an influence from outside sources.

These characters are deeply contrasted in both van Sant’s and Hitchcock’s respective film and are partly influenced by the media culture of their times. Hitchcock use’s the feminist movement and the lack of oversaturated media exposure as an internal display for his characters, while van Sant uses contemporary society’s ills with an overabundance of media exposure and psychology to define them in extreme perspectives that society has become accustomed to.

We also wouldn’t want to ignore the fact that The Making of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (recently renamed Hitchcock), a behind the scenes film-within-a-film conceit that’s currently in production with Scarlett Johnasson as Janet Leigh (who played Marion Crane), James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins (the infamous Norman Bates) and Jessica Biel as Vera Miles (Marion’s sister Lila). Until we get some photos or even a trailer, there’s isn’t much of a cast comparison to be made. Although, one could ascertain this by judging their previous works in the context of these characters they’ll soon canonically inhabit. Johansson certainly has had career-defining role with Lost in Translation, the female appeal and perception as a woman who’s seemingly in control. Biel has had years of playing a character who’s vulnerable, yet certain on the TV series 7th Heaven. James D’Arcy is the wildcard at hand here, but has the physical appearance of vulnerability and boyish innocence.

What do you guys think of the different actors inhabiting these iconic roles?

Movie News From Beyond!
Mario Melidona

About Mario Melidona

Mario has produced and written several screenplays and recently directed and edited a Black & White Short filmed on 16mm. His newfound love for postmodernism and the rise of existential cinema has been a great influence on his writings.

  • Movie-Man Smith

    98 version vs The 60′s Hitchcock Classic. How has it come to this? Has our taste become so poor? But a good read and well crafted for the effort.

  • JessSayin

    Dumbest question ever. There was only one Psycho. Period.