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Region 4 DVD Reviews: Is Psycho 2 twice as Psycho as Psycho?

Originally published in Australian HI-FI, Oct/Nov 2002, v.33/5

Psycho (1960) cover Psycho
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin and Janet Leigh
Psycho (1998) cover Psycho
Director: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortensen and Anne Heche
Movie: A, Picture: A, Sound: C, Extras: C Movie: A-, Picture: A+, Sound: A, Extras: B
There can surely be nothing able to be said about Psycho, the original, that has not already been said. Released in 1960 it remains Hitchcock's masterpiece, failing to date poorly. Thankfully, just as any temptation to colourise this intentionally black and white film was resisted, so the audio has been kept in its original mono without an attempt to convert it to stereo or surround. Despite what the cover says, there are also Spanish, French and Italian dubs on the DVD, as well as English, French and Greek subtitles.

The audio is fairly clean, although with a little background hum. The film print from which the conversion was made was bit of a worry during the titles, with lots of scrape marks and dust accumulation. Fortunately it cleans up rapidly so that by the end of the titles the picture is mostly clean, with just the occasional flicker of dirt.

Black and white movies, especially ones as well-filmed as Psycho, benefit at least as much from DVD's resolution (twice as good as video cassette) as colour ones, perhaps more, because it's the luminance part of the signal that carries the most information. On a good monitor, this DVD generally looks as good as a photograph. Just one small anomoly appears during the pan away from the dead Marion's face: the edge of the bathroom door pulsates as it crosses the screen.

There are good text notes on the film, biographies on six of the actors and, of course, Hitchcock, plus Hitchcock's intentionally goofy theatrical trailer in a poor quality 4:3 transfer.

Our Region 4 edition gets by with single layer encoding, compared with the Region 1 dual layer, perhaps because of the omission in our version of a documentary, 'The making of Psycho', a censored scene and some Newsreel footage. Still, you really buy these things for the movie and that remains inimitably Psycho.

'Inimitably Psycho' I said about that 1960 movie. Yet in 1998 it was indeed imitated. Imitated as closely as any movie has yet been imitated. Many scenes have a second-to-second correspondence with the original even in the camera angles. Even the titles are the same (with only the names changed and colour added). Yet there are differences.

Gus Van Sant chose to remake Psycho precisely because it was such a fine movie. He had in mind the different movie interpretations of Shakespeare, for example. As such, not every scene is identical to the original. A line from Joseph Stefano's screenplay is left in, even though it was cut from Hitchcock's final print (apparently for reasons of clearing the censors). Norman's voyeurism is drawn-out and blatant in this version, while Hitchcock's trademark cameo appearance is replaced by a Hitchcock lookalike vigorously lecturing Van Sant himself.

The colour is probably necessary for a commercially viable project of the 90s, and the colours have been thoughtfully chosen. Indeed, the quality of the photography is excellent, and the print used for the transfer is superbly clean. The audio (featuring Bernard Herrmann's original score) benefits from the abandonment of the Academy sound (limited bandwidth, with a harsh top end) and the use of 5.1 channel Dolby Digital. Listen, particularly, to the superb sound of the rain on the car roof when Marion arrives at Bate's Motel. Funnily, just as the movie so closely tracks the original, so does the packaging ... at least to the extent of this remake also omitting mention of the three other languages and the subtitles.

A half-hour making-of documentary opens, cutely, with various movie shakers and movers expressing dismay that Psycho could be remade. Yet the commentary track, featuring Van Sant, Anne Heche and Vince Vaughn, clarifies a lot of issues on why production decisions were made and, indeed, why the movie was made at all.

I'm glad it was, if only because my own son refuses to watch any movie in black and white, so at least he gets some sense of Hitchcock's genius.

Running time: 104 minutes
Aspect: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Sound track: English, Spanish, French, Italian: all Dolby Digital 1.0, 96kb/s
Subtitles: English, French, Greek
Features: Trailer (6:35), Production notes, Biographies
Running time: 99 minutes
Aspect: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Sound track: English: Dolby Digital 5.1, 384kb/s; French, Italian, Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0 (Dolby Pro Logic encoded), 192kb/s; Commentary: Dolby Digital 2.0 (stereo) 192kb/s
Subtitles: English, Portuguese, Greek, French, Arabic
Features: Featurette ('Psycho Path' - 29:12), Trailer, Production Notes, Biographies, Screen saver, Commentary

© 2002-2006, Stephen Dawson