400 Screens, 400 Blows is a weekly column that takes an in-depth look at the films playing below the radar, beneath the top ten, and on 400 screens or less.

For Halloween week, I thought I'd go back and challenge one of the biggest movie myths of recent years: that Gus Van Sant's Psycho (1998) is the worst remake of all time. On the contrary... it's actually one of the most fascinating of all remakes, and a great deal more satisfying than almost any other horror remake. Let me explain. If we go back and look at the history of horror movies, we can divide up the last 100 years into sections. There were the Expressionist horrors of the silent era, then the Universal monsters, then Val Lewton's RKO films, the British Hammer films, the Italian horrors, the American Renaissance of the 1970s, the 1980s tongue-in-cheek films, the Asian horrors of the 1990s, and now -- remakes.

There were three factors that made Psycho different from other horror remakes. It was based on a high-quality, undisputed classic rather than some slapdash, B-level monster movie. It was shot-for-shot, and a respected art house director made it. Van Sant had earned some fame, acclaim and an Oscar nomination (for Good Will Hunting), and so by signing on to do the remake he unconsciously indicated that he was stepping into Hitchcock's shoes, which was unforgivable, and also impossible. If a fourth-rate hack had tried it, it would have been laughed at, or ignored, out of existence. But Van Sant's skill and reputation made it stick.

categories Columns, Cinematical