Reviews - Psycho

Review #1 by the Groovy Yak

Danny Elfman and Steve Bartek sure do have a lot of guts. Re-recording one of the most famous film scores of all time is a challenge most film composers would run from. Every single string col legno or glissando has been memorized by many-a-devout film and film score nerd. I guess I too fall into the camp of people who exclaimed "What is he thinking- making a shot for shot remake of a classic film?!?" when I found out Van Sant was redoing Psycho. By stating he was making a shot for shot remake, he opened the film AND score for an unbelievable amount of scrutiny. On its own, the 1998 Psycho wasn't really a bad film. In fact, I watched it with a friend of mine who hadn't seen the original and he loved it. Ahh, but for us, the ones who have seen the original, we know what's wrong with this one- a very unnecessary masturbation scene, Anne Heche's completely awful performance (she missed Marion's tone completely), etc. It's a decent film, but it's no 1960's Psycho.
The score has its problems too. There's some tempo problems througout the score. The Prelude seems a bit too fast. The tempo problems really aren't the fault of the arrangers, though- it's the fault of some scenes lasting longer or shorter than the original scenes.
Probably the most obvious flub is the fact that the shower scene cue is screwed up in the film. It's actually correct on the album, but in the film its different. As Heche's hand slowly slides down the wall of the shower we hear (0:24) from "The Discovery."
But, what am I saying? I loved Elfman's Psycho! There's really only a few flubs that I can hear. (I don't have Herrmann's original score memorized.) The things that Elfman and Bartek did correctly outnumber the inaccuracies. "The City" and "The Rainstorm" are perfect in my book. Also what makes this re-recording a success was the fact that it was recorded with antique microphones, giving it a very dry and dated sound.
Also of note is that at least one cue was altered quite a bit from the original. If you think the cue "The Discovery" sounds more Elfmanish than Herrmann, you're correct. Elfman juxtaposed an unused cue of Herrmann's with the original stabbing music. Psycho purists will hate it. I love it, but is it really what Herrmann wanted?
All in all, Elfman and Bartek did an excellent job of adapting Herrmann- with a few twists. It reminds me of the great job Elmer Bernstein did with Cape Fear, another Herrmann score, a few years back. If Herrmann was alive today, he'd shake Elfman's hand. No, I take that back, being the moody person that he was, he'd probably strangle Elfman for even attempting to mess with his score!
Rating: * * * 1/2

Review #2 by the Texas Ranger

Music as heard in the film: * 1/2 out of 4 stars
Warning: I have not purchased the CD release, nor do I have any plans to. This is a critique of the score's performance in the film. I currently own the original Bernard Herrmann score, which is good enough for me.
Disgraceful - Shameful; Loss of honor, respect, reputation. SEE: Gus Van Sant's "Psycho"
The Good: Well, this adaptation is based on one of the best film scores ever written by one of the greatest film composers of all time. I'm sure many would ask, "What's not to like?" The answer can be found below.
The Bad and the Ugly Let's face it, 1998 was not a good year for Elfman film score fans. The entire year was devoid of any Elfman score until winter came rolling in. A Civil Action, which was a cute, civil score (and a total bore), was finally released sometime around Christmas. Unfortunately, A Simple Plan would not be released until early February of 1999. So after a year's worth of waiting, what was the best Elfman could come up with? Well, pardon my pun, but a sappy adaptation of Psycho didn't quite slay me.
First off, I think the decision to oversee the adaptation of Herrmann's classic score was a poor ethical choice on Elfman's part. Now I know that Elfman sees Bernard Herrmann as his idol/master/guru/all seeing and all knowing mighty film score god - but, the great one is dead. Personally, I would not want to start a general rolling around party in the local film music graveyard (after all, Gus Van Sant already started that party in Hitchcock's grave). Yet, the fact remains - Elfman did it. However, I am resolved not to let this influence my rating of the score in the new film. Although, it must be said that I must compare the two scores (old and new), as this is a remake.
The first problem I had with this score had to due with the most infamous scene: the shower murder. In the original, it was Herrmann's intent to have the music (all string instruments) "stab" with Norman Bates in one of the most terrifying (and annoying) set of high pitched screeches in cinema history (it is also rumored that he included numerous bird squawks i.e. from Hitchcock's bird of prey imagery). The result was astounding, especially on the big screen. However, in the new version, the stabs seem more like gentle pricks. Some idiot (either Elfman, Bartek, or one of the sound engineers) decided less is more. In some cases, that can work, but in this case, less is merely less. The stabbing strings seemed to be toned down in volume and orchestration, unlike the original (where they were the primary source of sound). In fact, Anne Heche's scream pretty much drowns them out. Another major scene which showcased the musical stabbing was the death of poor detective Arbagast. In that case, there was a problem with the power and the tempo! The string stabbing was incredibly slow - detracting from the shock of the original. This, in part, probably stems from the fact that Gus Van Sant made a shot by shot remake with some extra shots in it! While the death scene was slightly longer than the original, this is still no excuse for a slow tempo. I'm sure Elfman could have slipped in a few extra stabs with the violins to save the pace. In Herrmann's score, Arbagast's death music was played with such speedy ferocity, that it complemented the total shock the audience was supposed to feel None of this shock occurs in Elfman's adaptation, which drags on slower than a river of molasses and sounds more like a single crow squawking. Unfortunately, both this and the shower scene, suffered from a severe lack of musical power as a result of Elfman and the sound mixers.
The issue of tempo stirs another point. In numerous scenes, the tempo just doesn't seem right. From the main theme, to the driving sequences, something doesn't sound quite like the original. I cannot be certain what the problem is. Some scenes seem to play out too fast, while others play out too slow. I have no desire to rent the new version again and time each musical cue with a stop watch, so I'll never know what the problem was for sure. Yet, I can just feel that it's not being played at the tempo (which still annoys me).
Finally, the score just doesn't work in a modern context. The fact of the matter is, "they just don't make them like they used too." This is a score from a totally different era, put into a modern context. The fact that the new version is set in 1998 creates too many problems for the film, which inevitably spill over into score. Basically, nobody in their right mind would score a film today, like Herrmann did back then. While I'm sure many wish today's composers would return to that sort of style, the fact remains that it just isn't done. Even Elfman, whose style has been greatly influenced by Herrmann, would never score a film in such a way. This type of score just doesn't work in a modern film - it seems too peculiar, too simple, and too out of place and time to fit such a present context. Like William H. Macy's film noir outfit or Anne Heche's anachronistic dialogue, the score just doesn't match the time frame of the film. It's like watching Marylin Manson make a shot by shot remake of Mary Poppins, set in the tenth level of hell, and yet keeping the original goody-goody lyrics. IT JUST DOESN'T SOUND RIGHT!
Ranger's Result: No power, no tempo, no originality, no new offerings in the realm of Psychotic music. WHY BOTHER?! Take the advice of a thousand film critics and merely apply it to the CD release: buy the original! Notes: What the hell was with the cow during the detective's death scene!? If you've seen the film, then you'll know what I'm talking about. If anyone knows the answer, please E-mail me (it's been bugging me for weeks).
Music as heard in the film: * 1/2

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