As Women in Horror Month continues, we’re taking a look at Mary Harron‘s fan-favorite American Psycho! With a screenplay based on Bret Easton Ellis’ brilliant novel of the same name, Harron crafted one of the greatest horror-comedies of all time – one that’s just as popular among genre-lovers 17 years later.
American Psycho is arguably the greatest horror film to ever be directed by a woman (though The Babadook presents a stellar case against that notion). Perfecting the balance between laughs and brutality, Harron showcases the alternately hilarious and horrific lifestyle of wealthy New Yorkers in the late 1980’s.
The worst of the worst, though somehow the most relatable, is Patrick Bateman, Harron’s main character. A wealthy investment banker, Bateman’s life revolves around dining at trendy restaurants while keeping up appearances for his fiancée Evelyn and for his circle of wealthy and shallow associates, most of whom he hates.
The film begins with Bateman’s voice telling us the extent of his material lifestyle, discussing his daily morning exercise & beautification routine, and his music collection and admiration of different artists, particularly Huey Lewis and the News. His lavish lifestyle is also showcased by his taste for expensive designer clothing and his luxurious apartment. American Psycho wastes not a moment in painting Bateman and his colleagues as wealthy, disconnected sociopaths, however, Bateman’s psychopathic tendencies are what the film is truly centered around.
Harron’s film shines brightest, and is most memorable, through the menacing, emotionally-empty performance of Christian Bale as her lead. Bale plays Bateman as a man who is entirely unhinged, exhausting every bit of his energy to keep a straight face around the people he needs to impress in order to maintain such a luxurious lifestyle. As the audience, we never know when Bateman is going to snap, and when he does, it’s often funny and terrifying to witness.
His eventual killing spree is initially played for laughs in both Bale’s performance and Harron’s tonal execution. The character, however, descends into a level of madness that is truly unsettling as the film progresses, even if it does come back around to the dark-comedy elements as we’re left to wonder, like Bateman, how much of what we’re seeing is reality.
Whether you’re mostly into murders and executions or more into mergers and acquisitions, there’s no denying American Psycho‘s significant pedestal in both the horror genre and pop culture. Harron’s film almost looked much different though. In fact, it almost wasn’t her film at all. Here are some fun facts about American Psycho.
- After discussions with Stuart Gordon fell through, horror-maestro David Cronenberg was attached to the project.
- Though Harron pressed to have Christian Bale in the lead role, Lionsgate argued that Bale wasn’t famous again, instead pursuing both Edward Norton and Leonardo DiCaprio. Displeased with the studio, Harron continued fighting for Bale, stating that DiCaprio’s screen presence at the time would have been too boyish for Patrick Bateman. Bale remained committed to the role, even through the controversy, turning down roles for nine months until American Psycho worked out in his favor.
- Christian Bale struggled with the character of Bateman until seeing Tom Cruise on Late Night with David Letterman, being struck by Cruise’s energy and “intense friendliness with nothing behind the eyes.” He additionally modeled Bateman around Nicolas Cage’s performance in Vampire’s Kiss.
- As promotion, one could register to receive e-mails “from” Patrick Bateman, supposedly to his therapist. The e-mails, written by a writer attached to the film and approved by the book’s author Bret Easton Ellis, follow Bateman’s life since the events of the film.
- American Psycho initially received an NC-17 rating due to the graphic nature of Bateman’s threesome scene, causing the producers to cut 18 seconds of footage in order to be R-rated.
Where does American Psycho fall on your list of the greatest horror comedies? Does it still hold up today? Thanks for joining us again as we celebrate the films by women in horror!