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American Psycho (2000), Starring Christian Bale & Jared Leto (Test Of Time)

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must-see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

DIRECTED BY MARY HARRON

STARRING CHRISTIAN BALE, REESE WITHERSPOON, WILLEM DAFOE, JARED LETO

Quickly off the dome – what’s your favorite horror flick released in the year 2000?

As hard as it is to believe it turned 20 years old this past April, my answer has to be Mary Harron’s uproarious horror satire and blistering screed of anti-consumeristic 80s excess, American Psycho (WATCH IT HERE/OWN IT HERE). With satire as biting and incisive as the vicious violence portrayed onscreen, the adaptation of the controversial Bret Easton Ellis novel not only strikes a pitch-perfect balance between side-splitting humor and neck-slashing horror, the film also introduced the world to the leading likes of Mr. Christian Bale, who, despite having little clout in his career at the time, contributed to several key aspects of the character and story arcs in the film. Throw in a pair of fellow future Oscar-winners in Jared Leto and Reese Witherspoon in memorable supporting roles, not to mention the great Willem Dafoe, and we have all the makings of an all-time classic. The question remains, is the film still a classic 20 years later? Let’s find out below when we match AMERICAN PYSCHO up against the Test of Time!

THE STORY: Believe it or not, when Ellis’ novel was optioned for the big screen in 1991, the late great Stuart Gordon was attached the direct the film with Johnny Depp in the starring role as Patrick Bateman, the central figure in the film who is named after Psycho’s Norman Bates and based in part on Ellis’ own father. Gordon wanted to shoot the film in black and white, ensuring an inevitable X-rating, and the project was subsequently dropped. Soon after, David Cronenberg showed interest in making the film with Brad Pitt playing Bateman. This iteration also failed to launch past the development stage. At one point, Leo DiCaprio was also interested in playing the lead role, but his $21 million asking-price dwarfed the modest $7 million budget and become untenable. Oliver Stone was attached to the Di Caprio version with plans on casting James Woods as Detective Kimball, Cameron Diaz as Evelyn, and Elizabeth Berkley as Courtney.

Eventually, Di Caprio left the project to make The Beach and I Shot Andy Wharhol director Mary Harron was hired by Lionsgate to adapt Ellis’s novel to the big screen instead. Diegetically, the novel offers a much grislier account of Patrick Bateman, the affluent and narcissistic twenty-something Wall Street yuppie, who slowly loses his grip on his sanity while competing in the cutthroat world of corporate finance during the excessive materialistic milieu of the 1980s. Ruthlessly obsessed with his bodily health and youthful appearance, Bateman is a vacuous white-collar drone by day and a naughty nocturnal serial slaughterer by night. Of course, it’s the internalized schizophrenia Ellis and Harron toyingly tantalize that proves the most fascinating. Is Bateman really a psycho killer or is he a mentally insane madman suffering from fantasy-based delusions of grandeur?

WHAT HOLDS-UP: At a fast-flying 101 minutes, AMERICAN PSYCHO first and foremost holds up incredibly well as a consistently engaging piece of entertainment. But the movie remains at its absolute when showcasing its top-tier performances, brilliant blend of mordant humor with menacing horror, and the thought-stirring ambiguity of the finale.

Christian Bale has since earned a reputation for being an extremely serious actor who is prone to on-set outbursts due to the commitment to his craft. However, the dude is absolutely hilarious when given the chance, and his rendition of Patrick Bateman is all the proof you need. In proper method acting form, Bale reportedly remained in character while on set and spoke in an American accent between takes, deliberately remaining distant from his co-stars to foster a sense of alienation that would translate onscreen with realistic results. His physical performance and pitch-perfect voice-over narration strike the perfect tonal balance between laugh-out-loud humor and brow-raising mania. Bateman is rakishly charismatic and disarmingly magnetic when he wants to be, but also flashes a seething pool of bile and vile hatred behind his deadened eyeballs when he’s had enough societal and professional pressure.

One scene in the film that perfectly exemplifies the tonal mixture comes when Patrick is hit on by his homosexual colleague Luis Carruthers (Matt Ross) in the men’s room. As Luis obliviously expresses his desire for Patrick, he is completely unaware that Patrick’s mounting anger is bubbling up into a volcano of magma-hot ire. As Patrick rings Luis around the neck with murderous intent, Luis simply kisses and compliments the pair of leather gloves, prompting the germophobic Bateman to rush to the faucet and scrub the gloves clean with a look of abject horror etched across his face. The shit went from hair-raising and heart-pounding to knee-slapping in seconds.

Another example of the delectable blend of horror and humor comes when Bateman lures the dunk Paul Allen (Leto) to his apartment, where he entertains the unwitting yuppie with a recording of Huey Lewis’ “Hip to Be Square.” As Bateman cheekily moonwalks to the tune while brandishing a pristine ax blade, he continues to beam about the 80s song until he plunges the ax in Paul’s forehead until a splash of gore Jackson Pollacks his face. In seconds flat, the mouths of viewers go from stretching horizontally to vertically.

But the horrific humor is most scarring when Bateman enjoys a riotous threesome with a pair of prostitutes that he gives hilariously specific instructions to while having sex. The campy exaggerations of Bateman posing and flexing while admiring himself in the mirror is met moments later with the unrepentant vitiation of said prostitutes as Bateman transmogrifies into a squealing, bat-like bloodsucker dependent on the letting of human blood to subsist. The exorbitance of Bateman’s chainsaw stairwell murder aptly reflects the larger theme of excess, with the cartoonish aspect of precisely dropping a running chainsaw down on the head of a fleeing victim being as starkly funny as it is frighteningly sinister.

The other aspect of the film that endures quite admirably is the ambiguous ending. While there are many hints pointing to the notion that the entire movie took place in the mentally-ill mind of Patrick Bateman, there’s still enough proof to the contrary to make you believe Bateman committed the heinous crimes he claimed to while confessing to his lawyer at the end of the film (a scene that took 14 takes to get right). What I love so much about the movie is, despite all of the physical carnage Bateman exacts throughout, it’s really his fractious mental state that renders his psychosis real. That is, under the guise of a grisly slasher flick, the film is really a slick satirical psychological horror-comedy. That’s the real trick Harron and company were able to pull off – the cinematic sleight of hand!

WHAT BLOWS NOW: Honestly, the fact that AMERICAN PYSCHO could very well never be made today, is what blows nowadays. Artistic expression in cinema has been all but gelded by Hollywood’s corporate mandates, politically correct Twitter mobs, the rise of quantity-over-quality binge culture, and the outcries of the easily offended. Ellis’ AMERICAN PSYCHO novel was already far more extreme and graphic in its depictions of violence, something Harron already had to tamp down for the film version. The sad thing is the neutered film version of the violence would be deemed too upsetting by today’s standard. Also, I wish Willem Dafoe (one of my all-time favorite actors) had more to do in the film, but that’s as small a gripe as they come.

THE VERDICT: All told, American Psycho remains one of the best horror-comedies of the past two decades. The rich source novel provides ample opportunity for the A-list actors to shine, with Christian Bale giving his first great leading performance as Patrick Bateman, an unhinged psychotic who is somehow loathsome and likable in equal measure for much of the story. The performances are propped up by the fusion of genuine humor and heart-jutting horror, the combination of which leads to the great unknown of the open-ended finale. That this movie was co-written and directed by women (Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner) ought to be celebrated, not castigated. American Psycho is flagrantly decadent, wittingly cynical, and deliciously entertaining.

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