American Psycho: Uncut Killer Collector's Edition Review

“I have all the characteristics of a human being: blood, flesh, skin, hair; but not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust. Something horrible is happening inside of me and I don't know why. My nightly bloodlust has overflown into my days. I feel lethal, on the verge of frenzy. I think my mask of sanity is about to slip…”

I guess we’re all products of the era in which we live. Although some of you might disagree, I feel that it is society which decides what kind of person we become - we’re sold an image through the media, and every one of us strives to “fit in”. Each and every person wants to feel wanted, and that’s the problem plaguing Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale). The narration above, perfectly sums-up his frame of mind. Yes, he’s insane, but it’s doubtful this Wall Street yuppie would have picked up a knife if it wasn’t for the “greed is good” credo of the 1980’s. He’s a prisoner in a world he detests; surrounded by people who care only about material possession, and not each other. Bateman hates himself because he has adopted their lifestyle. Subconsciously, at least. His need to blend-in has turned him into a disaffected shell of his real self - someone that has been lost under a sea of neuroses. He wants to feel something. Anything.

His life has become boring, almost routine - an endless barrage of fancy restaurants, designer shopping, and office banter. He’s self-centred and full of himself; resenting his colleagues and pretty much everyone else, too. Bateman even hates his fiancé Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon), perhaps due to her strong feelings toward him; clashing with his pre-programmed idea of what a relationship should be. So, in order to give his life any meaning at all, he resorts to his own brand of debauchery…bloody murder. After killing a colleague from work, Bateman soon finds his mental state spiralling out of control, attacking and slaying innocent people at will. Even when a detective (Willem Dafoe) begins snooping around, Bateman finds it impossible to curb his murderous impulse. Will his friends and co-workers discover the “real” Patrick Bateman?

Bret Easton Ellis completed the novel American Psycho in 1991, and it caused controversy from the get-go; even before its release. After his auspicious debut Less Than Zero, Ellis had acquired a reputation as a writer of dark and uncompromising material. Psycho would take his talent to the extreme - causing outrage in the press for its graphic death scenes, and misogynistic violence against women. Yet, a few critics were able to recognise Ellis’ aim. In the form of Bateman, the writer was able to provide a stinging commentary on the yuppie sub-culture of the 1980’s. He was a veteran of the period, and has written about the decades laissez faire attitude in all of his books; from campus-based classic The Rules of Attraction, to the recent Glamorama. His satire is pitch-black, and hard to stomach, so no wonder critics were either amazed or disgusted. It continues to polarise readers, but has become a modern classic; dissected by literary students across the land for its fearless approach to storytelling.

Nine years after its monstrous birth, Lions Gate released the motion picture. Many didn’t believe American Psycho would work as a film - the violence in the novel was too extreme, and the subjects presented were too cerebral for mainstream audiences to absorb. It wasn’t a commercially-viable entity, and some directors passed after realising how difficult the material was to adapt. But the producers discovered director Mary Harron, who had a distinctive vision for the film. Hot after her barnstorming documentary I Shot Andy Warhol, she was given the reigns to the novel, and set about writing the script with Guinevere Turner (who also appears in the film, as Patrick’s old college friend Elizabeth). In my opinion, the pair did a great job.

For all its audacious charms, the novel was hardly an enjoyable read. In fact, it was downright infuriating at times. The rambling, stream-of-consciousness style adopted by Ellis was quite wearing - everything was described in minute detail, and few of the passages had relevance to the story. We’re in Bateman’s head when you read the book, and it’s a crazy place to be. The novel is incoherent and unfocused, but that was the entire point. The 80’s was all about surface, so the fact that Ellis spent so much time describing trendy restaurants and fashion is hardly surprising. Thankfully, the film is much easier to sample; Harron and Turner still eschew a “plot”, but never confound the viewer with useless information. Their choices are economical, taking the essence of the material and making it work as a piece of screen entertainment.

Harron’s technical savvy sets the tone well. From the beautifully-designed credits (drops of raspberry sauce are mistaken for blood), to the hectic denouement, American Psycho is an elegantly-handled film. In fact, her direction merely reinforces Ellis’ infatuation with surface. The film has a graceful quality - slow, almost stately camera movement, richly-detailed photography, and moody lighting; giving the movie a dreamlike aesthetic. The slow pace actually works wonders for the film, and the familiarity of each scene really sells the monotony of Bateman’s life. We follow him and his peers (all of whom, are completely interchangeable), from club to club, as they seek to rise above the rest of the world. Never once has a film about nothing, been about so much. Even the insight into Bateman’s fitness and shopping routines seem vital - showing us exactly why Bateman is the way he is. If he doesn’t buy the Rolex, or wear the latest Armani suit, he’ll fail to impress his co-workers, and that’s not an option. My favourite sequence in the film, is when his colleagues reveal their new business cards - all of which are nicer than his - only for Bateman to become visibly shaken. Something so material and unimportant makes Bateman sick to his stomach…

And talking about feeling ill, one should really discuss the violence in the film. Harron rightly made the decision to avoid depicting the bloodshed in an unflinching manner. Instead of emphasising the graphic details like Ellis, Harron often cuts away in the gory scenes; offering a quick glimpse of claret here and there. The full impact is left to the imagination, and the scenes have a greater resonance as a result. A sequence in which Bateman beats up a pair of hookers is one great example - Harron doesn’t show the event itself; only the aftermath, when the bruised ladies are stumbling out of Bateman’s apartment. I actually appreciated this technique, and some might be surprised at how little violence is in the film - you’ll remember more than there actually is. That’s probably due to the moments of old-fashioned horror thrown into the mix for good measure, including the ghoulish scene in which Bateman chases one of the hookers down a corridor, wielding a chainsaw. It would be right at home in a run-of-the-mill slasher movie, but this convention also functions to develop the Bateman character - we saw him watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in an earlier scene. Not only does the culture define his business and social life, but his killing too. The poor man is trying desperately to be hip.

But Harron combines culture and murder most effectively during the darkly hilarious “Huey Lewis & The News” segment. A know-it-all on the chart hits of the time, Bateman regales co-worker Paul Allen (Jared Leto) with a career retrospective on the band, before laying into him with an axe. He’s bright and effervescent here, brimming with excitement. The murder is almost a release. Moments later, he slumps into a chair, exhausted. Then the panic sets in. Few films ever show the patterns undertaken by serial killers, and actually concentrate squarely on their activities. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer did it most effectively, and like that film, American Psycho never really feels sympathy for its title monster. The film doesn’t apologise for his acts. Yet, by the end of the picture I felt like I understood him. It’s all too rare for a piece of cinema to treat a character to such complexity, making Harron’s film a deeply involving piece of work.

But it certainly isn’t perfect. Like the book, the movie never really develops its peripheral personalities. Bateman’s co-workers are ciphers, and never get any attention. Strange then, that Harron would cast recognisable faces like Josh Lucas and Justin Theroux. This is an extension of the social commentary, just like everything in this film, since no one really knows each other - they certainly don’t know Bateman. Still, the other characters don’t amount to any importance, including Witherspoon’s jilted fiancé, and Bateman’s tryst Courtney; played with a ditzy charm by Samantha Mathis. I wanted to know more about Dafoe’s character too. His Detective Kimball is an interesting man - we’re never sure if he sees right through Bateman, or is totally oblivious to his guilt. He disappears sometime before the conclusion, when he should have played a larger role.

Despite this, the biggest problem for some audiences might be the ending, which is certainly ambiguous. It asks us to question all of the events leading up to that point - a factor which makes those repeat viewings a necessity. But Harron never gives us any answers, which could satisfy some, but infuriate others. I’m in the former camp, especially since American Psycho works best as a film you can study. It’s dripping with sub-text, and the enigmatic conclusion certainly poses some interesting questions. That said, the film also works as pure entertainment. This is thanks to the acting chops of Christian Bale - my favourite screen performer by far. The actor became Bateman. He is utterly convincing in the main role, running the gamut from arrogant prick to terrifying maniac. He dominates the film, carrying it on his shoulders and bringing out every facet of Bateman’s tortured personality. It’s an iconic performance, and his turns in The Machinist and Batman Begins - while brilliant - failed to make quite the same impression.

American Psycho is an excellent film in my humble opinion; a fine jumble of genres and ideas that is sure to provoke a response. It’s not for all cinema-goers, and those that don’t appreciate their satire with violent overtones should probably give it a miss. I also think that Harron’s picture is the rare example of an adaptation that improves marginally on the source material - whether you agree with me or not, is entirely up to you. One thing we’re sure to agree on though: there will never be a decade quite like the 80’s…

The Disc

American Psycho has deserved a full-blown “Special Edition” for years now, so it’s surprising that it has taken this long for Lions Gate to get their act together. But it’s here; presented in an uncut and unrated flavour (restoring some seconds of footage during the three-way sex scene). It’s a step above the previous release, providing a frank and insightful analysis into the production, and its cult. In fact, Mr. Bateman would probably approve.

The Look and Sound

With any double-dip, you expect some sort of improvement in the picture quality. That’s exactly what we get, yet the changes are subtle - certainly nothing to scream about. Lions Gate have unleashed the film in its original aspect ratio (2.35:1), which comes with the customary anamorphic enhancement. The biggest change to this “remastered” print, is the colour, which has more depth, and the film boasts a smoother, crisper look as a result. Detail is very good, if not outstanding, and the darker scenes manage to keep annoying grain at bay. Yet, since the film was shot on such a tight budget, slight problems do appear. There’s some dirt evident on the print in some scenes, and certain shots are too soft. That said, the overall transfer is a pleasure, and it’s safe to assume that American Psycho hasn’t looked this good since its theatrical release…

The soundtrack has also undergone a fix, but considering the materials, the change in quality won’t be obvious to most viewers. The standard 5.1 track has been replaced with a new 5.1 EX mix, which helps to build the atmosphere, but doesn’t add much to the experience. Like the video transfer, the improvement is slight. Harron’s film is largely dialogue-driven, but the occasional burst of violence is well-handled by this mix; with some great ambience. A few spots of dialogue was lost in the din (especially in the club scenes), but for the most part, the audio separates the different elements well. Lions Gate have thrown in an English 2.0 track, too.

The film is accompanied by English and Spanish subtitles.

The Menus

These are some of the best menus so far this year! Suiting the style of the film, they have a sterile look; reflecting Bateman’s lifestyle, while tossing in a chainsaw to show the contrast between idyllic and horrific. There’s some nice animation as the menus load, and they come complete with the films score, which only helps to complement them. Wonderful.

Bonus Material

The previous disc was almost barebones, so it’s good to see American Pyscho finally getting its due. While these extras could have been better - and more comprehensive - Lions Gate have taken the quality-over-quantity approach. The material here is very satisfying.

Audio Commentaries

There are two commentaries; the first with co-writer/director Mary Harron, and the other with actor/co-writer Guinevere Turner. Both provided a different experience for me - I’ve never listened to a female director’s commentary before, and to hear them discuss such a provocative film is a pleasure. Their perspectives certainly differ from the largely-male opinions I’ve heard elsewhere. Harron’s is easily the best track of the two, with a leisurely and quiet look at the film. She highlights her technical decisions, and how she wanted to present Bateman’s world, as well as the expected details on shooting with limited resources. Turner largely focuses on adapting the book, and there’s plenty of discussion concerning what made the transition, and what didn’t. There’s a fair bit of overlap between these tracks, but both are entertaining.

The rest of the materials are largely video-based, but I must reveal a big disappointment before I continue - neither Ellis or Bale appear on this disc. Their contributions would have been priceless, but the features manage to overcome their absence.

Video Essays

The first of these covers the book, and its slow path to the screen (clocking in at 43 minutes). Harron, the films producers, and a variety of writers and critics discuss the impact of Ellis’ novel, and how controversial the choice to film it was. The production details are pretty fascinating (especially the section about directors and stars who were originally approached), and the opinions presented are certainly honest. This segues into “The Pornography of Violence” (6 minutes), written by Holly Willis and performed by singer Sarah Ellquist (who also narrates the main documentary).

The last featurette, is called “The 80's Downtown” (32 minutes); which, if you hadn’t guessed, concentrates on the decade that gave birth to American Psycho. The contributors are very vocal about New York during this period, reminiscing about the club scene and those that lived for it.

We also get five brief deleted scenes, which are preceded by on-set interviews with their respective character. Harron provides optional commentary, too. Last but not least, is a complete collection of trailers and TV spots, and an archive of previews for other Lions Gate titles.

The Bottom Line

As an exploration into the excesses of 80’s culture, American Psycho is a vivid piece of work, with much to recommend it. Harron’s relentless stirring of genres may turn off some viewers, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. But it’s a thought-provoking and enjoyable film, with Bale’s extraordinary performance living-on in the memory. Lions Gate’s new edition is easily the best to date, with a solid transfer, and some killer features.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 07:35:10

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