31 Days of Wicked Watching [DAY 8]: A Real American Dream

I’ll be honest here, I would bet a few hardcore fans of horror would argue that this film shouldn’t be included in my 31 Days canon. I’ve heard some even argue it isn’t a horror film at all; I definitely do not agree with that opinion. Today’s film, featured on the day that sports my favorite number, is based on one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors and the main character shares my name–so, yes, I am slightly biased I guess. The movie that you can’t cut out of your 31 Days canon this month is “American Psycho.”

To start, I mean, come on, how can you not rank Patrick Bateman as one of the most gruesome and mentally deranged killers in all of horror. His unique mix of high-brow culture and douchebag behavior with 80s yuppie and OCD tendencies creates one of the terrifying killers in modern horror. But why, you might ask. He is simply like every Wall Street elite that the country is oftentimes always at the center of American dialogue of minority pain. Here’s the thing: he isn’t just like them. He has the looks of the boy next door coupled with the aggression of Leatherface.

Bateman’s psychosis is not just grounded in him running naked down a hallway with a chainsaw; it is clear from the opening sequence that Christian Bale’s lead is operating on overdrive. The meticulousness of Bateman’s morning routine is something that I personally can sympathize with, but the placement and visual of it in the film isn’t meant to celebrate cleanliness. Instead, it is there to position viewers in Bateman’s pristine and clean world–a world that those who are unclean will no longer fit within.

One of the most fascinating pieces of this film that hopefully will not fall on deaf ears in a viewing is the script. Bale’s monotonous tone and delivery of Bateman’s lines is near perfection. From saying “Something horrible is happening inside of me and I don’t know why” and “There are no girls with good personalities” to “No, I’m in touch with humanity. I’m sorry. You’re not terribly important to me” and “And though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable, I simply am not there”–Bateman’s complexity is simply stunning. He even is asked what he does at one point; his response: “I’m into murders and executions mostly.” The dark humor is brilliant, and the reception of the lines by Bale’s cast, which includes Reese Witherspoon and Jared Leto, makes the deliver of his dryness even more effective. I would watch this movie solely for the writing.

“American Psycho” isn’t for the shy viewer. It is articulate. It is high-strung. And it is brutal. Coat hangers, chainsaws, butcher knives, cocaine and hand axes all make ample appearances in the film. But nothing may be more iconic that Bateman’s three-way-sexcapade not just with a hooker and a friend, but also with himself–as Phil Collins’ Sussudio plays and he placates himself in the mirror while running his hands through his hair and licking his lips amidst what cannot be described in any other way than a plow session. This leads to one of the most brutal scenes in the film, but the brutality in the form of blood is nothing compared to Bateman’s stinging words and intricate dismantling of those around him.

Bateman is brilliantly played by Bale, and the soundtrack of this film is one that is meant to lull the watcher into a sense of security. A security that is single-handedly disrupted and destroyed by one character’s attempt to be the best–even down to the type of paper and lettering used in his business cards. This film, unlike many others in the genre, takes us out of the traditional comforts of what we are used to horror being defined by and then builds up a different world of critique of the society and culture that the film inhabits. Beyond its visual beauty, its cultural damnation is at minimum what is worth giving this movie a view.

I’ll be back tomorrow; “I have to return some videotapes.”

The film comes the book of the same name, written by Bret Easton Ellis, and is a sharp critique of 80s pop culture and elitist cynicism. The film doesn’t shy away from the darkness Ellis so eloquently creates.

Published by Patrick R. Johnson

Patrick is a Ph.D. student and graduate instructor in the SJMC. He comes from nearly a decade of teaching high school journalism and English, and an adjunct professor of journalism and media studies at Marquette University (where he received both his bachelor's and master's degrees). He is a former Dow Jones Distinguished National Journalism Teacher of the Year. His research interests include the intersection of news literacy, journalism ethics, journalism studies, and professional boundary work. He also focuses his attention on issues of deviance within the media industry, particularly as it relates to issues of sex and issues resulting in paradigm repair. Patrick is also deeply passionate about teaching and the role of journalism schools in the professionalization of their students. He focuses a lot of his thinking on mass communication and journalism pedagogy and identifying ways for journalism courses to be both rewarding in content and enriching in skill. He currently teaches Journalistic Reporting and Writing in the SJMC and taught a number of courses at Marquette, including Media Ethics, Visual Communication, Magazine Design and Production, Digital Journalism 1-3, Strategic Communication Writing, and the Journalism Capstone course for the department. His work in curriculum, instruction, and educational leadership includes serving as the Journalism Education Association’s Mentor Program Chair, designing curriculum to accompany Pulitzer Prize winning content for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, reviewing the Praxis national journalism certification exam, and developing a number of courses at the high school and collegiate levels. Patrick served as a 2021 Public Humanities Intern through the Obermann Center where he worked specifically with University Special Collections to develop public-facing exhibits and curriculum materials related to the Tom Brokaw Collection.

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