Cult Classic: American Psycho 10 years ago

Cult Classic: American Psycho

As one of the most searing dissections of 1980s yuppie culture, we had to nominate American Psycho as one of our classic cult films, "a playful but mysterious" little release.

By Emmet Purcell


Do you like American Psycho? I've been a big fan ever since the release of the 1991 Brett Easton Ellis novel of the same name. Before I saw the film, however, I really didn't understand much of the source material. Too artsy, too intellectual, too much rat-related stomach-churning scenes.

Like any American Psycho fan, I’m fond of occasionally quoting from director Mary Harron’s eminently watchable serial killer cult classic, though even I balk at the film’s IMDb message board, whose fans appear entirely devoted to winding up unsuspecting visitors with endlessly re-tweaked quotes to fit any innocent query.

Simply put, without American Psycho, Christian Bale would be just another Welsh actor slumming it in Hollywood, rather than the first-ever Batman actor with an Oscar statuette on his mantelpiece. Bale takes the role of 1980s yuppie Patrick Bateman, an investment banker whose ultra-polished metrosexual appearance hides a dark secret – he listens to Phil Collins. Oh, and he kills people.


Do you like Huey Lewis and The News? Then you'll love this scene

Though it seems unthinkable that any other actor could step into the Italian leather shoes of Patrick Bateman other than Bale, the role was originally destined for Leonardo DiCaprio, as the Titanic star begun his post-1990s career still shackled to his worldwide heart throb image.

Thankfully, despite a Lions Gate press release even announcing the casting of DiCaprio (with Oliver Stone to direct), eventual director Harron temporarily resigned from all involvement after hearing of the Leo-starring version's plan to humanise and tone down the title character's clearly psychotic nature. After DiCaprio dropped out (losing out on a $20m payday) and Stone walked, the project went to then-unknown star Christian Bale, who modelled his performance on none other than Tom Cruise.

As director Harron explains: "We talked about how Martian-like Patrick Bateman was, how he was looking at the world like somebody from another planet, watching what people did and trying to work out the right way to behave. And then one day he called me and he had been watching Tom Cruise on David Letterman, and he just had this very intense friendliness with nothing behind the eyes, and he was really taken with this energy."


While Bale absolutely nailed the detached veneer of Bateman, upon release there were some fans of the book bitterly disappointed that the film version didn't fully delve into horrific elements of of Bateman's serial killing ways or mental instability. To those people, all we can say is that you should pick up the original novel (still shrink-wrapped in Australian stores due to its content) and re-read that infamous rat scene, then decide whether any movie would be released if it were depicted authentically. The answer would be a quite resounding no, we'd wager.

In truth, American Psycho is the best possible adaptation one could hope for from its shocking and nearly unfilmable source material, with a number of scenes, such as Bateman's Phil Collin's monologue, extensive morning routine or willy-waving business card one-upmanship, having taken on a life of their own in the past ten years through endless YouTube tributes. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to return some video tapes...

For more cult films, check out the Jameson Cult Film Club.