Tag Archives for " Black Comedy "

October 11, 2019

NHE’s Modern Horror Classics: American Psycho (2000)

Christian-Bale_American_Psycho_hip-to-be-square

​When the novel “American Psycho” by Bret Easton Ellis was released in 1991 it came out to a hailstorm of controversy. As it would turn out the cinematic version would be no different. In fact long before it was released in cinemas in 2000 the project went through various controversies. In some ways it is surprising it reached the screen at all with producer Edward R. Pressman originally buying the property in 1992 and turning various scripts over the years before settling on the script of eventual director Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner. This process included a script by Ellis himself which Pressman described as “completely pornographic and ending with a musical number”[1] and as interesting as that sounds it is easy to see why they did not go in that direction.

Settling on script, director and lead star Christian Bale did not end the productions troubles. First there was the wrangling with studio who thought the project needed a starrier lead which led to Leonardo Dicaprio been thrust on to the director much to her annoyance. It is easy see why as while in his current vintage it is possible envisage DiCaprio in the part, let’s face it his role in “The Wolf of Wall Street” is not a thousand miles away, back then in his post-Titanic period  he would have been ridiculous in the part. Harron well knew this but her objections only led to her being sidelined, and Oliver Stone put in her place as director. Again as great a director as Stone is satire is not really his forte and given the usual standard of his female characters you figure the film might have ended up in even more hot water than it eventually did. Both Harron and Bale held tight as they felt this version would inevitably fall through which it duly did and saw them both return to the project.

Given the events leading up to the shoot it is not surprising that the shoot itself was set with difficulty. Not that this had to do with on-set issues but more to do with outside factors such as brands mentioned in the movie pulling out or distancing themselves from it or various people trying to have the production shut down with feminist icon Gloria Steinman prominent amongst them. Another prominent thorn in the side of Harron during production was C-CAVE (Canadians Concerned About Violence in Entertainment) who linked the novel to the case of notorious Canadian serial killer Paul Bernardo. This was due to a copy of the novel being discovered on his bedside table upon his arrest. Although the copy of the novel was later thought to be owned by his wife rather than the barely literate Bernardo. The group also threatened to protest the filming throughout. In the end these protests never came to fruition however that did not stop the protests becoming part of the films myth. As Harron wryly points out “As so often happens, a tabloid frenzy had been mistaken for real life.” [2]

The tabloid frenzy did not abate when the movie was released. This frenzy is more connected with the times than the movie itself as this was 2000 and Post-Columbine there had been much debate about the influence of certain movies and musicians. The movie itself is not the gorefest or the exercise in torture porn you would expect if you were just reading the headlines of the time. For one up until near the end there is not a great deal of gore. Also while there are bloody set-pieces that is not the main thrust here. The movie is more focused on satirising the vanity, greed and obliviousness of this gilded class of Wall Street traders. The central joke being Bateman could get away with committing these murders under everyone’s nose as long as he follows the social conventions of high society. Then again did he commit the murders? While the novel makes it very ambiguous whether he is a murderer or just a sociopath with homicidal tendencies the movie seems to explicitly state it is latter before confusing things with the final scene. Whether or not the murders happen has been a matter of keen debate amongst horror fans ever since.

In the end it does really matter what side of the debate you fall down on as it does little to take away from this excellent. There are several stand-out moments but this personal favourite is the “Hip to Be Square” scene in which Bateman bloodily butchers Paul Allen (Jared Leto) to the sounds of Huey Lewis and the News. This is a scene of perfectly pitched black comedy and is emblematic of the film generally with it mixtures of nasty violence and jet-black. Not an easy balancing act but one that Harron manages exceedingly well. It is a great scene for Bale to show off his acting chops too as he progressively becomes more unhinged during his monologue on Huey Lewis before going completely beserk at the end, only to casually sort himself and light a cigar once the deed is done.

It is ironic that many movie insiders had told Bale the film would be “career suicide” as it turned out to be quite the opposite. As while the feature itself got a mixed critical reception Bale was unanimously praised his performance and, as you will know, went on to much bigger things on the back of it. Most of the criticism focused on the ironic gaze of the violence, misogyny and the satire being repetitive. The latter element is partially true as the story does make some of the same points about 80s materialism and greed culture repeatedly. In terms of the other criticism this seems unfair as the view of the violence is dispassionate as we the viewer are seeing these act through the lens of Bateman but never does the film empathise with that view and there is still scenes that are properly shocking. Similarly while there is a lot of misogyny on display the film never feels itself misogynistic. In fact Harron is clearly satirising misogyny.

In terms of legacy “American Psycho” spawned a truly terrible direct-to-video sequel and there was a mooted TV series that never got made. Funnily enough the former initially had nothing to do with “American Psycho” and was then retconned into being a sequel which is only notable for starring a young Mila Kunis and weirdly William Shatner. Thankfully not many people know about the sequel leaving the films real legacy as being one of the first great horrors of the 21st Century as well being a great snapshot on male narcissism (something that feels even more relevant now).


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/film/2000/mar/24/fiction.breteastonellis

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2000/04/09/movies/film-the-risky-territory-of-american-psycho.html


July 21, 2019

Episode 30 – G. Patrick Condon Interview

Episode 30 – G. Patrick Condon Interview

 
 
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NHE host Scott Murphy talk to director G. Patrick Condon all about his debut feature “Incredible Violence.” A film we saw at Dead by Dawn 2019 and had mixed feelings about. And yes, that is something we get into which made for a very interesting interview (which begins at 3:37)!

Away from discussing what we did and did not like about “Incredible Violence,” Scott and Patrick chat about how the story developed, the casting of the picture and it’s unusual shoot. Also, the pictures meta nature, why he decided not to cast himself as himself (we told you it was meta!) and the divisive reactions the movie has received at festivals.

Patrick also tells us about how he got into film-making, the Canadian film scene and how he naturally gravitates towards cinema that splits opinion. Plus he gives us a taster of what he is up to next, a project which sounds very interesting indeed!

You can check out the trailer for “Incredible Violence” here

“Incredible Violence” is set for release in the UK on August 13th.

March 6, 2019

Review: Piercing

Director: Nicolas Pesce

Starring: Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska, Laia Costa

Run Time: 81min

“Piercing” is director Nicolas Pesce’s follow up to his 2016 art-house horror “The Eyes of My Mother.” A film that while not a massive hit was enough of critical and cult success to get Pesce marked out as one of the bright young voices of horror (he is only 29). Not only that, but it also brought him to major studio attention as he currently post-production on the latest reboot of “The Grudge.”

Given the impression he made with his debut, it must have been tempting to do something similar. However, Pesce has gone for something slightly less arty and a little more pulpy in this adaptation of Ryu Murakami’s novel. That said, it is similarly stylized like his first film, and it is just as weird albeit in a different way. There is, for instance, a curious mix of genres with black comedy, erotic thriller, and horror all mingling together. How much of the odd tonal shifts are ripped directly from pages of the book and how much is pure Pesce is difficult to know having not read the novel.

The story set-up itself is straightforward enough. We have Reed (Abbott) who is a businessman with a young family who tells his wife he is going away on business, but he actually plans to go to a hotel to kill a prostitute to quell his murderous fantasies. The prostitute in question is Jackie (Wasikowska) who turns out not to be what she first appears. To say much more of the plot would spoil the curious twists and turns. Also, much like the many of the giallo’s the movie is paying tribute the plot is beside the point and it’s easy to see why some will write this off as an indulgent exercise in style over substance.

An assessment which is not far off the mark but the movie is raised by the performances of both Abbott and Wasikowska. Their characters are thinly written, but both give committedly bizarre performances that bring Reed and Jackie to life. They also have excellent on-screen chemistry which helps a lot.  Also, while the self-conscious cool maybe off-putting for some there is something delightful about the dedicated retro-style. From the use of miniatures for the buildings to the deployment of back-projection as well as the use of music from the likes of “Deep Red,” “The Red Queen Kills Seven Times.” and more. It is clear from the off we are not in the real world but a purely cinematic one.

Aside from the production design and the lead performances, there are some great individual scenes; such as the darkly humorous sequence where Reed practices his murder method before Jackie arrives in his hotel room. There are several other surreally blackly comical moments like this. The film really flies into gear in its final act too, but unfortunately, this good work is slightly undone by its abrupt and unsatisfying ending.

Overall: A weird, albeit stylishly made, curio which is an eminently watchable but somewhat slight sophomore effort from director Pesce.

6/10