Psycho killer is no pop culture anti-hero

The Toronto Star
April 19, 2000
By Peter Howell

In the annals of .com distinctions, American Psycho might well go down as the first victim of Internet overkill.

Mary Harron's satire about a serial killer came in a lacklustre seventh at the North American box office last weekend. This happened despite - and possibly because of - attempts by distributor Lions Gate to stir up a Web frenzy of Blair Witch proportions.

The company blew a reported $100,000 (U.S.) on its Web campaign, which foolishly tried to make a pop culture anti-hero out of Patrick Bateman, the movie's fictional psychopath. It instead turned him into a ghastly bore, and that must have had an impact on ticket sales.

The major element of the campaign was a series of e-mails, written under the name of Bateman, in which the killer would ``confess his darkest secrets'' to Webheads.

A reported 45,000 people signed up for the dispatches, for reasons ranging from morbid curiosity to genuine interest in the movie.

I'll bet, though, that only a fraction of that number read all of Bateman's eyeglazers, which American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis didn't even bother to write: he jobbed them out to a third party.

Anyone who followed Bateman's babblings would have learned that the twentysomething yuppie slasher of the '80s is now a middle-aged fogey who barely suppresses his murderous urges while still obsessing about designer clothes and toys.

He's in the midst of a nasty divorce, he doesn't like the Backstreet Boys (``Could they be more obvious?''), he hates Casual Fridays attire (``an excruciating middle-class invention'') and he still loves Madonna (``She IS freedom for women'').

Bateman also enjoys going to see movies with his young son P.B. (they loved The Sixth Sense) and he adores turkey sandwiches.

Does this sound like the kind of scary guy that would attract the Blair Witch horror mob? Not likely, as the tepid box office response suggests.

The buzz for American Psycho began before the film's January debut at Sundance, where people waited in line for up to four hours to see it. By last Friday's wide release, the buzz had dimmed, due to an excess of hype and a shortage of suspense.

But it was nuts for Lions Gate and its .com partner, Pseudo Programs, to try to make Bateman (played by actor Christian Bale) seem cool to the Internet Generation when he's really a pathetic boomer on a rampage, the stumbling spawn of a sick society. The movie should have been sold as intelligent satire, not as a disposable pop commodity.

American Psycho did place No. 1 at the Toronto box office, but that can be attributed largely to curiosity about its link to real-life killer Paul Bernardo (he loved the book), the fact that the movie was made here, and the blanket coverage given to the film by The Star and other dailies.

Any promotional success American Psycho achieved was due more to old media than new. Which is something to think about the next time you hear people make the ridiculous claim that the Internet is now the only way to push movies.