Film genres are useful for marketing to audiences and have been the mainstream route since the early days of cinema. Genres give the viewer expectations about what will happen in a specific movie. However, gender categorization is not an exact science. Some films are easily understood as the genre to which they belong, such as early westerns or MGM musicals. Still, some are not so linear in this description as they contain many styles, ideas, and influences that prevent them from sitting comfortably in an intended location.
Is the movie that makes a viewer laugh and cry in one sitting a comedy or a drama? The same goes for a horror film that is both funny and terrifying; can it be just a horror movie? The viewer may watch them as a horror movie, but some may see them as satirical, others as dramatic, while some see them as just comedy. that of Marie Haron American psychopath (2000) is a film that falls into this multi-genre category; it is made up of various generic elements which make it difficult to clearly integrate into a category. Although classified as horror, it can also be categorized as a dark comedy, crime drama, psychological thriller, or slasher horror; the more they are scrutinized, the more they can be reassigned. Having said that, it is quite understandable that after further investigation, the “pure genre” no longer exists as before, and American psychopath prove.
The term “ironic hybridization” was named by film historian Jim Collins to describe the conjunction of different genres. In his book Film Theory Goes To The Movies, Collins says, “Directors combine elements from different genres like with western / sci-fi in films such as Back to the Future. The new generic classification is then influenced by the evolution of cultural tastes, a more sophisticated audience and the evolution of cinema theory.
The generic iconography attached to the actors, the cinematography, the director, the musical score and the narration help to determine the categorization of a film. American psychopath was conceived as a dark comedy but contains the generic elements typical of a horror film. This can be due to many reasons, including the ‘cliché dream sequence’ which can also be seen in movies such as Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Fly (1986), and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). The cinematography conveying a dream in horror films often consists of blurred vision, muted colors, and slow motion; these techniques would be consistent and are used throughout American psychopath to enhance the experience of the moving image.
American psychopath is based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is a very unreliable narrator throughout the film, which makes it hard to know what is real. In an interview with Marc Maron in 2014, Ellis states that he also wrote his novel with the intention of creating ambivalence in the mind of the viewer: “… It was 400 pages in the mind of this type, and he’s a completely unreliable narrator. You don’t know if these things happened or not. You don’t even know if the murders took place or not.
The movie star brings her generic iconography to any movie she stars in; it can be good or bad for a movie. In American psychopath, the power to attract a wider audience was at the heart of producers’ concerns. They wanted Edward Norton or Leonardo Dicaprio because they had both already achieved that status. The director, Mary Harron, wanted the exact opposite; she wanted a stranger or at least a newcomer. Harron felt that Dicaprio wore the generic iconography of a teenage star and wanted Christian Bale instead. It was unique because not having a massive star like Dicaprio meant that audiences didn’t have a generic image of Bale. Therefore, there is something unexpected about his characterization of a menacing and hilarious killer at the same time. The character, although a serial killer, is quite charming. The comic characters suggest dark comedy regardless of the storytelling or the action.
While having a lot of comedy throughout the film, the film also has generic horror elements: the lighting and colors trigger the emotional signals. Bateman lives in an all white apartment with barely a hint of color. He mainly wears the same black suit every day, donned with a red tie or red suspenders. Red signifies blood and death, usually an element of tragedy, not comedy. Once again, this transgression of the expected highlights what a hybrid genre is. It can become so precise in categorizing a genre that the amount of blood will determine which subclass a movie can fall into. If there’s a lot of blood and murder, then it’s a Slasher Movie; if there isn’t that much blood, it’s a Splatter Film. The film also has a little gothic connection to the horror genre. Bateman succumbs to his bestial impulses, and it is this exploration of the viewer’s psyche that is an essential component of the Gothic genre.
Music in American psychopath also moves away from typical horror movies. In the scene where the chainsaw comes down the stairs, Bateman rants over the social significance of the lyrical content of Huey Lewis’ “Hip To Be Square”, and the news is grim and hilarious. When Bateman explains that Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love Of All” is one of the best songs before he brutally kills two women, it’s another example of comedy. Not only are well-known pop icons such as Houston and Lewis a part of the soundtrack, but other 1980s bands such as The Cure and New Order are as well. The insertion of “happy music” creates a juxtaposition with emotional signals.
Whether on film or in society, generic labeling is so deeply ingrained in the collective psyche that these icons become easy-to-use tools for filmmakers to trigger emotional signals from the viewer. Over the years, many films have crossed the genre barrier, such as Jennifer’s body (2009) or The hunt (2020). Always, American psychopath did a remarkable job of marking the change in this generic labeling.
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