Steven Kostanski’s made a career imitating schlocky B Movie horror films that once filled 1980s Blockbuster video shelves, alongside Jeremy Gillespie. The pair made The Void (2016) together, which marked a creative peak for their filmmaking partnership, and four years later Kostanski is back (sans Gillespie) with the enticingly-named Psycho Goreman.
The story concerns young siblings Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) and Luke (Owen Myre), who discover a glowing pink gemstone buried in their back yard and unwittingly release an extraterrestrial overlord (Matthew Ninaber, voiced by Steven Vlahos), who self-identifies as the “Arch-Duke of Nightmares”. After Mimi realises this evil tyrant is at her command, as the owner of the gemstone, she names him “Psycho Goreman” (or “PG”) and decides to have fun controlling her own bloodthirsty warrior. Unfortunately, PG’s awakening alerts a committee of aliens who despatch an assassin called Pandora (Kristen MacCulloch) to recapture this notorious supervillain before he resumes his conquest of the universe.
It’s impressive what Kostanski achieves on a low-budget, even if this tokusatsu-style production often evokes a Power Rangers episode with buckets of fake blood thrown everywhere. Psycho Goreman himself is an impressive piece of work, being a chimera of Gill-man from The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), the Creeper from Jeepers Creepers (2001), and Wishmaster (1997). Kostanski wisely puts the money where it’s most needed, but it’s fun seeing the budgetary limitations because there’s imagination with the gonzo designs.
Unfortunately, Psycho Goreman is less impressive when it comes down to the fundamentals of what makes a film tick, in terms of the story and characterisations. Both of which are lacking. The fact it’s a comedy is treated as a crutch to dismiss lapses of logic and everyone’s ridiculous behaviour, which for me is a shame. Once the kids don’t seem phased by the monstrous entity they find torturing two men, a lot of the potential for earlier scares evaporates, and it never adequately explains what Mimi plans on doing with PG.
There’s not even a school bully her new otherworldly friend can scare off, so she’s more interested in having another person to play games with. This means the second act is noticeably saggy, as there’s no clear reason for anything to be happening once the premise has been setup. It starts to feel like a string of sketches where the only joke is an evil being’s been dressed as a cowboy and taught phrases like “frig off”. E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) meets The Guyver (1991) doesn’t sound like a terrible idea on paper, but the movie that conjures in the mind isn’t up on screen.
There are so many ’80s throwback movies, particularly in the horror genre, because that decade was a hotbed of cheap splatter films. The problem is that too many of these modern homages feel aimless and wafer thin, as they’re fuelled by a desire to make something crazy and have fun applying modern VFX to a retro aesthetic. But this means that Psycho Goreman, rather like Turbo Kid (2015) before it, feel like memorable trailers or short films that don’t justify feature-length treatment. Without a solid story and enough quality jokes, it soon ends up feeling half-baked and meandering.
Maybe these films are made to be watched at film festivals, with a drunk midnight crowd that just want something silly that evokes childhood memories of weird VHS rentals. I’m sure a movie like this works best in a rowdy situation with a big audience, but the majority of people will see it at home and expect something more… involving. There are a few moments that cause a wry smile, but the closest Psycho Goreman came to being truly funny is when a dad is cowering in a bath tub in fear of a holographic distress call from PG that interrupted his toilet time. It’s otherwise the kind of goofy humour that comes from being relentlessly weird and juxtaposing sweet-looking kids with a demonic alien who just wants to brutally kill everyone.
I expected the arc of Psycho Goreman to involve the titular villain coming to realise the error of his ways, or at least gain an appreciation for life. And for the kids to learn something about themselves in the process, having wielded this extraordinary amount of power like two naughty Aladdins with a genie Terminator. But the story only partially satisfies, almost like it knows what’s expected and doesn’t want to give us it. And that’s fine if it had something better in mind that’s less predictable but just as rewarding. Only, that doesn’t materialise either. So the movie just kind of plays around with its handful of ideas, then tries to half-heartedly wrap things up like a normal movie would with a dull climax involving a variant of dodgeball. It leaves you feeling like you’ve wasted 95-minutes on a Troma-wannabe without the brains to have real social commentary bubbling away beneath it.
Psycho Goreman will appeal to those who love junk cinema and ’80s splatter films, but I found myself wishing Steven Kostanski had spent as much time fine-tuning the script and workshopping jokes as his crew did with the costumes and animatronics. Maybe he needs to give his old friend Jeremy Gillespie a call?
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CANDA | 2020 | 95 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
Cast & Crew
writer & director: Steven Kostanski.
starring: Matthew Ninaber, Nita-Josee Hanna, Owen Myre, Timothy Paul McCarthy, Alexis Kara Hancey, Rick Amsbury, Adam Brooks, Scout Flint, Stacie Gagnon & Robert Homer.