By Nicole Veneto
A B-movie inspired horror-comedy, Psycho Goreman is a delightfully schlocky homage to entry-level, kid-centric horror films, but with the sort of grotesque violence one would expect from a more adult-oriented movie.
My preference for practical over computer-generated effects is hardly surprising. I was born in 1993, just as Hollywood began shifting away from physically produced effects — animatronics, miniatures, camera and makeup tricks, guys in rubber monster suits — and toward implementing CGI technology. From the late-’80s to about the mid-’90s, practical effects (with the assistance of early CGI) enjoyed their final run as the go-to method for creating the fantastic. This was when I watched movies as a child; my dad would let my sister and me stay up late on school nights to view Tremors or Terminator 2. Toho’s Heisei-era Godzilla films were frequent rentals from our local Blockbuster. I remember being pretty well traumatized by the 1988 remake of The Blob, whose gore and creature visuals hold up as well as those in John Carpenter’s The Thing. This fusion of fascination and fear led to a love for B-movies and cult films as I got older, undoubtedly sourced in my childhood nostalgia for the pictorial spells they cast. Even when they’re not well done (crappy, even), practical effects have a physical charm that CGI misses. The former are reliant on human ingenuity and craftsmanship — not on plugging numbers into computer software.
I’m not the only person who feels this way. This preference is shared by enough people that it’s generated a recent nostalgia-fueled revival of ’80s and ’90s-style movies utilizing practical effects: Mandy, Krampus, and most impressively, Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski’s Carpenter-esque The Void. Kostanski’s latest feature, the B-movie inspired horror-comedy Psycho Goreman, is a delightfully schlocky homage to entry-level, kid-centric horror films like The Gate and Critters, but with the sort of grotesque violence one would expect from a Verhoeven movie. Picture a feature-length episode of Goosebumps with video nasty-levels of gore, or Power Rangers as directed by David Cronenberg. Psycho Goreman fully indulges in the campiness of B-movie tropes with a knowing wink, all the while showcasing a smorgasbord of practical effects dearly missed in the age of green mocap suits and 3D rendering.
Somewhere in the Canadian suburbs, Luke (Owen Myre) loses a game of “Crazy Ball” (dodgeball with convoluted rules made up by a hyperactive child) to his smart-mouthed little terror of a sister, Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna in a star-making role). As punishment for losing, Mimi makes Luke dig a giant hole in their backyard — presumably to bury him in, as siblings are inclined to do — where they uncover a large pink gemstone embedded in an ancient lock that looks and functions like a Simon game device. Mimi easily solves the puzzle and takes the gem for herself, unaware that she’s unlocked the tomb of the Archduke of Nightmares (Matthew Ninaber, voiced by Steven Vlahos), a hulking purple space ork buried on Earth for committing various intergalactic war crimes and space genocide. But there’s a catch to the Archduke’s freedom: so long as the gem — his power source — is in Mimi’s possession, he is under her command. Imagine Angelica Pickles making Thanos her guard dog and you get the idea of how this absurd dynamic plays out.
The Archduke, who Mimi renames “Psycho Goreman” (PG for short), wastes no time proving just how evil he is. Once released, he immediately goes on a rampage à la Schwarzenegger circa Terminator/Terminator 2, ripping off the heads of homeless men. None of this over-the-top carnage phases Mimi of course; she’s more concerned with getting PG acquainted with television so he’ll learn to stop talking like a Shakespearean dweeb. So long as PG doesn’t try to kill her — or Luke, or their quarreling parents (Adam Brooks and Alexis Kara Hancey), mostly because it would be inconvenient — he can telekinetically blow up as many kids or turn them into Labrador-sized brain monsters with tentacles as he pleases. (PG does both by the way, and it’s awesome.) Meanwhile, PG’s reawakening alerts the attention of the Templars, the intergalactic alien council that entombed him on Earth as punishment for violently overthrowing their authoritarian religious rule. Their leader Pandora (Kristen MacCulloch) is sent to Earth to recapture PG, not knowing that the Archduke of Nightmares is already under the control of a power-hungry elementary schooler.
What elevates Psycho Goreman beyond being merely another kitschy send-up to VHS-era nostalgia is the sheer level of craft on display. Every possible practical effect you can think of is used: stop-motion claymation, full-body prosthetics and creature suits, giant animatronic puppets, buckets and buckets of stage blood, you name it. It’s impossible to imagine Psycho Goreman being anywhere near as fun without practically done head explosions or the presence of a giant animatronic brain with fully articulated tentacles. These effects are given a physical weight that the glib smoothness of CGI can’t touch. This isn’t to say CGI is bad or lazy (though overreliance on it certainly is), just that it doesn’t interact with mise-en-scène in a way that invites viewers to think about how such trickery was pulled off.
Even if Psycho Goreman is guilty of pandering to nostalgia, it does so with full dedication and without a shred of seriousness. It’s both a loving homage to VHS sleaze and a tongue-in-cheek parody of B-movie tropes in the same vein as cult classic TerrorVision. There’s much fun to be had with Psycho Goreman and, should theaters ever open up again, Kostanski’s latest has a guaranteed spot on the midnight movie circuit.
Nicole Veneto graduated from Brandeis University with an MA in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, concentrating on feminist media studies. Her writing has been featured in MAI Feminism & Visual Culture, Film Matters Magazine, and Boston University’s Hoochie Reader.