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31 Days of Halloween: Psycho Goreman

Published Tuesday, October 19, 2021

One of the things I really like about being a parent is the idea of sharing my favorite media with my kids. My oldest is four, though, so if I'm being honest with myself I still have a while to go before he can handle most of the stuff I'm talking about. I got lucky in that he liked He-Man and the Masters of the Universe when we broke it out in desperation (look, I can only handle so much Paw Patrol), but he has expressed no real interest in monsters so I'm hoping his tastes are still relatively malleable by the time he reaches seven.

Seven was about the age that I discovered The Goonies, Explorers, and The Monster Squad, three movies that helped to shape my childhood by virtue of being about a group of kids going on dangerous adventures. My own adventures were no less dangerous, but were nowhere near as visually impressive, and we never found the pirate treasure or went to space or kicked Wolf Man in the nards or anything like that.

I bring all this up because Psycho Goreman has a lot of the same sensibilities as these '80s movies, and I'd have loved it as a kid. My parents would probably not have knowingly let me sit through it, though. The predicament of Psycho Goreman (specifically, who the hell is it for?) is a false one; it's far too gory and violent for children because it's not for children, it's for adults who would have loved it as children. We are legion, and Psycho Goreman presses our buttons in exactly the right ways. I mean, just look at that poster!

In the simplest terms, it's a fish-out-of-water story, except that the fish is an alien and the water is some kind of stasis/prison that was supposed to hold him forever. The accidental architects of his release are Mimi and Luke, two tweenage siblings who discover a strange, glowing gem while digging in the woods. Removing the gem from the ground releases an alien monster who calls himself the Arch-Duke of Nightmares and demonstrates his power by brutally slaughtering a couple of petty criminals. The next day Mimi and Luke stumble onto him entirely by accident, and discover that he is in thrall to Mimi because she happens to be holding the gem. This is extremely annoying to the monster who plans to atomize the children as soon as he gets the chance. They dub him Psycho Goreman.

What would you do if you had your own incredibly powerful and nearly-invincible monster to command? And you were ten? Mimi makes Psycho Goreman play games and do tricks. He finds this demeaning, but eventually he becomes familiar with some of the things that make her tick: video games, a ridiculous sport with complicated rules called Crazy Ball, and her obsession with hunky boys. Mimi brings Psycho Goreman home, and her killjoy mother is horrified at first, but eventually comes to accept him. Her lazy slacker dad isn't thrilled either, but he's the kind of person who never quite finds it in himself to put his foot down. Psycho Goreman's awakening has not gone unnoticed. The Planetary Alliance send an angelic robot warrior to earth to destroy him, and she enlists mom in the fight when she shows up on the family's front lawn.

The distribution of reviews for Psycho Goreman looks like an inverted bell curve. Some people really loved it, and some people really hated it without a lot of middle ground. I read the rogerebert.com review which boils down to "this is flat, by-the-books satire, and if you look beyond the crazy visuals you'll see that nothing of consequence happens and the characters learn no lessons", and I couldn't disagree more. The story is more or less a riff on E.T., and the stakes are higher. More importantly, it's ridiculously, enthusiastically fun, and (since I'm knocking down the points I just brought up) each character redeems their flaws by the end of the movie.

I can't think of any other movie that succeeds in quite the way this movie does; pre-fab cult classics are as ubiquitous as bad reality shows, and they almost never succeed. It's a tough line to walk; at best they try too hard (see the oeuvre of Larry Blamire) and at worst they come off as eye-rollingly pandering (Snakes on a Plane). Psycho Goreman works, I think, because writer/director Steven Kostanski expresses a sincere fondness for the kid culture milieu of the '80s and resists the temptation to poke fun at that nostalgia. The obvious comparison, I guess, is to Stranger Things, but Stranger Things holds its influences at arm's length. Psycho Goreman emulates them perfectly. Better than perfectly, really, because as I said, it's incredibly violent. This is what I wanted as a little kid, but it didn't exist because it was inappropriate for kids and adults were too sophisticated for this stuff. It goes without saying that Psycho Goreman earns its R rating, and is not appropriate for the audience that would probably most like to see it.

The best part, though? The visuals, hands down, and that's a real achievement. The move was made on less than $700,000, and the practical effects are incredible. Between the Planetary Alliance and the Paladins of Obsidian (Psycho Goreman's old posse) there are quite a few bizarre creatures, each fully-articulated in three dimensions. Major movie studios usually don't do this good a job with practical effects. There's the guy who looks like a demonic version of Tick Tock from Return to Oz, the robot Templar angels, the brain in a robot suit... I'd have given somebody else's right arm for those action figures when I was a kid. I can't wait to see what Kostanski et al do next. The Internet seems to think (without any evidence) that Psycho Goreman 2 is in the cards. If that's the case then I'm excited for it. If not, there's something to be said for doing something very well once.
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