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The 80’s nostalgia trend has had a good moment in the sun, buoyed by the success of Stranger Things. For several years we have had innumerable shots of kids riding bicycles, 80’s pop needle drops and carefully placed ephemera of the period like Rubix cubes. Whilst Psycho Goreman is not the first great 90’s period piece (that would be the very dark and brilliant Super Dark Times), it is an important film in this new canon.
Psycho Goreman is the fifth film by Steven Kostanski. He started his directing career as part of the cult sketch/filmmaking group Astron-6. His first solo credit as a director was Manborg, a loving tribute to the cut sequences of full-motion video (FMV) games of the past. Whilst Manborg‘s short running time was a blessing as its “so bad it’s good” shtick already begins to wear thin by its end, it also displayed great ingenuity in terms of its homemade stop motion animation and green screen effects. His 2016 collaboration with Jeremy Gillespie The Void was a less comedic, more straightforward tribute to 80’s cosmic and body horror. Kostanski has admitted to preferring working on less serious material which he did with 2018’s Leprechaun Returns. In addition to his directing work, Kostanski mostly works as an FX artist, doing practical effects on major films like Suicide Squad and It.
Psycho Goreman follows siblings Mimi (the brilliantly cast Nita-Josee Hanna) and her older brother Luke (the also great Owen Myre). When the film begins, we see them playing “Crazy Ball” which is a hilariously convoluted version of dodgeball of their own invention. An alien from the planet Gygax lands near their house along with a glowing gem they find. This blue-hued alien who describes himself as “the Arch-Duke of Nightmares” tells them how they are doomed but Mimi discovers she can control him with the gem. They spend a long time thinking of a new moniker for their deadly new friend and christen him Psycho Goreman. As Mimi continues to imagine increasingly out-there ways to use PG for fun – dressing him up and taking him around the town – the alien summons his old crew – the Paladins of Obsidian. Meanwhile. “the Planetary Alliance” sends Pandora, a member of PG’s mortal enemies “The Templars” to stop him.
Psycho Goreman is very much in the Turbo Kid mould of “kids film but make it super violent”. Whereas Turbo Kid was paying tribute to 80’s kids films like BMX Bandits, Kostanski’s latest is more in the style of 90’s TV like Power Rangers or direct-to-video sci-fi films like Star Kid. The film even ends with a child-friendly rap song that recounts the plot!
The TV shows of this era were often re-edits of Japanese “Kaiju” or “Tokusatsu” serials that involved giant robots or monsters played by men in suits. While the character design of Pandora clearly shows this Japanese influence, Psycho Goreman looks amazing across the board – again displaying Kostanski’s confidence with practical effects. One of the weirdest and best designs is the Paladin “Death Trapper”. Essentially a big metal bucket with legs that grinds down bodies and shoots out blood (and is voiced by Red Letter Media’s Rich Evans), the character is responsible for some of the film’s many great gore gags.
Simply put, the film is hilarious, a lot of which is down to the cast. Both siblings are characters you love, but Mimi is the clear standout. Strong and devious, her behaviour is sometimes that of a bully and bordering on evil but is also so much fun to watch. It’s a joy to watch a film where kids act as awful and inappropriately as they do in real life rather than the milquetoast modern depictions of children. Astron-6 member Adam Brooks plays the siblings’ ineffectual father Greg and is fantastically funny whilst Alexis Kara Hancey is excellent too as his long-suffering wife Susan.
All in all, Psycho Goreman is a consistent joy to watch. Whilst Covid-19 has sadly robbed most of us of the opportunity to watch the movie in its ideal environment – at a packed horror festival screening – watch it with someone else and you will have an experience that is amazingly close to the fun of the cinema.