Shudder UK film review: Psycho Goreman
Ambitious low-budget world-building9
Hilariously affectionate fantasy pastiche9
Ridiculous amounts of gore9
Anton Bitel | On 20, May 2021
Director: Steven Kostanski
Cast: Nita-Josee Hanna, Owen Myre, Matthew Ninaber, Steven Vlahos, Adam Brooks, Alexis Hancey
Where to watch Psycho Goreman online in the UK: Shudder UK
The Canadian filmmaking collective known as Astron-6 has over the last decade made a specialty of lovingly resurrecting the sensibilities of different kinds of genre cinema from the Eighties, whether in wildly comic parodies (Manborg, Father’s Day, The Editor) or occasionally in a more serious mode of pastiche (The Void). Now, in a similar spirit, Astron-6 alumnus Steven Kostanski has written and directed the comic space opera Psycho Goreman, which affectionately builds epic worlds and elaborate mythologies on a shoestring from handmade models, practical effects and a cheesy rock-and-synth score (by Blitz/Berlin), while teaching viewers not altogether savoury life lessons about the nature of humanity.
After scrolling text (also read aloud in voiceover) tells of a hidden and imprisoned dark being whose release “would spell certain doom for all existence”, Psycho Goreman opens with bossy, bullying little Mimi (the absolutely brilliant Nita-Josee Hanna) telling Luke (Owen Myre): “Here’s the deal, man – winner is champion of the universe, loser gets buried alive”, before the two siblings play a muddy game of their own invention called Crazy Ball. The childish stakes of this game – cosmic dominion or live burial – will resonate through the film, as if everything that follows is conjured from a child’s imagination. After losing, Luke indeed digs a very deep hole in the garden, where the manically wilful Mimi apparently has every intention of interring her older brother – but instead his spade hits something metal, and they unwittingly unleash the creature of destruction mentioned in the opening text.
Played in heavy make-up and costume by Matthew Ninaber and voiced by Seven Vlahos, this “Arch-Duke of Nightmares” is like every Cenobite from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser rolled into one, and is determined, now that he has been freed, to bring about the vengeful and sadistic annihilation of all life as we know it. Yet as long as Mimi holds the gem with which this world-destroying creature was imprisoned, she can control him – and so Mimi decides to make him her constant playmate serving her every insane whim. Asked by Luke whether monsters really exist, the siblings’ feckless dad Greg (Adam Brooks) observes, much to the chagrin of their mother Susan (Alexis Hancey): “In a lot of ways, humans are the real monsters – so I’d say yes.” This horror cliché is smartly subverted by being delivered in an entirely inappropriate context – and indeed one of the delicious ironies of Kostanski’s creature feature is that an all-powerful, multi-dimensional desecrator of planets is no match for the chaotically capricious, psychotically selfish monstrousness of a prepubescent Earth girl.
Dubbed “Psycho Goreman” by Mimi, this extra-terrestrial exterminator finds himself being unwillingly domesticated as part of the family, even as, many light years away, a council of aliens dispatches the winged Pandora (Kristen MacCulloch) to end the demonic entity once and for all. There will ensue bloody battles and freakish body horror aplenty, surreally interspersed with child’s play, microwaved chicken feasts, ball games, puerile pranks and spirited singalongs. Even as ex-slave “PG” (a nickname coinciding with a rating that this jaw-dropping gorefest could never acquire) is revealed to be no worse than the angel-like religious zealots and former comrades who persecute him, the love that he inevitably learns from his human company will prove to be as powerful a fuel for apocalyptic devastation as the hate that previously drove him.
In other words, even as Psycho Goreman accumulates one overfamiliar trope after another, it remixes them in hilariously unpredictable ways. The interplay between PG and Mimi has us constantly wondering which of them is the more narcissistically unhinged and casually pernicious, while any wholesome message here about family, love and the sibling bond is undercut by an irreverently cynical streak. None of which even begins to convey how deeply funny all this is beneath its gleeful nastiness.
The specific target of Kostanskis lampoonery is the rash of cheapo sci-fi fantasies spawned in the wake of Star Wars – films such as Jimmy T Murakami’s Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), Terry Marcel’s Hawk the Slayer (1980), Lamont Johnson’s Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983), Howard R. Cohen’s Space Raiders (1983), Peter Yates’ Krull (1983), Steven Hahn’s Starchaser: The Legend of Orin (1985) and Gary Goddard’s Masters of the Universe (1987). In naming PG’s home planet “Gigax”, Kostanski is also alluding to the influence of Dungeons & Dragons (co-designed by Gary Gygax). Meanwhile, further references to space squabblers the Transformers, to Jim Muro’s body-melting Street Trash, to – “oh my gawd!” – Claudio Fragasso’s trash-tastic Troll 2 and to a whole back catalogue of tokusatsu just add to the loopy, gloopy fun.
Here, everyday domestic dysfunction extends to the entire cosmos, and the only thing that ultimately keeps people together is an unhealthy indifference towards, if not contempt for, everyone else. There is something about the way Psycho Goreman merges the perspectives of empowered children and infantilised adults, allowing all the tensions in a family to be cosplayed out as an intergalactic war game, that is, in the most mean-spirited manner, impossibly charming. The icing on the cake is the recapitulative theme song – “Psycho Goreman (PG for short)” – rapped by Lil Caesar over the closing credits.
Psycho Goreman is available to stream online on Shudder UK, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription, or £49.99 yearly membership.