I’d say that you know what you’re getting when you fire up a Steven Kostanski joint, but that honestly isn’t true. Sure, you can count on 90’s-nostalgia-tinged weirdness and some outstanding creature design and practical effects, but beyond that, you can’t even use the term “out of left field.” Whether you’re talking about The Void, Manborg, Fathers Day, or any of Winnipeg-based writer/director’s short films, the whole damn movie’s in left field. And Kostanski’s newest project, Psycho Goreman, is no exception. It’s a lovingly-crafted and blood-soaked action-horror-comedy that deceptively tucks some substantial world-building and emotional resonance behind it’s garish and laugh-a-minute exterior. If you’re craving a fun film experience in these dark times, but are burned out on the often soulless and dead-eyed parade of superhero films, Psycho Goreman is exactly the tonic you need.
Suburban kids Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) and her haplessly cowed older brother Luke (Owen Myre) unearth the titular Goreman (Matthew Ninaber and a voice by Steven Vlahos), who’s been imprisoned in a tomb on Earth, separated from the glowing red gem that’s the source of his power. He’s a decidedly-evil alien overlord – think Skeletor or Hordak from the He Man and She Ra universe – from the planet Gigax (a reference that will please Dungeons and Dragons fans). Before long, Mimi discovers that the gem in her possession allows her to command and control the alien, and she and Luke dub him Psycho Goreman (PG for short). The kids adopt him as a kind of Darth Vader-voiced pet, which is a source of many of the film’s visual gags. Psycho Goreman is basically a fish-out-of-water comedy gone deliciously mad, with the warlord being forced to interact with the suburban town and Mimi and Luke’s parents (Adam Brooks and Alexis Hancey) as he’s being hunted by his former henchmen and the futuristic soldier Pandora (Kristen MacCulloch) that imprisoned him in the first place.
All of PG, Mimi, and Luke’s adventures are punctuated with incredibly elaborate backstory about PG’s origins and the whole situation on Gigax, making liberal use of Kostanski’s elaborate and beautifully-crafted creature and set designs. There’s as much universe-building here as in any Marvel film, and even a couple of interesting twists to the backstory that suggest the ‘heroes’ aren’t exactly what they seem. Every artistic decision here is the most gory and absurd, and whether it’s major characters like a giant walking brain, or smaller ones like a blood-spraying robot thing, they’re all compelling pieces to a strangely-cohesive universe, even if it’s just consistent in being garish and hilariously violent. The creature design is so well done that I find myself wanting to know more about each one of them, even if they were only onscreen for a couple of moments. It’s a little like a Muppet movie, if they made one of those where Kermit constantly threatened to murder people, and occasionally made good on those threats.
Nita-Josee Hanna’s Mimi as the film’s lead and having to work across from the scene-stealing PG more than holds her own. She’s precocious to the point of deranged, but it works here when she’s playing off such a cartoonish villain. Mimi commands both the screen and nearly every other character she shares scenes with, and I can’t wait to see what Hanna does after this project. The other performances, particularly from Brooks and MacCulloch, are great too, with perfect comedic timing for both jokes and visual gags. A matter-of-fact “well, this TV won’t stop bleeding” got me laughing out loud, wishing I was doing so in a real movie theatre.
Because Psycho Goreman is the kind of movie that you wish you could watch with an auditorium of like-minded filmgoers, laughing at every other line and singing along with the absolutely banging soundtrack, including one amazing musical number and an end credits 90’s-inspired rap that literally summarizes the entire movie. It’s big room Midnight movie fare, and the only bad time I had with PG was remembering that such things currently feel like remnants of the past.
What’s interesting about Psycho Goreman is that different people I’ve talked to about the film get different things from the experience. Some people reference Troma’s Toxic Avenger, others Robocop, and at least one thought it was inspired by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live-action films. I think there’s even shades of Hulk Hogan’s long-forgotten family comedy, Suburban Commando here. But Psycho Goreman is more than just a parody. It doesn’t mindlessly pull references from other properties, but rather distills the joy from them into something that’s altogether it’s own. Kostanski has found a way to paint with this joy (and a few gallons of blood and slime) to create an early contender for one of the most enjoyable movies of the year.