The latest Shudder original is a clever homage to movies of the past, but quickly loses its focus.
Steven Kostanski’s second film, and the latest offering from the horror streaming service Shudder, Psycho Goreman attempts to be a throwback to a very specific type of kids’ film that will probably never be made again. Spooky, practical effects driven movies of the 80s and 90s that were geared towards children but are actually true nightmare fuel. Films like the tiny demon filled, The Gate, or Little Monsters, a movie that assumes kids would be cool with Howie Mandel hiding under their beds.
The setup is enough to have fun in this genre. Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna), a precocious and sociopathic little girl, and her older brother, Luke (Owen Myre), find an ancient, magical amulet buried deep in the backyard of their suburban home. It accidentally unleashes an evil alien overlord (Matthew Ninaber) who seeks to continue his mission of intergalactic domination. Unfortunately for the evil alien, Mimi is able to control him using the amulet, forcing him to become her dangerous pet, and giving him the weird name of Psycho Goreman (or “P.G.” for short).
The promising logline is mostly squandered with the execution. Like the game of Crazy Ball, the nonsensical game the kids play throughout the film, it has the manic energy of children making up a sport as they go, with different styles and rules clashing against each other. One scene will be an over-the-top bloodbath that brings to mind the “So much blood and guts it’s hilarious” method of Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive, but then the next scene will be the kids rocking out with their new alien bud playing drums in an inexplicable 80s-style montage.
This kind of whiplash storytelling can be fun, especially if we’re seeing this world through the eyes of children, but Kostanski can’t get a hold of any point of view for his filmmaking or his characters. This is especially true for Mimi. She’s a hilariously macabre character on paper (she politely instructs her parents in the beginning of the film that if monsters are real, that they please eat her brother first) but Kostanski can’t decide if he wants to direct her as morbid comic relief, like a Wednesday Addams hopped up on Fun Dip, or as a truly dangerous child who wants to use her new pet to harm anyone who gets in her way.
This lack of focus bleeds into the rest of the characters, who approach everything at arm’s length and lack any kind of sincerity that would sell the viewer on a galaxy devouring monster becoming a beloved family member. The kids’ parents, Greg (Adam Brooks) and Susan (Alexis Kara Hancey) react in horror to P.G. for about ten seconds before getting over it. They then accept such mind-altering events like a child turning into a blob monster or P.G. unhinging his jaws and eating another alien monster with a wink and a shrug.
The promising logline is mostly squandered with the execution.
Greg and Susan are definitely characters who do things in this movie, but their purpose seems to just be adding an unnecessary and weird comic energy. Brooks plays Greg not so much as a quirky movie dad, but as an alt-comic statement on quirky movie dads, like someone Tim Heideker would conjure for an Adult Swim show.
He says every line in a glib, self-deprecating manner, including a bizarre monologue to his family about his time in the Iraq War, before adding that he wasn’t actually in Iraq. I think the movie thinks it’s funny, but I could hear the joke bomb with a crowd even while alone in my apartment.
If there’s any reason to check out Psycho Goreman, it’s to watch some incredible practical makeup from Toronto special effects company, Masters FX. This is a film that doesn’t have much to say about childhood or the nature of evil, but it definitely knows how to blow-up skulls into millions of pieces. The tactile nature of the practical effects gives real physicality to the bloody carnage and a sense of carnival haunted house fun. It makes you miss the days when disembowelment in films took some elbow grease.
There’s also some elaborate costumes and creature effects here that need to be appreciated. One scene that’s a treasure trove of imagination takes place in some sort of intergalactic boardroom filled with aliens of all shapes and sizes. It’s not the level of creature spectacle like Hellboy 2, but given what I assume was a tiny budget, the look and feel of the aliens is something to behold. They’re basically people in rubber suits, but the little details (shoutout to my dude whose head is just a brain in a jar) are intricate and have a medieval fantasy aesthetic that makes them look like Power Rangers villains if they just got off the plane from Westeros.
Kostanski’s day job is working in the makeup and special effects department on bigger budget films, and you can tell where he puts his love and attention here. There’s more thought and care brought to the way blood and viscera oozes off of P.G.’s costume than any character development or coherent scene structure. Too bad the film comes off more as a highlight reel for a special effects company than the fun nostalgia trip it could have been.
Psycho Goreman premieres on Shudder January 22nd.