Psycho Goreman. 2021.
Directed & Written by Steven Kostanski.
Starring Matthew Ninaber, Nita-Josee Hanna, Adam Brooks, Scout Flint, Kristen MacCulloch, Rick Amsbury, Alexis Kara Hancey, Owen Myre, & Reece Presley.
Dystopia Films / Raven Banner Entertainment
Rated 18A / 99 minutes
Comedy / Horror / Sci-Fi
Disclaimer: The following essay contains SPOILERS. Turn back, lest ye be spoiled!
If you’ve seen The Void you might not have expected its co-director/writer Steven Kostanski’s next feature to be a funny horror-science fiction hybrid that feels like a late night Nickelodeon show crossed with an EC Comics horror story. Yet Kostanski has delivered Psycho Goreman: a wild, weird, knock-down comedy that still has many horrifying creations like The Void, and boasts a strangely sweet heart alongside a smart, satirical genre voice. The film is, essentially, a children’s story that should absolutely never, under any circumstances, be shown to children. Unless they’re really fucking cool.
Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) and her brother Luke (Owen Myre) are playing Crazy Ball when they come upon a mysterious gem. They discover it actually gives them control over an evil entity from the planet Gigax, one that was locked away in order to be contained forever. Now the thing is loose. So, Mimi names it Psycho Goreman, and she goes about using him to do her silly bidding at home. The fun and games are interrupted when it turns out that other entities from Gigax are seeking Psycho Goreman. And when these entities come looking they make life much more complicated for Mimi and her whole family, who’ve got enough on their plate already without having an intergalactic battle on their hands.
Underneath the enjoyably goofy, child-like adventure of Psycho Goreman lie a few interesting themes that use the story’s comedy for satirical purposes. Mimi becomes a vessel for her father’s toxic traits, carrying the patriarchy on her tiny shoulders while paradoxically being a strong, independent little girl, and Psycho Goreman—”PG for short“—though evil, helps lay bare the worst impulses of those who hold the most power but is somehow not the most evil thing in the universe, apparently. Everything from disappointing male behaviour to cops gets at least a brief ribbing in Kostanski’s film, all while the director-writer takes us on a journey full of belly laughs, old school blood and guts, and 1990s-style television sci-fi.
One of the best parts, for me, about Psycho Goreman is that it feels of nostalgia while being wholly original. There are a number of elements Kostanski includes that have an atmosphere of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Much of the creature/entity construction throughout the film, from Psycho Goreman himself to Pandora and the other Gigaxian entities, has big ’90s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers show energy. Some other entities from Gigax, namely Pandora, have an air of characters from Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, the Japanese television series from which Mighty Morphin Power Rangers took much of its stock footage. Then there’s Planet Gigax itself—this could’ve been a random name, or it could’ve just as easily been a reference to Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax. Maybe the element I found most fun to theorise about was Psycho Goreman’s colour; he’s a mix of purple and pink. The colours of his alien skin reminded me of colours used on the eponymous creature in My Pet Monster. They’re both controlled by an object: PG is controlled by a gemstone, Monster is controlled with a set of handcuffs. They each come from different places other than Earth with PG coming from Planet Gigax and My Pet Monster‘s creature hailing from Monsterland. Finally, another entity or creature from these otherworldly places comes to track each character down: Pandora comes looking for PG, and Beastur comes looking to find Monster.
These are tenuous little connections and potential homages in Kostanski’s film that, even if they don’t prove to be true, give Psycho Goreman a genuinely nostalgic aura. This nostalgia captures the spirit of a children’s film, then Kostanski wraps that in his own brand of edgy humour, all of which is topped off by exciting, odd effects setting the film apart in its own category from the majority of genre films we’re seeing today.
“In a lot of ways, humans are the real monsters.”
Psycho Goreman is pure satire. Satire has historically been a method of speaking truth to power by way of comedy, often to the point of flat out ridicule. Kostanski’s screenplay is above all else about power, and how power is often corrosive. Obviously PG’s whole plot revolves around this concept, but it goes deeper than that with some of the historical and mythological references Kostanski works into the characters by virtue of their names. The entities known as the Templars are the most obvious, given the history of the actual Knights Templar and the Crusades (etc). With the Templars being powerful ultraterrestrial entities that control so much of the universe, while preaching scripture, it somewhat parallels the real world and the hold of religion—namely Christianity—over global society. After that comes Pandora, getting her name from the figure in Greek mythology. Pandora’s mythic role helped people give vindication to the idea of God because that pesky lady was the one to unleash all the evils of the world. Similarly to the Biblical figure of Eve, Pandora’s often a misogynistic scapegoat for the religious. And here, the character of Pandora is merely an arm of the Templars, doing their bidding, and she largely takes the brunt of responsibility for a patriarchal pantheon of gods. A smaller historical reference comes via Cassius 3000 as reference to Gaius Cassius Longinus, leading instigator in the plot to assassinate Julius Caesar. So, basically, all those Gigaxian entities? Nasty pieces of work. All the satire extends to less overarching, more passing gags, such as when a couple cops come upon the terrifying Mr. Psycho Goreman. One says “Remember your training!” but the other responds in terror: “There‘s no time. Shoot him!” Hilarious comedic exchange that conceals brutally truthful satire about the state of American policing, though it’s real good fun to watch PG dispatch the cops in gruesome fashion.
My favourite part of the comedy in Psycho Goreman is its satire of confused masculinity using Mimi, as well as the relationships she has with her father Greg and her mother Susan (Alexis Kara Hancey). Mimi goes against the grain of what we’re trained to expect from a little girl, especially in a story centred on kids. Her parents are a typical sitcom-style couple with the dad being an aloof, lazy man incapable of comprehending his own behaviour, or its consequences, while mom’s holding the entire family together with glue and elbow grease. This results in Mimi being a slightly confused girl, cobbling together bits of gender roles, and non-traditional gender roles, she’s come to learn from her parents while also, because of a strong mother, being a strong little lady. She calls PG various names that are at odds with or poking fun at traditional masculinity like “Manisaurus Flex” and “Dumpy Butt.” She targets her own brother, as well. She calls Luke “crybaby,” “fatso,” and “stupid wiener“; terms you’d usually hear from a boy rather than a girl. In one scene, she also objectifies a “hunky man“—her brother’s friend Alastair (Scout Flint), whose later fate is both gross and a crack-up—using speech/behaviour we see most of the time coming from sexist boys and men.
Yet Mimi also, in a paradox, pushes PG past a sense of traditional masculinity. There’s a scene in which PG rails against the “petty displays of wealth” and materialist “narcissism” he sees on Earth, namely via a magazine he’s been shown by Mimi and Luke. Mimi replies and stresses that “hunky boys” are worth it. At first, PG says he has no time for hunks, then he wonders if maybe he does like “hunky boys” after all. This is such a brief, throwaway moment that works excellently. Also a great moment of underlying satire that goes against toxic forms of masculinity, likewise pointing to Mimi’s own confusion about what is/isn’t negative in regards to gender due to the dynamic of her parents.
There was lots of expectation among horror fans when it came to Kostanski’s next film after The Void, whether another co-directed/written venture with Jeremy Gillespie or solo. He’s delivered such an enjoyable follow-up feature with Psycho Goreman. A highly unexpected film, in many ways. The blend of horror and comedy goes together so well, which is not always the case for my tastes. Horror-comedy needs to hit the correct balance for it to work, and usually it takes a satirical comedy element for me personally to buy into the horror that comes along with it. Kostanski’s use of horror, satire, and sci-fi, concocting a genre film that has the essence of a children’s adventure film, is brilliant storytelling from a filmmaker who’s obviously got a rich imagination, not to mention bundles of talent. The crowned jewel is really a fantastic performance by Nita-Josee Hanna as Mimi, carrying the best of the screenplay’s comedy on her small, witty shoulders.
Most will take Psycho Goreman for the surface level awesomeness, and that’s absolutely fine. Still worth your time to dig a little beneath Kostanski’s work here. There’s so much happening below a colourful, weird, wild surface. The satire of power, from bad dads to evil entities, to Templars and cops, isn’t hidden, so it’s not like you’ve really got to go digging. The ending feels most relevant of all to the 21st century when it comes to making choices between the lesser of two evils—something that’s cropped up prominently in the past couple U.S. elections, for instance—as Pandora and the Templars get what’s coming to them for their abuse of power, and PG walks off into the sunset, having learned nothing at all from his transformative experience with Mimi’s family. The same goes for Mimi’s dad Greg who, like PG, hasn’t actually learned a lesson and will continue to be a ’90s sitcom dad in real life despite seeing where this all led his wife and daughter. Although there remains a togetherness in Mimi’s imperfect family, and that’s good enough. Sometimes all we can do is survive “evil and worse evil,” whether we learn a lesson or not. A lesson worth learning in and of itself.