In 2011, writer/director Steven Kostanski released Manborg, an hour-long homage to everything wonderful and ridiculous about 1980s sci-fi. This was the era of Kung Fury, where such homages were a dime a dozen, yet Manborg stood out due to its blend of earnest sincerity, lovingly homemade special effects, and intentionally cheesy performances and dialogue. It wasn’t high art, and in fact barely qualified as low art, but those who saw it couldn’t help but be won over by its old-school charms and its desire to entertain as much as possible within its limited means.
Since then, Kostanski has worked on a number of outlandish horror/sci-fi projects with budgets that are bigger, but not so big that they wouldn’t still be considered small by Hollywood standards. His most well-known features include 2016’s The Void (co-directed with Manborg collaborator Jeremy Gillespie) and 2018’s soft reboot Leprechaun Returns, but it’s his latest release that most deeply taps into the look and feel of his earlier work. PG: Psycho Goreman is a film rife with love for a very specific era and style of filmmaking, and that love proves infectious for the majority of its runtime. Yet despite that runtime being a modest hour and 39 minutes, the central concept doesn’t quite sustain it all the way through.
The hook is genius: a pair of precocious tweens accidentally dig up a long-buried amulet that unleashes a psychotic, world-destroying monster from outer space. The creature is eager to resume his lifelong mission to conquer all who stand before him, but his plans are brought to a screeching halt when he realizes that the amulet is now in the possession of young Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna). Since the amulet is the source of all his power, anyone who wields it has the ability to command the monster and force him to do their bidding. As it happens, Mimi already possesses a bit of a sadistic streak, which leads to all manner of hijinks that are equal parts wacky and horrifying.
Unfazed by the presence of an intergalactic behemoth who regularly talks about his desire to bathe in the blood of his enemies, Mimi affectionately names him Psycho Goreman (PG for short) and sets about shuffling him through all the My Pet Monster tropes. The demonic overlord is now subject to a fashion montage in a failed attempt to help him blend in, is recruited as a player in an increasingly convoluted dodgeball-esque game of Mimi’s own design, and is unleashed on anyone who might ruin her fun, whether it be a fellow kid she has a crush on or some local cops who bite off far more than they can chew when they attempt to confront him.
All this proves concerning to her brother and partner-in-crime Luke (Owen Myre), who was already a target of Mimi’s bullying before the killer alien came along and now reasonably feels that things are getting way out of hand. Her parents (played by Adam Brooks and Alexis Kara Hancey) are also fearful for their child’s safety, though not so much that it fully distracts them from their own deep-seated relationship issues. Other locals prove powerless against PG’s overwhelming powers, but when an interplanetary council of peacekeepers is alerted to his awakening, the stage is set for far greater conflict, and the creature will have to decide whether his true allegiance is to the mindless violence he has known for centuries, or the rambunctious little girl that he can’t help but develop a sweet spot for.
Anyone familiar with the Power Rangers style of costuming and practical/optical effects used in Manborg will see that look reflected here. PG’s design is impressively imposing and monstrous, which makes his emasculation that much funnier, with Matthew Ninaber and Steven Vlahos doing excellent work inhabiting his body and voice, respectively. As the film progresses, we are introduced to a host of various alien lifeforms, all with uniquely bizarre designs that would feel right at home in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or perhaps a Star Wars cantina scene. Classic Star Wars, mind, because they’re all brought to life with a loving blend of costumes and puppetry. The fact that these practical designs occasionally hinder the believability of the action scenes only adds to their charm.
PG: Psycho Goreman is a film that’s doing exactly what it sets out to do. A dedicated homage to ‘80s schlock that remains fully invested in the absurd relationship between its fearsome title character and his adorably vindictive young master. Yet despite its best efforts, the effectiveness of its gags does start to lose steam before long. One may be reminded of Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber, a film with a killer premise (about a killer tire, no less) that quickly wore out its welcome on the road to feature length. Psycho Goreman is a better film than Rubber, and its central gag proves more diverse and more sustainable for longer. But before the epic conclusion is reached, you may catch yourself thinking that this concept may have been funnier and more memorable as a tightly constructed short film rather than as a feature.
This is not to suggest that there isn’t plenty to recommend about the film. From the darkly humorous fates that await Owen’s friend Alastair (Scout Flint) and a cop (Robert Homer) who dares to draw his gun on PG, to the intergalactic council whose elaborate character designs don’t preclude them from the kind of interpersonal bickering one might expect from a typical office boardroom, to the increasingly fraught relationship between Mimi and Owen’s parents (a subplot which proves far more consequential to the overall story than it initially appears), all the individual elements are executed commendably and with flourish. Yet for all its embarrassment of riches, by the end one can’t help but wish for less, rather than more.
PG: Psycho Goreman will be available in theaters, On Demand & Digital on January 22.