According to the production notes accompanying my screener, writer/director Steven Kostanski (The Void) grew up wondering what it would be like to hang out with the iconic villains of his youth: Skeletor, Megatron, Cobra Commander, etc. As an adult, his curiosity of what it would be like to put such terrible masters of terror with the seemingly limitless naiveté of a child comes to fruition with his latest film PG: Psycho Goreman. Not surprisingly, the answer is hilariously blood-coated. Seriously, this movie rules. It borrows its space opera/fantasy visual style from low budget films like Krull (1983) and The Beastmaster (1982 (newly available on 4K via Vinegar Syndrome)), while possessing a childlike element recognizable from The Last Starfighter (1984) or Flight of the Navigator (1986). By combining the wildly creative practical effects of the space opera/fantasy, the optimistic inhibition of childhood adventure, and body horror affects that would make Lloyd Kaufman proud, Kostanski does more than create the story of his childhood fantasies, he presents a ride of galactic proportions that’ll have you giggle-screaming from beginning to end.
Long ago, on the planet of Gigax, a great battle took place between The Archduke of Nightmares and the Templars in which the vicious murderer The Archduke was bested in battle and entombed for eternity. That was the plan, at least, until siblings Mimi and Luke (Nita-Josée Hanna and Owen Myre) stumble across The Archduke’s sealed prison and accidentally release him when Mimi removes the Gem of Praxidike from the hatch. The gem not only serves as the power that kept The Archduke locked away, but it is also what gives him his powers, powers which Mimi now controls as the welder of the Gem. With her new-found control over the greatest murderer in the galaxy, Mimi sets about having all the fun she can manage, blissfully ignorant of the horrors that are coming her way to once more lock the The Archduke away.
You can tell what kind of vision Kostanski has for Goreman right from the moment a red-text scroll rolls from the bottom, the black screen slowly revealing a series of stars, as a graveling voice reads the lore-filled text. The voice tells of an ancient evil, its rise, and its perceived demise, much in the same way Army of Darkness (1992) begins, establishing quickly that what we’re about to witness is absolutely epic, until Earth comes into view and the image dissolves into a toy ball being grasped by Mimi as she explains the rules of a game. By overlaying the terrifying story with the whimsical game, Kostanski immediately establishes tone and intent for what’s to come: it’s going to be cosmically outrageous, yet unsophisticated. Believe it or not, Kostanski totally sticks the landing throughout the length of the film. Does it require, perhaps, a bit more suspension of disbelief than the average kids’ flick? Maybe, to reconcile the mayhem that occurs, but, otherwise, not much. Kostanski ensures balance between the two tones by amplifying the violence to a 12, character designs that look like they stepped off a tokusatsu television show (Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, Ultraman, VR Troopers, Japanese Spider-Man), and keeping the baseline reactions of the humanoid characters roughly how they might react in Starfighter or Navigator. You’d think that this wouldn’t work at all, but it does and never gets old thanks to some truly creative horrors Kostanski designed himself as Creature Effects Designer which were made real by Chris Nash, On-Set Creative Effects Supervisor. For instance, when Mimi and Luke first confront The Archduke, he’s holed himself up in an abandoned shoe factory which he’s already decorated with the freshly severed limbs of his victims. Instead of cowering in terror, Mimi steps straight up to him and tells him to pipe down, something he’s forced to do as she wields his gem. Mimi is more than the plucky hero, she’s the clever scamp that terrifies parents and siblings alike as she ignores the important details and wants to get straight to how it benefits her. This is how The Archduke loses the moniker he spent so much time raising up for something as juvenile as Psycho Goreman or PG, for short. Hanna’s delivery each time she cuts off PG will stand out to any parent realizing their child isn’t paying attention. Matthew Ninaber’s physical work in combination with Steven Vlahos’s vocals belie that same parent’s inevitable embracing that it doesn’t matter how important they are outside of parenting, their kids still think they’re an uncool asshole.
Back to the monsters for a moment, Kostanski just unloads a heap of world-building in the design of the creatures alone. There’s the prereq fantastical titles, like Gigax the planet or The Archduke of Nightmares, but then there’s also Pandora, the leader of the Templars (physical performance by Kristen Macculloch and vocals by Anna Tierney), and Darkscream (Alex Chung who also serves as the fight choreographer), leader of The Archduke’s Paladins Obsidian. These are names ripped straight from your phantasmagorical nightmares, where the battle between Good and Evil lights up the heavens and the souls of the lost crushed under their feet. As expected from her rank and title, Pandora is entirely armored, from her soles to the tips of her angel-like wings. Conversely, Darkscream bears a striking resemblance to a twisted elf-goblin hybrid. The character designs create a shorthand for the audience to translate without the need of dialogue to understand their roles and perspectives. Personally, as an audience member, I would’ve liked to spend some time with the Paladins Obsidian as their respective designs are incredibly fascinating. At first, they appear like if the Might Morphin’ Power Rangers villains were invented by the Brothers Grimm, but any closer examination reveals minute details suggesting a deeper significance. My favorite of PG’s minions is a sentient cauldron of body parts sloshing in a stew of blood and, thanks to the production notes, I can tell you his name is Death Trapper (Rich Evans). By the way, speaking of creature designs, fans of Kostanski’s short film Bio-Cop (2012) should rejoice at the return of a certain desperate-to-die lawman portrayed once more by Robert Homer.
As much fun as the film is, one thing that’s worth noting is the depiction of morality in the film. PG is a most righteous villain, capable of tortures that will rend anyone instantly insane, but the inclusion of elements from those childhood adventure stories insist that some kind of lesson be learned. If PG is truly as evil as presented, any shift toward morality would certainly weaken any violence he might inflict, which is why it’s fascinating that the little bit of backstory we’re given before Mimi decides she’s got better things to do is about how he started as a suffering slave under the Templars. Intentional or not by design, Kostanski is suggesting that the virtuous Templars are, actually, prideful zealots that are less interested in peace and prosperity than they are control. It’s not explored more deeply and I can’t fault Kostanski for this as it would take away from the hijinks that make the whole of Goreman instantly loveable. But it’s an interesting subtext to include in a film which is, frankly, about as philosophically deep as Navigator.
Once more for the cheap seats, PG: Psycho Goreman absolutely rules. Kostanksi displays a masterful understanding of the tokusatsu shows that adorned many broadcast channels and the operatic elements which made so many of them cultural phenomenons. Though there are a few moments in which things occur in a tad too simple a manner, the fact that the whole never loses its appeal while it simultaneously maintains its own wacky rules of reality makes any area of weakness undoubtedly forgivable. It’s also a kickass way to kick-off 2021’s cinematic year.
In select theaters, on VOD, and digital January 22nd, 2021.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD March 16th, 2021.
Pre-order the PG: Psycho Goreman (“Hey Hunky Boy!” 3-Disc Limited Edition) from Unobstructed View by going here.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.