One of the trends of our time is the way that extreme culture can wind up turning into kiddie culture. Head-banging metal that was once the down-and-dirty province of those in their teens and twenties had evolved, by the time of “School of Rock,” into a grade-school activity as wholesome as choir practice. “Psycho Goreman,” written and directed by Steven Kostanski, offers a variation on the same phenomenon. In spirit if not in fact, it’s a Troma film (you remember those, don’t you?) — in this case, a gonzo absurdist intergalactic sci-fi horror comedy that flaunts the gory ingenuity of its no-budget analog effects, along with a lot of so-broad-it’s-camp acting. “Psycho Goreman” wants to bring back those heady Troma fumes. But this one, quite knowingly, is like “The Toxic Avenger” remade by the Robert Rodriguez of “Spy Kids.”
The title monster is an ancient alien overlord who was entombed on Earth after a failed attempt to destroy the universe. Played in a hulking gargoyle demon costume by Matthew Ninaber, he’s got jagged purplish skin, a horned back and jutting shoulder blades, a deep-dish slithery electro Darth Vader voice, and the ability to tear people’s limbs off as if he were plucking dandelions. He’s like the Toxic Avenger meets Skeletor meets Pinhead meets Thanos, with powers that are telekinetic and also good old body-snapping horrific. But he’s unleashed by a couple of suburban kids, the proudly bratty Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) and her passive brother, Luke (Owen Myre), who uncover a glowing amulet that allows them to control this beast.
Our monster friend is from the planet Gigax, which sounds like a product you polished your car with in the ’70s, and he’s a very pre-ironic, uncool heavy-metal stentorian villain. As voiced by Steven Vlahos, he speaks with a sinister “classical” flourish so overwrought it’s almost Shakespearean, saying things like “That is a tale bathed in the blood of a million dead memories.” The joke of “Psycho Goreman,” and it’s a good one, is that everything that might make this dude the darkly charismatic center of a Marvel movie — that magnetized voice of doom, his monologues of apocalyptic fire — is greeted by the two kids with absolute indifference. Mimi: “Do you have a name, monster man?” Alien: “My enemies will sometimes refer to me as the archduke of nightmares!” Mimi: “Well, that sucks! Never mind, we can workshop this.” They do, and name him Psycho Goreman (PG for short).
The electro-drone Vader voice has been done so many times that to parody it may not seem like much of an inspiration, but “Psycho Goreman” brings off a neat trick. That voice, used relentlessly here, makes the film feel higher tech than it is. (With a less processed soundtrack, PG would just seem a walking costume-shop mannequin.) Mimi and Luke remain unfazed by PG’s towering scariness, sort of like the blitzed blokes from “Shaun of the Dead.” As he lapses into his monologues of destruction, the kids mostly just ignore him. He’s a demon stuck in his own sci-fi head, a self-involved intergalactic stuffed shirt. Which makes for an amusing tweak of space-fantasy geekdom.
“Psycho Goreman” could have used more storytelling verve, and at times it’s a distended one-joke movie, but it’s peppered with funny bits, like the fact that PG can’t remember Luke’s name simply because the kid is so bland, or the totally gross way he’ll provide one of his foes with “a warrior’s death.” The gross-out factor lends “Psycho Goreman” its note of midnight-movie depravity. Yet Kostanski, as a director, isn’t just a schlock hound. On Gigax, he offers up a witty sendup of Jedi High Council fussiness, and the whole movie serves to take the hot air out of what blockbuster sci-fi has become: villains with robotized voices threatening to end the world in an endless rerun of inflated nothingness.
In a mid-movie montage, “Psycho Goreman” turns into a knowingly goofy alien-monster-out-of-water comedy, with PG walking around downtown as a kid shouts “Hey, asshole! Nice Halloween costume!” (he explodes the kid into a blood bubble), or PG trying on hipster clothes and playing drums in Mimi and Luke’s rock band. He learns to say things like “Frig off,” he turns their friend Alastair (Scout Flint) into a blobby beach-ball brain, and in one pretty sick joke he melts down a cop into a version of that guy at the end of “RoboCop” who got a toxic-chemical bath; instead of dying, the cop staggers around in a state of herky-jerky agony. As satire, “Psycho Goreman” is no “Planet Terror,” but it’s a droll enough schlock-in-quote-marks diversion, and part of its appeal is just how damn cheap it is. In the omni-tech era, it’s fun to see a filmmaker build an FX fantasy out of scraps, from the ground up.