❉ The Brooklyn party killer has come for the stoners and hipsters in this enjoyable, award-winning festival hit.
“Prevalent motifs of the giallo and the slasher B movie abound, such as urban paranoia, voyeurism, and a succession of deaths that double as twisted visual punchlines to sick jokes, notable for their practical gore and inventive use of unlikely tools of violence (The phrase ‘a hit from the bong’ takes on an entirely new meaning in one deliciously cruel payoff).”
Winner of Best Feature at the Cannabis Film Festival, Best NY Feature at the Upstate NY Horror Film Festival and Best Actress at The Lost Sanity & Sci-Fi Film Fest, indie horror-com Psychotic! wears its influences proudly on its sleeve from its stylishly executed (ho-ho) opening scenes, filmed from the POV of a heavy breathing, knife wielding, anonymous killer, crashing a birthday bash taking place in a shabby chic apartment in Brooklyn’s hipster central, to deliver the kind of surprise that doesn’t have a 30 day return.
Recalling the darkly comic, visually stylish and frantically edited kills of many a cult Giallo, the ‘Bushwick Party Killer’ claims another victim, and the camera pulls back and tracks out of the window and onto the rooftops as the mute killer sprints across the rooftops into the distance, accompanied by synth stings as an electro theme score kicks in.
As a statement of intent this visually arresting sequence makes it immediately apparent to the clued-up horror fan that Psychotic! writer/director pair Maxwell Frey and Derek Gibbons are devotees of both the Italian giallo genre and new wave urban slasher flicks, the scene calling to mind elements of Alfred Sole’s Alice Sweet Alice and Dario Argento’s Tenebrae, and over Psychotic!’s economical 86 minute runtime, they proceed to openly homage the hallmarks of such ‘video nasty’ cult classics as the aforementioned and many more.
The film’s setting, the gentrified working-class neighbourhood of Bushwick, awash with plaid-shirted hipsters, bloggers and synthwave combos (British readers: Think Hoxton or Shoreditch), also calls to mind Abel Ferrera’s notorious Ms. 45 and Driller Killer which captured the dying days of artsy, boho, poseur-tastic downtown New York before it became yuppiefied.
Prevalent motifs of the giallo and the slasher B movie abound, such as urban paranoia, voyeurism, and a succession of deaths that double as twisted visual punchlines to sick jokes, notable for their practical gore and inventive use of unlikely tools of violence (The phrase ‘a hit from the bong’ takes on an entirely new meaning in one deliciously cruel payoff).
But Frey and Gibbons, who also appear in the film as the two adorkable male leads, haven’t just set out to make a box-ticking exercise in genre homage. This riffs on and updates the urban stalker/slasher movie, with jokes about bloggers, Facebook followers and Craigslist – the descendents of the ‘no wave’ no-hopers that drove Ferrera’s struggling artist to invest in power tools in Driller Killer. There’s also shades of bonkers sci-fi cult classic Liquid Sky, which also had loft-dwelling scenesters in its satirical sights. It can also be enjoyed as a twist on stoner comedies and goofy rom-coms until the body count piles up in the third reel.
I initially watched Psychotic! with low expectations, but it’s won me round to earn successive viewings, not only through its embracing of the low-budget ‘80s nasty aesthetic, but also the winning enthusiasm of its participants. The acting in some quarters could politely be described as variable, with a few particularly overripe and under-rehearsed performances, but – as behoves the film’s indie nature, put together by the collective efforts of a small clique of filmmakers, writers, performers and musicians banding together as one – this reviewer found a lot to admire and enjoy from the brio that brought Psychotic! to the screen.
The two male leads of the film are hapless, goofy slackers as much concerned about making the rent, staying on the live gig circuit and winning back their girls as surviving on the streets of Brooklyn while a serial killer is at large – like a stateside Spaced with a body count – and that underdog spirit is woven into the film itself.
And, if the film’s tone and performances are inconsistent, this is also a claim that can be laid fairly and squarely at the giallo and slasher films that are its DNA and still offer much enjoyment to aficionados thirty or forty years on, so it’s all in keeping with the territory.
Psychotic! works within its limitations commendably, and there’s much to admire. The practical gore effects bring a much-missed visceral effect back to the genre, and there are some stylish scenes such as the attention-grabbing opener, and the cinematography (Brian Stansfield) and editing is as competent and considered as you’d find in any film of a superior budget: Towards the film’s end, there is a scene which juxtaposes a live gig with a backstage murder, with the sound brought down from the band’s performance so that one of the climactic kills is punctuated by the solitary kick of a bass drum, bringing an almost ritualistic vibe to the sequence.
So, who is the Bushwick Party Killer? Like me, you may correctly guess the mystery assailant’s identity early on, but (no spoilers) in true WTF? Giallo fashion, the closing moments throw in a few extra curve balls to leave you feeling wrong-footed and allow the film to run credits on a disquieting note. Job done.
Psychotic! is daft, bloody, likeable, self-aware, and endearing fun that for all its hat-tips towards its filmic antecedents has a flavour of its own – a debt repayed with interest – and an awesome electro soundtrack by Brooklyn-based synth duo Blazing Galaxies.
In this joyless age of Trump and Brexit, you have to find your kicks where you can, and Psychotic! is perfect post-pub late night entertainment. Psychotic! is clearly the product of a bunch of folk who wanted to make a fun movie, and once you tune into the film’s underdog spirit, you’re with them for the ride.
❉ Psychotic! (Destruction Inc.) was released in the USA on VOD from iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, Sony PSN, Xbox, on January 26 2018.