Take all the feel-goods of your past, strip them of painful memories, package them up and you’ve got yourself what should be a federally regulated Schedule 1 substance: Everyone’s favorite drug is nostalgia.
Like most recreational drugs, small doses of nostalgia won’t kill you and are a fun diversion. The problem is that nostalgia gets to pick and choose; it edits out the stuff you’d rather not think about. Odds are, your parents were splitting up in the background of your favorite Saturday morning cartoon (which, by the way, Saturday morning cartoons aren’t a thing anymore), or one of the most popular songs of your generation played while you learned your first love was cheating on you. Nostalgia is often a lie and, when it’s the crutch upon which a story leans, it’s a weak, cheap imitation of life — all wrapper, no sandwich.
“PG: Psycho Goreman” is a film steeped in nostalgia, but instead of relying on it as its primary tool, it uses it as a springboard for something else entirely. “PG,” which is rated R, runs its influences through a wood chipper and pours what’s left into a chain saw-shaped bundt pan, serving up a concoction all its own. It’s clearly inspired by direct-to-video children’s movies of the late ’80s and early to mid-’90s, but to describe it as a riff on that subgenre would be inaccurate and a complete disservice.
During a backyard play session, siblings Mimi and Luke unearth and free an evil, intergalactic overlord that Mimi ultimately dubs “Psycho Goreman,” because if humans were to pronounce his real name it would drive them mad. Psycho Goreman, nicknamed “PG” for short, was locked away for his vicious tendencies. His liberation sets off a beacon, alerting a crew of galactic peacekeepers who come to Earth to stop him from returning to his old ways. The catch is that Mimi holds a stone that gives her full control over PG, and he must do her bidding. Shenanigans ensue.
Films like “The Gate” (1987), where a kid unearths a portal to hell in his backyard, unleashing a swarm of demons, and “Suburban Commando” (1991), which features Hulk Hogan as an interstellar bounty hunter tracking down an evildoer, seem like obvious touch points for this film. Makeup effects artist-turned-director Steven Kostanski (“The Void,” “Mandroid”) doesn’t let the film coast on its own preposterous genre mash-up. Despite the big ’80s synthesizer soundtrack and a slew of creatures that feel like they’re from the darkest episode of “Power Rangers,” the film bears a tonal resemblance to Nickelodeon’s series “The Adventures of Pete and Pete,” quite possibly the best piece of ’90s children’s media in existence. This is what ultimately makes “PG: Psycho Goreman” so powerful and instantly worthy of a place in the cult canon.
“The Adventures of Pete and Pete” can be glibly described as “Twin Peaks” for kids, minus the menace and murder. It follows the exploits of two brothers of the same name in their hometown of Wellsville, U.S.A. There’s an ice cream man with a hidden identity, a garage band that is seen once and disappears, a mysterious orange drink that creates a winning baseball team and — you get the idea.
“Pete and Pete” is entirely kid-centric in its logic but is emotionally grounded in humanity. Adults are as faulty as the kids, but everyone eventually comes together in a way that’s genuine and touching. Few television shows, let alone kid’s shows, ever managed such a mix of humor, absurdity and realistic-yet-touching emotion.
Like “Pete and Pete,” “PG” is a kid’s story, primarily Mimi’s. Some have criticized Mimi for her selfishness; but like Little Pete, the younger brother in the titular series, she’s also unrelentingly charismatic and determined. She has vision, and we root for her, even when her older brother is getting the shaft or she doesn’t care that PG is being beaten by his enemies. She, like the film, is committed to what she wants, and the film is better for it.
Less than four months after its release on video on demand, the film has an army of fans behind it.
“(The movie) has a huge groundswell of fan support, cementing itself as a cult classic almost immediately,” said Alex DiVincenzo, creator of Broke Horror Fan, a company that showcases old and new horror movie merchandise.
On March 16, Broke Horror Fan released 150 director-approved VHS copies via Witter Entertainment. They sold out in less than 10 minutes.
“That's the fastest, complete sellout in the three years that we've been doing this. … The site was crashing due to all the traffic,” said DiVincenzo, adding that, for rabid “PG” fans, the film will be restocked sometime this year on standard VHS.
Thompson enjoys putting somewhat carefully chosen words in relatively meaningful order. He has been to college. He lives in Lewiston and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Instagram at @theswap_quadcities.