Psychotic! Movie Review: Cheech and Chong’s Millennial Mass Murder Misadventure

I remember how horror movies that came out when I was growing up had a kind of message — that if you drink underage or do drugs or have sex out of wedlock, some monster would come out of the woods and turn you inside out. They were intended as cautionary tales and they weren’t terribly subtle about it.

These days, disturbing cinema sometimes still has a message, but it seems to be less obvious. If you recall, Hans Crippleton earned my ire and admiration all at once for being a spot on parody one of the things I loathe most in the world today — reality television. My first impression of Psychotic! was that the people behind it had no idea how to make a movie, and I was baffled by how it had won awards. Then I stopped to think about why I didn’t like it, and it’s not so much because of what it is, but rather who it represents.

It only took about three decades for me to start wanting to tell kids to get off my lawn. I have some coworkers half my age who don’t always know my childhood icons — movies, books, games — but when they placate me, sometimes I feel patronized. “Youngsters…what do they know!” I shout in my curmudgeonly head. That’s exactly both who is in this movie, and who might best relate to it.

Psychotic! is set and filmed in Bushwick, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. Denizens of that area might recognize an alley or a sidewalk here and there, but it didn’t seem to leverage any major landmarks along the way. Bushwick is characterized as a hip place, full of young people living on their parents’ dime, and older people who resent them for having a handout they never did. They’re trying to establish themselves, start bands, be rebellious, and part of that apparently requires smoking a lot of weed, and I mean a lot. I estimate that Psychotic! is 60% pot smoking, 20% cringey dialogue, and 20% slasher flick.

To be perfectly honest, the first seven minutes of the movie really grabbed me. It’s one of many long continuous shots, and follows the Bushwick Party Killer into someone’s home where he stalks and waits for his opportunity to strike. So he does, and escapes relatively unseen. The shots were interesting, the dialogue and split-screen camera work offered quality exposition and character introduction, and the tense ’80s synthesizer music from Blazing Galaxies perfectly recaptured the opening of the original Halloween. They had my interest.

From there we encounter a tangled mess of relationships and awkward parties, uneven pacing, and remember that ’80s synth music that plucked my nerves like a fiddle in the opening? It’s used in almost every scene for at least the first third of the movie, even ones where there’s clearly nothing exciting going on. There are repeated uses of “I’m so mad, I could kill that person…but I’m not the Bushwick Party Killer, just want to make that clear, because if I were, I totally wouldn’t say that, right? Guys?”

There’s a tangent explored about Stuart (Derek Gibbons) trying to unearth his musical talents and make it big, in sort of an unexpected nod to Coyote Ugly. It feels a bit out of place for a slasher movie, but it drives his interactions with Roxy (Kristen Martin), who was arguably the most straightforward, confident, and charismatic character/actor in the story. In addition to wooing Roxy, Stuart is compelled to start earning a living with his music when roommate Tim (Maxwell Frey) threatens to throw him out for his deadbeat, drug-addled ways. Tim experiences a number of emotionally traumatic events throughout the movie that test his mental fortitude, not the least of which was an accident that channeled a certain Tucker and Dale vs. Evil vibe. If these inferences were intentional, they certainly know from whom to borrow.

Much of the plot seems so roughshod and thrown together at times, I had to keep telling myself “It’s only an indie movie, it’s only an indie movie.” I should qualify that further by saying that watching people smoke pot for extended periods of time rates as one of the least interesting things I can imagine, so watching Bill (Adam Maid) take possibly the longest slow-motion bong hit in the history of cinema did absolutely nothing for me. Your mileage may vary. Some scenes that initially felt like padding or irrelevant to the story made a little more sense after seeing how it all turns out. Once the Party Killer’s identity is revealed, I worked backward in vain to find a cohesive motive. It started out with one, and veered off later, so maybe the killer simply “tried it, liked it, wanted more of it” without having a clear connection to the previous murders, especially when bystanders and passersby started getting offed.

The gore effects go for gross-out appeal, but the $50k budget didn’t quite go far enough. Off-color blood and bits of what looked like pieces of uncooked chicken trimmings weren’t terribly convincing. The way some of the executions are carried out is novel, though, and might be worth a watch for fans of creative carnage.

I found myself rooting against the slackers, which might be some generationism showing, or maybe it’s just why I like this genre. I wanted the story to be a little more clear, the editing a little tighter, and the soundtrack reserved for moments that better deserved it. However, one man’s cringe is another’s clever commentary. Though Psychotic! wasn’t really my cup of tea, those more in line with its narrower target audience might cut it more slack, the way my generation accepted movies like Mallrats despite our better judgment.

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Mark Buckingham

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