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October 19th, 2012


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11:27 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: Psychos in Love
Independent filmmaking was blessed (some would say afflicted) by a golden age in the '80s and '90s. Sex and violence were less taboo than they'd been a decade or so previously, and filmmaking costs had come down significantly thanks to the relative cheapness of video. It seemed as though anyone who could wrangle a few hundreds (or even tens) of thousands of dollars could make a movie, and for the first time it wasn't necessary to have some grumpy bean counter grumbling constantly about how they'd cut your funding if you didn't Fix This Mess And Make It Make Sense. Mom and pop drive-ins and movie houses -- now largely extinct -- still existed, and were willing to make deals with small distributors. Anyone who was talented and persistent could get their film seen. Frankly, you didn't even have to be that talented if you could make up for it with persistence.

By the late '90s, things had begun to change. Sure, consumers were buying movies to own (and they'd gotten comparatively cheap), but when direct-to-video marketing started working, the market became flooded. Skipping to the present, the market is still flooded, and there are no decent sex scenes anymore.

Still, the '80s and '90s brought a golden age of B-movies. It gave us Re-Animator. It gave us My Dinner with Andre. It gave us The Return of Captain Invincible, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Rabid Grannies and David Cronenberg's Crash.

It also gave us Psychos in Love in 1986.

I was introduced to Psychos in Love in 2003, as a play written by Madison playwright Rob Matsushita. He'd adapted it from the movie, and I saw the play almost once a week during its run -- it was that good. I tried to convince all you bastards (as in "The Royal You Bastards) to go see it, and the few finally did went on the last weekend and felt that they'd missed out by waiting so long. Eventually, a German outfit put the film out on DVD, and I snatched up a signed copy when the director, Gorman Bechard, listed it on eBay.

The film is not as good as the play, but I watched it exactly once in 2005, and let it sit until tonight when my wife started pushing for the Halloween episode of My So-Called Life. Yes, MSCL is a critically-acclaimed piece of television history which paved the way for [blah blah blah blah blah...] I've seen it. As I said yesterday, I don't want to see what I already know is good, I want to see movies that are exceptional. Psychos in Love is certainly that.

The film tells the story of Joe, an ordinary twenty-something who owns a strip club, which gives him a great opportunity to meet women, date them, and murder them horribly. Eventually he meets Kate, and discovers that in addition to being beautiful and engaging, she also shares his intense hatred of grapes. They fall in love with her, and Joe realizes that he needs to come out to her. "I guess what I mean to say is, I'm a psycho killer. I'm a mad slasher. I kill people," he tells her. "I don't believe it!" she says. "Me too!"

And so our rom-com is off to a great start. Joe and Kate build a loving relationship, one body at a time. They discover each other's passions, desires, and secrets. "What do you do with the bodies when you're done?" Kate asks. "I cut 'em up," says Joe. "Play with 'em." "Ewwww! I just dump mine! Dumpster, New Jersey Turnpike -- whatever's available," says Kate.

Things are getting serious, but when they try to escalate the romance by "doing one together," they discover that it doesn't work. Murder, apparently, is a solitary hobby. Mired in frustration, they have an epiphany: it's time to get married. Maybe even settle down, raise a family, and stop chopping up jerks. There's only one problem: a cannibal plumber named Herman has moved into the neighborhood, and has been snacking on his customers ("bet it's not very good for the word of mouth," Joe observes). Joe and Kate have given up their hobby for good when they have to call Herman. He finds the garbage disposal full of fingers and demands that Joe and Kate start delivering his meals... or else.

As I said, low-budget films flooded the market in the '80s and '90s, and there are even more now. It can be a thankless exercise to wade through these movies because there are so many of them, but I find that if you give them a few years, the good ones develop cult followings. They rise to the top, and the rest get buried. Psychos in Love is one of the real oddities, but it survived by finding an audience through VHS rentals and late-night cable TV. It's a deeply (and endearingly) flawed film, but it also has some truly outstanding moments. The unevenness very obviously exists because there was no one clearing his throat in the background and threatening to stop writing checks. Sometimes it pays to be your own boss, even when that means struggling for your art.

And apparently Bechard does struggle. He's a writer and a photographer, and he's made a number of films (both feature and short). Every time he makes a film, you can find an interview where he describes filmmaking as an onerous, frustrating process which he probably won't ever want to go through again -- probably. I can understand that. I've been close to making a number of (very) low-budget films myself -- usually with collaborators. We've had scripts -- good ones -- and sometimes actors -- ready to go, and it's amazingly daunting to take the first step. Embarrassingly so. I have never done it. I have never done it. I have never done it. I will probably die with some kind of pan-dimensional holographic wafer-cloud full of un-embarked-upon screenplays. I'm really ashamed of that, but when I'm standing on the edge of getting started, I can see what Bechard is talking about. And I'm not even in danger of losing thousands of dollars; we're talking hundreds of dollars, tops.

Anyway, Gorman Bechard took the plunge, and he came as close as anyone does to succeeding without major studio funding. The play, as I said, was a lot better, but it was also filtered through a second set of creative sensibilities. The movie, which has been described (in an unsourced Wikipedia quote that I'm paraphrasing) as a proto-Scream, is naughtier and gorier than anything I've seen recently, and it's very funny. There's a lot of fourth wall breaking, as in the scene where Joe and Kate, discussing their day, have to maneuver around the camera and push the boom mic out of the way. Later, half a conversation is carried on in Japanese, and Joe turns to the camera and says "wouldn't you just kill for subtitles?" The jokes don't always work, but they hit more than they miss.

It's also an effective splatter movie of its vintage. There's really nothing to scare anyone here, but if its gore you want, Psychos in Love has it in buckets. That's more of a selling-point for some people than you might expect.

You can see the (not very good) trailer here, and Amazon has it to stream or purchase on DVD. This is a newer DVD than the one I bought in 2005, and apparently has highlights from the play. I'm jealous.

Oh, and I'm sorry, I don't know what a pan-dimensional holographic wafer-cloud is, but it sounds futuristic. Flash drives'll probably be obsolete pretty soon, and I don't want to predict an early death.

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31 Days of Halloween: Psychos in Love - Garmonbozia for the soul.

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