As someone in their early 30s, I have many vivid memories of the bizarre world of 80s/90s kids tv shows. Although I was predominantly a Nickelodeon addict who compulsively watched the likes of Rugrats, Are You Afraid Of The Dark, Doug and Aaahh!! Real Monsters, I still allocated generous time for stuff like Thundercats and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (never actually got around to Transformers, much to my shame). The latter show and its 1995 feature-length spin-off used to freak the shit out of me with its creature design, and I have a bit of fun revisiting portions of it now and again (the theme tune is an iconic example of age as an inextricable factor in something being ‘badass’ or ‘absurdly hilarious’). It does sometimes feel shitty not being a kid anymore but, from what I gather, the tykes nowadays don’t appear to be spoiled rotten with the kind of batshit and borderline-inappropriate animated and live-action series that my peers and I were blessed with.
Psycho Goreman, the latest feature from Canadian trash maestro Steven Kostanksi, is essentially a splatter-porn parody of that very same Saturday morning kid’s action aesthetic. Chock full of ridiculous gore and a general vein of absurdist humour, it’s a film that never takes itself seriously and where the gags land more often than not, although it does have a few snags that threaten to derail it.
Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) is a young girl aged around 9 or 10, and to say that she’s got a bit of a little princess complex is a gargantuan understatement. Armed with a sociopathic sense of superiority and entitlement, Mimi expects absolutely everything to go her way and couldn’t care less what the fallout is, much to the consternation of her perpetually harassed brother Luke (Owen Myre). Extremely mean and bratty, Mimi constantly browbeats Luke into aiding and abetting whatever scheme she comes up with, and the two spend a lot of time playing a convoluted homemade game named ‘Crazy Ball’ (a pastime that involves violence being visited upon the loser, no less) in between misadventures.
One night, having been forced to dig a large hole in their back yard by Mimi as a penalty for losing a game, Luke spots a glowing purple gem that his imperious sister promptly insists on taking for herself. Discovering that the hole is much larger and adorned with claw marks the next day, the siblings follow a trail to an abandoned building on the edge of town. It is here that they come face to face with a towering, demon-voiced monstrosity that refers to itself as ‘The Archduke of Nightmares’. An extremely violent alien warlord from the planet Gigax, the creature explains that it has been imprisoned on earth by mortal enemies known as The Templars and that it is its rightful destiny to be released so it may annihilate the universe.
Terrified at first, Mimi is overcome with excitement when the creature reveals that it is one with the purple gem and must therefore obey the commands of whoever possesses it. Rechristening the alien ‘Psycho Goreman’ (or PG), Mimi forces the creature to become her new best friend and indulge in whatever petulant flight-of-fancy she so desires. All the while, an intergalactic council headed by Pandora, a Templar warrior and PG’s arch-nemesis, frantically debate the best course of action to stop PG in its tracks, a decision that could see warring extraterrestrial hordes converge upon our planet and burn it to cinders.
Played by Matthew Ninaber and voiced by Steven Vlahos, the title character is a non-stop fountain of entertainment. With its intentionally hammy design, ludicrous growl and excessively verbose threats and grandiosity, PG could individually become just as franchisable as the likes of The Toxic Avenger (it’s no surprise that Psycho Goreman has also drawn comparisons to Lloyd Kaufman’s Troma pictures). Offering biographical details that seemingly come straight out of the cheapest and most hackneyed sci-fi paperback imaginable, PG is solidly written as a laugh riot, exemplified by scenes such as it pompously bellowing ”The horrors you have just witnessed cannot be unseen. Your young minds will carry this until it consumes you in a miserable death”, to which Mimi, nodding and smiling, replies ”Cool”. Moments like this are great and impeccably handled by both of the actors responsible for bringing PG to life.
If only everything written around the character could have been just as consistently amusing. Far be it from me to shit all over the performance of a little kid, the problem that I have with Hanna’s turn as Mimi is that she’s very good…too good. What begins as kinda cute, kinda funny sass soon devolves into a grating, neverending obnoxiousness, and there’s only so much incessant histrionics that I can tolerate before a picture starts to become insufferable, be the culprit adult or child. I don’t need characters to be nice or likeable people, far from it, but a little nuance, please. Even Patrick Bateman didn’t spend the entirety of American Psycho complaining and hectoring people in the shrillest manner possible. She ultimately became so unpleasant that I stopped caring about her narrative strand, and I dare say that wouldn’t have happened had the characterisation been handled with more genuinely funny moments and balance.
Maybe I’ve got a poor knowledge of my own uptightness, but I also got taken out of the experience multiple times by a plethora of incoherent narrative choices. Mimi and Luke’s parents go from a reasonably happy couple to vehemently at one another’s throats apropos of nothing, and reactions of shock and horror to the presence of PG and its powers are unceremoniously supplanted by a lackadaisical casualness. Yes, I know the film is meant as nothing more than stupid fun, but it still requires something of a continuous pattern that keeps the viewer invested. Big Trouble in Little China is a film that doesn’t take itself seriously, yet it nevertheless remains consistent in terms of its characters’ personalities, motivations and reactions. The film’s absurdist spirit is at its best when the scenery is being chewed by PG and his cohorts, but it sadly fails to come together in every other respect.
The special effects and deranged violence work tenfold as a loving send-up of low-budget exploitation films, and there are kernels here of the wonderfully psychotic humour that delineates many 70s/80s trash horrors as the cult classics they have become. It’s just frustrating that such a great idea and central character is mired in a swamp of patchy writing, tons of humour that is childish as opposed to irreverent, and protagonists who make you feel indifferent. By all means, see it for the schlock and the cracking Ninaber/Vlahos performance, but it could have been so much more.