Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Census Flashback: Kicking Ass... Together!

On our Fright Flashback/Census Bloodbath crossover, every week this summer we'll be exploring an 80's slasher film that is in some way a spiritual precursor to the weekend's upcoming blockbuster.

In anticipation of Ant-Man and the Wasp, which is about two romantic partners being superheroes together, I'll be reviewing Psychos in Love, which is about a married couple who just so happen to both be mad slashers.

Year: 1987
Director: Gorman Bechard
Cast: Carmine Capobianco, Debi Thibeault, Cecelia Wilde
Run Time: 1 hour 28 minutes
MPAA Rating: UR

That awesome poster may cry "too gory for the silver screen," but we should know by now not to trust slasher marketing. This is a direct-to-video project through and through, and DTV slashers are a real risk to one's sanity. Shot by amateurs on budgets that would barely cover a studio craft services table, DTV (especially SOV - ones that are shot on video, which I'm fairly certain this one is) 80's slashers are direct mainlines to the purest (usually worst) instincts of unprofessional filmmakers. Psychos in Love is quite proudly the very same, but the filmmaker in question has such an unusual and twisted imagination that it's actually a pretty fascinating experiment. Let's dive in!

It's time to really get into the meat of the movie.

Psychos in Love is a lightly mockumentary-style film, frequently cutting to confessional interviews with its two leads from an indistinct point in the future, those leads being Joe (Carmine Capobianco) - the owner of a strip club (or, at least, a bar with one stripper) - and Kate (Debi Thibeault) - a manicurist. They meet and fall in love over their common hobby - being homicidal maniacs. Their relationship plays out over the course of many, many, many killings, until they eventually face off against a third killer who we see in occasional snippets - a plumber named Herman (Frank Stewart) who murders his customers.

It's very bad for word of mouth.

Psychos in Love explicitly positions itself as a comedy first and foremost, which is a terrific decision because it is a very bad horror film. Just like last week's slasher La muerte del chacal, whose main character was a cop, the leads here are not actually in the potential body count (in this case because they're the killers themselves), preventing you from ever spending time with or identifying with their victims. This obliterates the tension, as does the endlessly repetitive series of drearily similar, mostly offscreen and bloodless slashing scenes that come shooting down the pike like chocolates on I Love Lucy's conveyor belt.

But as a comedy, it... Well, I wouldn't say "excels," but I honestly don't know what I'd say. The repetitive plot that wanders in circles across the screen like it's lost in the woods does a lot to deflate all the energy, be it horror or comedy. But the humor has a unique spark that you can't look away from. In between the killing bits are bizarre vignettes that are totally unpredictable. Sometimes they're Abbot & Costello routines with a deaf pastor or a French waiter, sometimes it's gross-out cannibal humor (in the random interludes starring Herman), sometimes it's minutes-long monologues about grapes, sometimes it's a live action cartoon that literally includes a pie-in-the-face scene, and every time it's something completely out of left field. I can't tell if it's idiotic or genius, but it's certainly captivating.

And some of it is actually laugh-out-loud funny. I giggled during a gag about spiking a drink with poison that turns into an over-the-top extended sequence straight out of Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, and during quite a few of the more well-written lines that sneak in. But the thing that makes it most fascinating as a scrap of weirdo outsider humor is just how meta everything gets. There's already the mockumentay angle, but there are occasional moments where the film crew becomes active participants in the goings-on, and one moment where Joe hums along with the film's score that sorta blew my mind. I haven't seen a movie since Swiss Army Man where the musical score is so effortlessly, bizarre integrated with the actual events of the film. That takes a lot of forethought for such a throwaway joke, and it's not the only time this sort of thing happens. Sometimes, characters will seem to step out of their skins and interact directly with the script or the frame in a brain-melting, astonishing way. It shows that writer-director Gorman Bechard is a true junk-auteur and not just a money-grubbing weirdo.

Well, maybe both.

Unfortunately, there's still a lot that prevents me from wholeheartedly singing this film's praises. For one thing, good comedy needs good actors, and Carmine Capobianco's unhinged performance has a kind of anti-charisma that leaves you tasting flop sweat for hours. Debi Thibeault picks up some of the slack with a reasonably lived-in, chemistry-forcing performance, but Capobianco's terrible timing doesn't help matters one bit. Though I guess it does prove that the script is strong, because most of these scenes do tend to still be funny in spite of him. I can't say I expected good performances from my DTV slasher, but anything could happen in a film as weird and unpredictable as Psychos in Love.

Its other flaws stem from that exact same place. I've already commented on just how dull of a slog the actual kills are (especially since they're all hung on the weak-ass comic hook of how lightly ironic it is that this happy couple are also violent killers), but most scenes have aimless blocking that see the participants sort of hovering onscreen waiting for something to happen. And there's a near-rape scene that suddenly converts Kate into a victim for two grueling minutes that have no business in a film that's attempting to be a frothy, pitch-black romp.

I really don't think I can recommend Psychos in Love to anybody but the most committed patrons of weird horror, but I count myself among that number and will probably revisit it from time to time just to take a break from the rigors of reality and enter a universe that's this thoroughly, delightfully off-kilter.

Killer: Joe (Carmine Capobianco) and Kate (Debi Thibeault) and sometimes Herman (Frank Stewart)
Final Girl: N/A
Best Kill: The only decent gore effect is probably the dude getting stabbed in the eye with cuticle scissors.
Sign of the Times: Joe compliments Kate on her "small ass." Maybe this is just a gay thing, but I feel like the ideal body type - while still totally whack - has moved a bit past that particular trait.
Scariest Moment: Anytime Herman comes onscreen, you know stuff is about to get gross.
Weirdest Moment: After announcing "time for a strange interlude" in the middle of a scene, Joe launches into a non sequitur monologue about grapes and Julie Andrews.
Champion Dialogue: "Baby, you look hotter than the weather!"
Body Count: 19; 11 by Joe, 5 by Kate, and 2 by Herman
  1. Pee Girl is hung in a bathroom stall.
  2. Woods Girl is garroted, the wire twisted with a stick like Friday the 13th Part V.
  3. Topless Girl has her throat slit.
  4. Diane is stabbed in the shower.
  5. Leisure Suit Dude is shot in the head with a shotgun.
  6. Picnic Guy is stabbed in the gut.
  7. Manicure Man has his throat slit with a cuticle knife.
  8. Sauna Lady drinks poison.
  9. Manicure Man #2 is chainsawed.
  10. Groupie Girl is stabbed.
  11. Cathy is hit in the head with a wrench.
  12. Mechanic is bludgeoned in the head with a rock.
  13. Redneck is shot.
  14. Susan is stabbed.
  15. Rasputin Stripper is shot, stabbed, has her throat slit, and is chopped into tiny pieces.
  16. Hooker is stabbed in the back.
  17. Weatherman is stabbed in the eye with cuticle scissors.
  18. Temptress has a knife embedded in her neck.
  19. Herman is killed in a blackout.
TL;DR: Psychos in Love is surprisingly funny, but its lack of focus is damning.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1324

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