Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Psychotronic Man (1975? 1980?)

One day, Chicago barber Rocky Foscoe (Peter Spelson, also co-writer and producer of this awe-inspiring epic) - owner of a porn moustache and the most awesome, possibly sentient hair - "takes the long road home" from work, that is, drives in real-time through the countryside surrounding the city while horrible country rock plays on the radio. When Rocky finally gets tired, he falls asleep by the side of the road only to awaken by night in a levitating car. What happens next, the audience never learns, for the magically-haired one finds himself back in his bed and assumes the weirdness must have been just a dream.

But something truly must have happened to Rocky while he was out. He has awful headaches and begins to kill with newly developed psychic, nay, psychotronic(!) powers of staring grumpily while dramatic music plays. Soon enough, the police notices Rocky's escapades (or perhaps his hair). But will the powers of the notoriously effective Chicago law enforcement be enough to stand against our hero's psychotronic stare?

There weren't many films made in Chicago during the heyday of regional filmmaking in the US, supposedly because the city's mayor had it in for the well-known negative influences of the cinema on the populace everywhere. How true that story is, I don't know. What I do know is that The Psychotronic Man is a valiant effort by director (and co-writer and cinematographer) Jack M. Sell and his buddy Peter Spelson to put the city on the cinematic map, stuffy filming permits be damned. It's also the film whose title inspired Michael Weldon to use the adjective "psychotronic" in the title of his pioneering magazines and books about everything that's right and proper in cinema.

The film itself is not quite as exciting as that makes it sound, though, and certainly nothing I'd recommend to beginners or mere dabblers in the psychotronic or regional filmmaking arena. There are just too many scenes without pay-off to slog through for a semi-sane viewer. Additionally, there's the terrifying amount of the film's running time spent on the always boring cop scenes its type of movie just can't (or won't escape) and on Rocky driving around, to cope with, lending the film a stately pace quite unfitting its contents. Because the film doesn't exactly work hard to distract from it, it's also difficult to ignore the fact that there's not much happening in it at all, or that the more exciting things that do happen - like most of the murders - tend to do so off-screen.

Of course, these problems, as well as everybody's stiff and stilted line deliveries, are about what I expect of a movie of The Psychotronic Man's pedigree, and nothing anyone more than superficially interested in cult movies of the more painful kind won't have lived through in dozens of other films to get at their delights. And delights are hidden in Sell's and Spelson's film, too. There is, for one, Spelson's performance, mostly consisting of strained mumbling and impressively overdone stares, only supported by whatever it is that's living on his head. In fact, it's not difficult to to watch this thing and imagine a slightly different plot - something about an alien life form disguising itself as hair and living on Spelson's head.

Also somewhat awesome is the homemade waka-waka funk part of the film's soundtrack that kept reminding me of the soundtrack to Disco Dancer for some frightening reason; in any case, I'd buy the mp3.

I also have a lot of respect for the amount of local colour in the film. It casually shows parts of Chicago no tourist would ever search out, probably emphasizing those parts of the city the filmmakers knew first hand and knew they could use for guerrilla style shooting sessions. For their efforts, Sell and Spelson (and their audience) were rewarded with a sense of place Hollywood films spent millions on to emulate.

And then there's the only theoretically exciting thing actually happening on screen: a big, overlong, and very very slow car chase through the dark streets of Chicago (with a short break for a moment of levitating car that's taken in absurd stride by the cops witnessing it) that goes on and on and on and on in an obvious attempt to pad out the running time/pay homage to the French Connection films (please cross out the inappropriate explanation), and only stops with an exploding car that is only there to ease the audience into a big, overlong foot chase. It's horrible, it's boring, it's beautiful, and it sure ain't good for the brain, which, now that I think about it, is an apt description of the whole Psychotronic Man experience.


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