If you're old enough, you remember the routine. You'd call up your buds, see who had anything "recreational" and/or "pharmaceutical" to share, set up a basement rec room rendezvous, and then head on over to the local Mom & Pop Video Store for the prerequisite VCR viewing. You know the place, something with an obvious name like Video View, or Video Show, or Mr. Movie and rack after rack of current (and occasionally off-title) VHS offerings. In anticipate of a night of "high" spirits, your attention would be drawn to some of the more unusual entertainments, unknown quantities with intriguing names like Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Three on a Meathook, or Psychos in Love. Now, with the advent of DVD, many of our more potent Saturday night party fare have been transferred over to the digital domain. Sadly, without the bong hits, the legitimately low expectations, and the raging adolescent/college brain fever, many of these memorable entertainment experiences just don't hold up. Psychos is no different.
Joe is a bartender at a sleazy strip club. He is also a serial killer. He picks up women, takes them back to his apartment, and then murders them. Desperate for some real affection, he starts looking for real love. He ends up dating Kate. She's a nail tech with her own homicidal hobby. As their relationship blossoms, they become more than just bed partners. They become literal companions in crime. Then Herman the Plumber comes along. He too likes to end the lives of others, but he takes things one step further. He's a cannibal, and hopes that our death-wielding duo can provide him with some extra "meat". Such are the predicaments and pitfalls when you are Psychos in Love.
Imagine Annie Hall meshed with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, except without the former's funny business and the latter's depraved terrors and you have Psychos in Love in a non-entity nutshell. Some will welcome this DVD release as a missing link in their young life aesthetic, a perplexing puzzle piece that explains more about their gullibility 25 years ago than their current sense of cinema. One can easily see how the film would/could/should be embraced. Collaborators Gorman Bechard (co-writer/director) and Carmine Capobianco (star, co-writer) want to take the piss out of the then flailing fright film dynamic, mocking it as much as playing into its prevalent love of all things blood and guts. Some have likened the effort to Scream, and there is a similarity in tone and temperament. While there's none of the polish of said Wes Craven 'classic', there is a similar sort of irreverence, irony, and genre insularity. If you don't know much about the whole '80 direct to video market, much of this movie's charm will be lost on you.
But this is not to say that Psychos in Love holds up today. Indeed, this quasi-comedy is so dated and dull that you occasionally wonder what anyone saw in it in the first place. The performances are halfway decent, with Capobianco proving he could be a saleable schlub in a certain kind of independent comedy. Debi Thibeault, on the other hand, is the kind of Greed Decade redhead that makes Molly Ringwald look like Ushi Digard. Her look may have been alluring and sexy back when Reagan was claiming it was morning in America, but she's all glower and very little glamour. Add in the buck toothed stupidity of Frank Stewart as Herman, some bargain basement splatter, and enough casting couch wannabes in various states of undress to choke Charles Band and you have either a cult classic or a piece of crap. Bechard does try to liven things up with little winks to the viewing audience. We get boom mic interference, fourth wall violations, and various nods to the experience's celluloid reality. Yet none of these obvious homages to schlock turn Psychos into something solid.
Indeed, the biggest problem this movies faces in the year 2009 is the number of homemade horror filmmakers who have stepped in and literally bettered the Psychos conceit many times over. Chris Seaver makes this kind of comedy 20 times a year. The Campbell Brothers also accomplished something similar before they went all serious. A slasher film without humor is now viewed as bucking the categorical trend. Sure, some can point to Psychos in Love and argue that it brought wit and a subversive approach to the scary movie, but there are dozens of similarly styled films that don't get (or like Psychos, deserve) such credit. Instead, this is best viewed as a piece of pre-DVD nostalgia, a reminder that, sometimes, a title sold more than just a movie. It proffered an idea, an imagined vision that, in the end, required you to fill in a few too many blanks. That's perhaps the biggest problem with Psychos in Love, both then and now. For the occasional fright fan, the movie delivered on its fringe funny business. To the uninitiated, it was clever and cool. But to those truly immersed in macabre, it was nothing but one note nastiness - and nothing has really changed. This is still a wholly underwhelming experience.
Presented by Shriek Show in what best can be described as a 1st Generation VHS like transfer, the 1.33:1 full screen image of Psychos in Love is not about to win any awards. The print is soft and loaded with dust and defects. Some might argue that this "warts and all" approach is necessary given the film's cloudy legal legacy, while others can claim the less quality visuals "add" to the viewing experience. Both arguments have their loopholes, but if you are desperate to own a copy of this title, this DVD will probably be good enough. Anyone looking for something closer to reference-quality will be out of luck.
On the sound side of things, we are treated to a flat, tinny Dolby Digital Mono mix that is decent when it comes to dialogue - and that's about it. The musical cues are limited and lifeless and the overall atmosphere is bargain basement and basic.
The best part of this Shriek Show release is the added content - and that includes the movie itself. There are two commentaries, a Making-Of shot during the actual production of the film, a set of alternative opening credits, a collection of extended scenes, a trailer, a photo gallery, and excerpts from a Psychos in Love stageplay. There are also three short films from director Bechard as well as previews for three other of his efforts. The alternate narratives are the best, as they give the director and star/writer Capobianco a chance to explain their intentions. We get lots of funny anecdotes and backstage insights along the way. The behind the scenes footage is engaging, as is the attempt at bringing the material to the (semi) legitimate stage. Finally, the shorts do a delightful job of explaining Bechard as a filmmaker and add a great deal to the overall digital package presented.
Okay, time for truth and resulting critical consequences. This critic didn't like this movie when he first saw it back in the late '80s, and nothing has changed since then. He didn't find it funny, inventive, or scary. Instead, he saw it as a cheap opportunity to exploit the horror genre from some direct to video dough, and again, the sentiment remains. So he would clearly tell you to Skip It and be done with it. Others, however, who have waited endless years for a DVD release will argue with such a conclusion. In their mind, this is a forgotten gem that deserves a Recommended rating. Out of fairness and respect for both sides, the difference will be split and a score of Rent It will be offered. This allows detractors to feel vindicated while keeping all but the most fervently devoted from instantly plunking down the dollars to decide for themselves. Not all memories are capable of being sustained upon the passage of time. Often, they just fade away. Psychos in Love should have disappeared when it had the chance. In the past, it was seen as clever and creative. In light of modern moviemaking, it's now small and insignificant.