Sunday, October 8, 2023

Psychotronic Man, The (1979)

... aka: Bomberman
... aka: El hombre psicotrónico
... aka: Revenge of the Psychotronic Man

Directed by:
Jack M. Sell

I'll be saying some not-so-nice things later on in this review, but let's first bask in the glory that is the opening ten minutes. After our protagonist closes down his barber shop for the night and sucks down a few swigs of whiskey, he takes a long, leisurely drive home through the country listening to terrible twangy music and continuing to down booze. First of all, he's escaping the hustle and bustle of the city (Chicago) for a more serene, slower-paced rural area. Second, this sequence is unnecessarily filmed in the most elaborate fashion imaginable. There are shots taken from inside another car looking back at the man as he drives, low angle shots as he whips through strategically-placed piles of fallen leaves on the back roads and even helicopter shots from high above trailing the man as he goes, giving us scenic shots of the natural surroundings. It's as if you can see every dream and aspiration these filmmakers had for their little film laid out right before you on the screen. They're actually - gasp! - trying to make a movie proper.

That's followed by some nice opening credits with shots panning around a forest looking up at ominous trees and then a borderline surreal sequence where the man pulls his car over to the side of the road to sleep, awakens later to find himself caught in a blanket of fog, tries to exit the car and then suddenly realizes his car is floating way up in the sky! Surprisingly, this sequence is also fairly well executed and atmospheric, with some neat little lighting effects and the image sometimes curiously turning green and then back to normal again.

After actually engaging us right away, the filmmakers then have to go and ruin everything by failing to come up with a compelling, engaging plot and asking its cast of amateurs to actually, ya know, act. The biggest issue here though is that once the premise is established, this doesn't do a single interesting with it and proceeds to spend most of its time treading water to pad out its extremely thin story.

Rocky Fosco (Peter Spelson), the pompadour-and-pork-chop-sideburn'd barber with a predilection for drowning his sorrows in liquor, hasn't been himself lately. He's been passing out a lot and having vivid and terrifying nightmares, always accompanied by awful headaches. His miserable, naggy wife (Lindsey Novak) is getting fed up with his unpredictable behavior and absence from their home, and she'd no doubt be even more pissed if she knew her hubby was carrying on a secret affair with perky beautician-next-door, Kathy (Robin Newton). Rocky goes to see Dr. Steinberg (Paul Marvel), who runs some tests / brain scans and then gives a professional prognosis: "You've gotta lay off the booze!" Alas, drinking too much is the least of his current problems.

Rocky has developed strong telepathic abilities he doesn't have a handle on. Whenever he's having one of his episodes, he has no control over how his powers are used or who they're used on. As for his car levitating, that actually wasn't a dream. He really did make his car float. Anyone who crosses his path is in jeopardy but especially those who anger or cross him. He happens upon an old-timer who invites him into his home for coffee, but the man ends up dead after their encounter. A police investigation, led by Lt. Walter O'Brien (Christopher Carbis) and Sgt. Chuck Jackson (Curt Colbert), is soon underway. After Dr. Steinberg, who tries to rat Rocky out to the cops, is thrown out a window to his death, the officers find paperwork that implicates Rocky and then the chase is on...

The manhunt portion of this film takes up the entire final half hour. There's an unexciting nighttime car chase through Chicago that lasts almost ten minutes, which at least has some cool camera angles and lighting I guess, followed by a lengthy foot chase through the city where the cops indiscriminately open fire at the fleeing suspect while a bunch pedestrians are walking around! We then get a little cat-and-mouse as Rocky is chased into a large building followed by a standoff with SWAT team snipers. A mysterious "S.I.A. Agent" (ADR victim Corney Morgan) shows up at the eleventh hour trying to plead for Rocky's life since he possesses "psychotronic" powers that could be of use to our military. How they even know about him, his powers or that he's even at this particular location in the middle of the night, is quite the mystery.

While the script is a dud (there's not even enough material here for a half hour TV episode) and there's endless padding (including a visit to the "Oyster Bar" where people dance around as a funk band plays), the director provides a surprising amount of visual interest. There's highly varied camerawork and surprisingly good shot framing at times but it's not enough to make up for the multiple other areas where the film fails miserably. Still, this does have a legacy of sorts, though not because of the film itself. Michael J. Weldon ran with the "Psychotronic" moniker for his line of magazines and books, which introduced many in the 80s, 90s and 2000s to the joys of lesser-known, lower budgeted films. A British punk band (Revenge of the Psychotronic Man) also took its name from the title.

The lead actor apparently had enough money to sink into a couple of films, with aspirations of becoming a successful actor, but was unable to get anything worthwhile off the ground. His first effort, the suspense-thriller Main Street Eagle (1976), which he financed as a vehicle for himself, vanished immediately after its theatrical premiere and hasn't been seen since. Psychotronic Man, which he also co-wrote and produced for his fledgling namesake production company, Spelson Productions Inc., had a bigger budget (175k) and fared a little better as it was at least distributed in theaters and on home video, but the reviews were dreadful. He'd turn up one last time in a supporting role in the filmed-in-Wisconsin Blood Beat (1983), which features a farm family dealing with an evil Japanese samurai spirit (in Wisconsin?!), and that was it for his film career.

The director also receives credit for co-writing the script, cinematography, camera operator, music composer, music conductor, editor and actor (he has a small role as a TV news director). He'd go on to make a couple more films (neither of them good) for the home video market. First, there was the cheap, tasteless sketch comedy Outtakes (1987), which "parodies" tampons, pubic hair, porno mags, women gushing blood during their periods, phone sex, hemorrhoids, puking, farting and other charming stuff. And then came the possibly even worse spy spoof Deadly Spygames (1989), which he also starred in and somehow managed to convince Troy Donahue and Tippi Hedren to appear in.

Conflicting years are given for the film's release date. Though the copyright date is 1979, IMDb claims this debuted at WorldFest Houston in April of that same year, which means they would have somehow had to book the film just a month or two after completion. This is also listed as having played at the now-defunct Paris International Fantastic Film Festival in November 1979; a claim I have also been unable to verify. What we do know for sure is that this entered general release in Chicago on April 23, 1980 and was downgraded to the Southern drive-in circuit shortly thereafter.

There were VHS releases in the U.S. (Unicorn Video), UK (Trailblazer Video), Spain (Lumiere Video) and West Germany (Karo Video), as well as DVD releases in the UK (Dancebuy Limited), and the U.S., from Frolic Pictures, who paired it with the Italian Robocop / Terminator rip-off Cy Warrior (1989). This is also available with Rifftrax "comic" commentary.

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