The TV critics are currently raving about the new Mamma Mia! movie at the present but I don’t ‘do’ those sorts of films and couldn’t be less interested if I had a gun held against my head. Most of the time, I don’t even do regular box office hit movies but I DO enjoy niche B-Movies so to get away from the mainstream media’s insistence on shoving Abba songs down my throat, I decided last night to watch Psycho Cop, a 1989 horror/slasher film that I’d not previously viewed.
Now I wasn’t around in the 1980’s (I just missed out being born in ’90) but I can imagine that a film like Psycho Cop must have felt outdated even then, at the end of the decade when it was released. All of the slasher cliches are correct and present from cars refusing to start to false jump scares and the most stupid assemblage of victims that must wander off alone to investigate strange sounds. As a fan of these sorts of movies, I expect all of that (it’s part of the charm after all) but Psycho Cop fails to deliver even a competent, braindead slasher flick for several reasons.
The plot is as basic as you like and follows a group of six teenagers heading to secluded woodland and a luxurious house that they’ve scored for the weekend thanks to two of the characters (Zack and Eric) having unlikely success with some stocks. I say “unlikely” because when I saw how stupid these characters turned out to be, I had to wonder how they’d even heard of the stock market. Anyway, a rogue satan-worshipping cop named Vickers (played by Robert R. Shafer) has decided to follow the kiddies to their weekend getaway with the not-so-subtle intention of observing and then murdering this particular movie’s axe/knife/bludgeon fodder. The only other main character is the house’s unnamed caretaker who bites the dust first after making the silly mistake of heading into the woods alone in pursuit of his stolen axe. With that sort of decision-making, he kind of deserves his fate, wouldn’t you say?
The main problem with Psycho Cop isn’t the bare-bones plot itself but the lifeless, wooden feel to the movie. The characters are all one-dimensional and spend the entire time going around in circles. Doug and Laura won’t shut up about the caretaker and his sudden disappearance while the others weary of what they perceive to be their friends’ paranoia over nothing. Zack is a stereotypical beer-slugging cool kid with a cool haircut but no brains, Julie is the high-maintenance, stroppy blonde obsessed with her hairbrush and Eric is her beer-swigging boyfriend who just wants to get her into the woods alone. They spend the majority of the film arguing about whether something is actually going on around them or not, the group finding relief in what they believe are misunderstandings or Laura/Doug’s paranoia after investigating a noise or personal possession going missing. The cycle repeats itself several times before any of the core six characters actually die at Vickers’ hands.
There are also FOUR separate occasions where one of the charaters has misplaced something and elects to go off alone to find it. The most far-fetched of these is possibly Julie going into the woods to look for her hairbrush which she couldn’t possibly have dropped in amongst the trees when she’d clearly not moved from pool up until that point. Then there’s Eric scouring the patio outside in the dark…for a toothbrush. It certainly felt like the film’s scripters were clutching at teeny-tiny straws when it came to writing feasible reasons for the characters to end up alone in places where Vickers might be able to get at them.
The acting is pretty poor too and makes Psycho Cop even more difficult to watch when the characters have no real personality and are impossible to invest in. The only cast members who appear to have gone on to bigger and better things are Cindy Guyer (Julie) and Robert R. Shafer himself, both of which had subsquent movie and TV appearances with Cindy Guyer finding further fame as a cover model for hundreds of romance novels.
All of this might have been forgiveable if the horror and action was up to par because let’s face it, a LOT of horror films have vacuous plots and questionable acting. Sadly, this is another major area in which Psycho Cop manages to disappoint. It takes far too long for Vickers to begin picking the group off and by the time the killing did start, I was bored of all the false scares and glimpses of Vickers’ hand or foot as he hid out of sight. The film is also surprisingly tame with a little gore and some brutal kills but nothing outrageous or particularly graphic compared to the likes of Nightmare on Elm Street for example. Swearing is at a minimum and there’s no nudity or sexy stuff to speak of which is also odd for an 80’s slasher film so if you’re looking for redemption in the form of boobs then prepare to be disappointed.
The star of the show and one redeeming factor is Robert R. Shafer’s titular cop himself. Robotic and sporting a wide-eyed, manic expression of glee when cornering a victim, he comes out with some awesome one-liners which are fantastic in their awfulness. He adds some much needed humour and a little presence to an otherwise extremely flat film. I’m not sure that Psycho Cop is worth watching for Shafer alone but the character of Vickers’ is entertaining nonetheless. It’s just a shame that the movie takes ages to get going and that Vickers has so little screen time next to a group of dumb teens who are not enjoyable to watch.
To conclude, I could only recommend Psycho Cop to a hardcore B-Movie fan who would watch anything within the genre, no matter how trashy or low budget. For everybody with not so wide-encompassing tolerances, I’d say don’t bother. There are no shortage of superior alternatives that were produced either side of 1989 and I’d include even the very worst and most far-fetched of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th sequels (you know the ones) in that. Still preferable to Mamma Mia! though…