Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tribeca ’09: Hysterical Psycho

There is nothing worse than a bad genre send-up. For instance, there is manga spoof out there so unwatchable, its makers should be deported to an arctic prison-camp. Fortunately, Dan Fogler’s Hysterical Psycho (trailer here) is nothing like that. While not exactly Noel Coward, Psycho has enough splattering blood and affectionate giggles to amuse slasher fans during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival’s Midnight programming.

Clearly intended in part as an idiosyncratic tribute to Alfred Hitchcock, Hysterical begins with a very cool animated framing device, featuring a Hitch-like Man in the Moon. Then a deliberately grainy color prologue follows, suggesting the garish looking 1970’s monstrosities Mystery Science Theater used to skewer with regularity, before settling into the primary storyline, shot in glorious black and white.

The premise is simple—it is a slasher film, after all. A theater group packs up an RV and heads to the Moonlake Inn resort for some sort of team-building retreat. Needless to say, it does not happen. There is an evil influence in those woods, and before you know it, the bodies start piling up. Ironically, the ostensive psycho killer plot in Hysterical might actually be bettter developed than most of the films it satirizes. Audiences might also recognize Gilbert Gottfried in a mercifully brief cameo and Nicholas DeCegli, a mainstay of Abel Ferrara’s films during the 1990’s, appropriately cast as mob hitman who dumps his victims in the evil Moonlake.

There is plenty of blood spilled with joyful abandon and Fogler’s screenplay has a foul-mouthed Evil Dead attitude that is pretty funny at times. While Hysterical is most definitely hipper than the cookie-cutter “Blank Movie” spoofs Hollywood insists on churning out, viewers should be warned most of its humor derives from how outrageously over-the-top it is willing to go. Audiences who do not object to a little dismemberment and a groaner sight gag or two, should be perfectly comfortable in Hysterical. Just be warned.

Hysterical is the considered product of a Tony Award winner. In 2005 Fogler carried home the honor as Best Featured Actor in a Musical for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Frankly, he proves to be a better director than Hysterical requires, perfectly capturing the right crudely stylish Night of the Living Dead vibe. If not truly hysterical, it is at least chuckle worthy, in a darkly comic way. It screens again at Tribeca tonight, and May 1st and 2nd.