I grew up in the Chicagoland area, so I’ve always had a certain curiosity about movies filmed in and around the windy city. In the mid 80’s there were tons of films being made there. Heck, the John Hughes stuff alone was enough to make you think that the mecca of the teenage world in the 80’s was Chicago. Just a few years before those films, though, there wasn’t a lot of film production going on in the city. Our film today, though, was a small independent movie made in Chicago, and without permits. It’s a film that never got much of a release, but eventually lent its name to the well-known Psychotronic Film Society. Get ready for 1980’s The Psychotronic Man.
The film centers on a barber named Rocky Foscoe (Peter Spelson who also wrote and produced the film). One night he leaves his shop and takes a drive out into a more rural area While he naps by the side of the road, he has a dream of his car floating in mid-air. He wakes up later at home, feeling a bit like he’s having a hangover. Rocky relates this strange story to his doctor, but he can’t figure out what’s going on. A few days later, Rocky returns to the spot on the road and encounters and old man who tells him that strange things have been happening there lately. While talking to the man, Rocky has some sort of attack. Next thing we know, the old geezer is dead, embedded into the wall.
A short time later, the old man is discovered and the cops are now on the case. Meanwhile, as the news gets out, the doctor begins to suspect that Rocky may be behind the murder, since this happened on the same stretch or road Rocky told him about earlier. When Rocky visits later, the doctor ends up a bloody mess on the pavement beneath his office. It seems that Rocky has somehow developed “psychotronic” powers which he can’t control. As the number of victims gradually increases, the cops start to close in, resulting in a wild chase across the city.
The Psychotronic Man is cheaply made, no question, but it has a real style to it that I found irresistible. There were two individuals who were clearly the driving forces behind this film, there names are all over the credits multiple times…Jack M Sell who directed, edited, and was DP, and star/writer/producer Peter Spelson. I gotta give these two guys a lot of credit. We’re not just talking about two yahoos with a camera here. There is some real creativity behind what they are doing here. The camera work especially features a number of examples of unique angles and framing. Given that the story itself is a bit thin, the amount of visual storytelling added to the mix really enhances the final film.
As for Spelson the actor, he does an admirable job in the lead role. He’s not the greatest actor ever, but there is something very genuine about him. He’s supposed to be an average, hard-working guy thrown into a horrific situation he doesn’t understand and can’t control…and Spelson embodies that with very little effort. Plus, being a native of the Chicago area, myself, he looks and sounds like many many people I encountered during my childhood years in that city, right at the time this movie would’ve been made.
The final third of the film is almost entirely devoted to a big police chase and the final showdown between the cops and Rocky. I suppose it is valid to say that the sequence maybe goes on a bit too long, and yet I still found it very entertaining. The sequence moves at a good pace and is well-edited. It was maybe made even more interesting given the knowledge that the sequence was all filmed without permits. The cop cars are all fake, and yet are zooming down the road with lights flashing and sirens wailing. Regular folks out for a drive were pulling over and getting out of the way, not knowing that it was just a movie and not a legit emergency. There are a few moments where the cars are careening through intersections at high speed…again, without permits having been filed or streets having been closed. A part of me says, “man that was really unsafe,” while another part of me admires the tenacity of these filmmakers.
The Psychotronic Man is lacking a bit when it comes to scares. While it has a few horror moments, it’s probably more of a thriller with a slight horror element. Still, I found myself getting quite caught up in this intriguing little pet project. It may not be the slickest film ever made, but it has a lot more creativity and passion behind it than many bigger budget movies.