- Greaser’s Palace (1972)
- The Collingswood Story (2002)
- After Last Season (2009)
- Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
- Act of Violence upon a Young Journalist (1988)
- Series 7: The Contenders (2001)
What is Psychotronic Cinema?
Today, CineFiles is inaugurating a new series. To do so, we must first define a term or two. This series reviews films which could be defined (or have previously been defined) as “psychotronic.” This website has always held an appreciation for genre film — covering genre film festivals like Fantasia Festival and Fantastic Fest are a highlight of the calendar year here. Beyond that and new releases, though, there has been little coverage of anything bordering on the psychotronic. Which is a shame, because that’s the fun stuff.
Before we get to all that, we should do our best to lock down what psychotronic means. [Hint: it is not a synonym for parapsychology or a conspiracy theory regarding microwave mind control, although both would make pretty decent content for a psychotronic film].
In 1980, Michael J. Weldon began Psychotronic Magazine as an “alternate guide to movies on local TV stations.” Weldon’s years of paying attention to B-movies and genre pictures on television and writing about them in a weekly xeroxed zine culminated in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia (1983) and The Psychotronic Video Guide (1996), the latter being a massive record of over 3,000 titles that fit under the broad umbrella that is “psychotronic.”
What is under this umbrella? Well, many things. For my purposes, it encompasses perhaps too many things. I spent a long time mulling over the right descriptor to give the films I want to cover in this series.
I started with “cult,” but the cult movie is nebulously defined and ultimately relies on something that is not particularly important to what my project is here. I don’t necessarily want to focus on films with a cult audience; I am interested in those odd-ball movies or strange low-budget gems that one stumbles upon by happenstance. This could be a cult film, or it may be something entirely obscure.
Nowadays, people can more easily seek out these strange pictures – I do it frequently. But Weldon’s principle idea is closer to what I am looking for than what “cult film” encompasses. Perhaps it is a nostalgic concept these days, but the idea of seeing some badfilm or unsuccessful B-movie on late night television has that sense of discovery which I feel is crucial to this genre (genre is not quite the right term for it, but it will suffice for now).
Psychotronic cinema is weird and unexpected, and the discovery definitely factors into the joy. Sometimes, the discovery is more exciting than the films themselves (many of which are not very good in their own right). As I mentioned, Weldon defines psychotronic very broadly. His Video Guide includes titles as diverse as Oliver Stone’s hit political epic JFK, Godfrey Reggio’s acclaimed experimental film Koyaanisqatsi, and low-budget regional horror films like Blood Harvest. So psychotronic is not merely small horror and sci-fi pictures which resurface on television or home video (although these are all included, as well).
Few people would think to conflate the “lowbrow” offerings of AIP and Full Moon Pictures with “big” movies from the likes of Universal and Warner Bros., but Psychotronic Magazine and other catalogs like it freely co-mingled films of various budgets, genres, countries of origin, and taste profiles. Taste is no object in the psychotronic world—this is the key element of the psychotronic ethos.
The films in this series are psychotronic cinema. They cover the wide swath of cinema that is either slightly out there or entirely bonkers – horror, science fiction, fantasy, exploitation, blockbusters, flops, low budgets, no budgets, thought-provoking, brain dead, beautiful, grotesque, bloody, breezy, sleazy, and so on. At the end of the day, what is considered “psychotronic” might come down to the eye test – you know one when it crosses your path.
Some titles in this series were catalogued in The Psychotronic Video Guide. Others have been released in the intervening years, and their inclusion requires my personal eye test. Am I qualified to make such determinations? Maybe, maybe not. Categorization is arbitrary.
— January 29, 2023