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Psycho Girls

1986, Starring John Haslett Cuff, Darlene Mignacco, Agi Gallus, Rose Graham. Directed by Jerry Ciccoritti.

Jerry Ciccoritti's early straight-to-video films offer up non-stop violence, nudity and gore, however no one can accuse him of being derivative or brainless. In recent years, the director received positive attention for his made-for-CBC Trudeau biography film, but lest we forget where he got his start, Ciccoritti's very first effort was a tongue-in-cheek horror film called Psycho Girls. Made for $15,000 in just nine days, Psycho Girls was banned in England and a subsequent MGM video release was heavily cut. Despite this, the rarely seen unedited version has a strong European following.

Richard Foster is the principal character and narrator of this film, a pulp detective writer banging out a strange experience on the typewriter for his new book. Like so many of these films, he starts with a scene from the long past. It's 1966, and a young girl named Sarah decides to make her parents breakfast in bed on their anniversary. It's all very Leave it to Beaver, until Sarah asks her parents if they will come back and tell her what God looks like after they die. Of course they will, they tell her, seconds before keeling over. As the camera lingers on a bottle of poison in the kitchen, Sarah asks "So, what does he look like?"

Then it's the present, and Sarah is now a permanent resident of the Lakeview Asylum for Mental Disease. Sarah's sister Victoria has taken over as her legal guardian, and wants to keep her there because of the horrible crime she committed 20 years ago. Coincidently, Victoria also happens to work as a chef for Richard and his wife, who also happen to be celebrating their anniversary with a dinner party that night.

Predictably, Sarah escapes, kills her impotent psychiatrist and starts calling Victoria, saying that they will be united soon. When Victoria reluctantly agrees to meet her, she gets a stab wound for her trouble. Sarah takes her sister's place as the Foster's chef, making steak tartar for the Fosters and their friends. Sarah isn't quite the gourmet cook that Victoria was, and when she serves her version of the raw hunk of meat, it's obvious something isn't quite right. Back in the kitchen, Sarah quickly cleans up her mess, including what's left of Victoria's ear. To make this all the more poignant, Richard and one of his guests, who is a psychiatrist, are discussing the chemistry of the brain as they shovel large forkfuls in their hungry mouths.

You know you're having trouble finding decent help when the servant serves brains for dinner, but to make matters worse, Sarah has drugged the meal as well. They all awaken in the condemned Lakeview Asylum for Mental Disease where we meet two other mental patients who apparently live in the building. One is an effeminate over-actor, while the other is a smart, wild-haired young man. Sarah informs them that they have guests, and proceeds to put on flamboyant makeup for "the show." In the basement of the asylum, the audience is made up of the Fosters and their friends, tied in chairs. They are made to watch as the three mental patients perform odd rituals before a poster of Freud. Then, one by one, they sickeningly kill the Foster's guests. One woman is electrocuted in a bathtub, one is sliced up with a straight razor as the over-actor gives him a "shave," and yet another woman has her toenails pulled out.

Finally, during a break in the evening, Richard manages to free himself and picks up a gun before the others react. He helps his wife free, and together they kill their captors. As, they run through the asylum, looking for a way out, Richard's wife gets more and more hysterical, and thinks that Richard is chasing her. And then, just when you think it's all over, all three(!) previously dead villains return for another round of fisticuffs with Richard. And, what started off as a promising premise similar to Oliver Stone's Seizure gets real confusing real fast. The film concludes with a mildly satisfying trick ending that probably would have worked better if Richard wasn't the narrator.

For the most part, Psycho Girls is well written (especially the dialogue), well shot, and horrific. Sure it's all set up for the torture sequence in the middle, but it gets there with intelligence and wit. But after the gruesome scenes, the film doesn't know what to do with itself it resorts back into familiar genre cliches. Still, how many horror films would use a sheet in the typewriter to set up what time the next scene takes place, or would let you play along with an entertaining game of guessing quotes from films? Make no mistake, Psycho Girls is definitely not your average horror film.

Despite it's pretenses, there's lots of weird unexplained things going on in this film. Who are Sarah's sadistic friends? Why do they all live in the condemned mental institution? Is it really possible to confuse brains and steak? Why do they order pizza in the middle of killing everyone?

Actually, I know the answer to that last one--it's so that Jerry Ciccoritti can make a cameo as the sleazy delivery boy! If you can manage to find this obscure video, and don't mind a little stomach-turning torture in your films, then Psycho Girls just might be worth a spin in your VCR.

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