Cult oddity collectors will rejoice knowing that Psycho Paul’s Film Festival has found a home on Blu-ray. Seemingly beamed in from another planet, this satire of exploitation horror is hosted by smug director Psycho Paul, who showcases his “cinematic masterpieces.” From the mind of VHS horror icon Paul Van Dan Elzen, this collection of bizarre horror shorts, infomercials, and straight-up DIY weirdness will satisfy anyone seeking some surreal SOV fare. However, Psycho Paul isn’t for the faint of heart, so this disc is For Fans Only.
“I gotta keep you around for the nose job.”
In the early 90s, teenager Paul Van Dan Elzen got his first VHS camcorder and wanted to direct his own horror film. His aim would be to capture the best bits of his favorite exploitation and slasher flicks in a short film format rather than producing a full feature. His character would be an egotistical director named Psycho Paul, who would be a cross between Robert Evans and Fred Olen Ray. His schlocky exploitation garbage would amusingly skew the line between satire and reality. Paul committed to realizing his vision by roping in his mother, Mary, and brother, William, as actors for his bizarre anthology. Psycho Paul was born, and his legacy lived on as an icon of VHS obscurity.
The first sequence in the anthology is Death Must Die, aka Psycho Paul’s Sick of Death, in which brilliant scientist Paula (Mary dressed like Schwarzenegger in The Terminator) wields a weapon capable of destroying Death (Paul in a skeleton mask). Death bargains with the smirking scientist as the large cardboard device is pointed at the camera. Ultimately, the scientist prevails as Death is blown to pieces. The short concludes with an infomercial for the Death Blaster EZ-3000, which will only cost you just under a billion dollars.
Paul returns, still seated in his lounge chair, ready for his introduction to the following short entitled, Psycho Paul’s Evil Ex-Wife Must Die. Again, Mary commits to the bit like a good mom making home movies with her weirdo kid. She stabs the screen with a knife. “No one will be allowed into the theater without their vomit bag!” Paul quickly cuts between the ex-wife with a bloody lip and a knife stabbing some chicken skin. His on-camera mic picks up the tape wheels grinding along with him squishing the ex-wife’s heart. It’s all grossly genius. Moving on.
Previews of Lesser Known Psycho Paul Films introduces us to Paysho Paul’s Alien She-Beast Wants to Have Kids, featuring an alien monster who wants to have “lots of kids.” Mary plays dual roles here also as the She-Beast and the scientist out to destroy it. Oddly, this is Paul’s second short that shows his mother in a sexual relationship with his character. Awkward, to say the least.
Torture Bill, Torture aka Gross Gross Grotesque aka Scream for Bill, stars Paul’s brother William, who is less than enthused to be here. He is clearly unprepared for Paul going off script and improvising some lines, which occurs frequently. This bizarre short allows Paul to indulge in his love affair with makeup appliances. A realistic burned forearm is slashed with a knife, revealing bloody layers of skin peeling off. Naturally, after the highlights of the torture scenes, we get an infomercial for a shirt worn during the gruesome scenes.
The Vomit Master, aka Vomit Demon 2, aka Hell Throws Up, is just Paul vomiting Alka Seltzers into a toilet. He transforms into a demon who vomits more sudsy foam while proclaiming, “Serve the Master!” A priest attempts an exorcism, but it's just William in a white collar, choking back laughter. “Truly a religious experience!” according to a pumped Psycho Paul. As you can tell, he loves creating hilarious alternate titles and infomercials. He narrates them all like a Drive-In teaser trailer. It all plays out like a Zucker Abrams movie for the Joe Bob Briggs crowd.
There is a moment during the short Drug Freak Meets Satan that genuinely speaks to the legacy of Psycho Paul. In the clip, Paul and Wiliam are shirtless in front of a black sheet tacked up in their mother’s living room. As the scene plays out, Paul attempts to tie up his brother after awkwardly removing his t-shirt. They both let out a simultaneous chuckle in the melee of confusion, knowing the bit has been exposed. Psycho Paul is revealed to be another guy hellbent on creating some outrageous stuff in his mom’s house with a cheap VHS camcorder. Paul’s work isn’t exactly groundbreaking fare, but lives within the scope of early SOV oddities that raised the heart rate of anyone looking for the next weird tape to watch.
Decades later, YouTube would be the outlet for such focused silliness and escapism into DIY makeup effects and short film narratives. Paul’s contribution to the legacy of SOV weirdness balances the scales as full-featured efforts were rolling out of production houses like W.A.V.E and Sharkey Video. While Paul’s work doesn’t have the production quality, it has the same ambitions. When William is finally strung up, the black curtain bows in the middle. Paul starts stabbing him with a fake knife while holding in his laughter. If that’s not entertainment, then I don’t know what is anymore.
Vital Disc Stats
Psycho Paul’s Film Festival arrives on Blu-ray thanks to VHShitfest and OCN Distribution. The 50GB Region Free disc is housed in a transparent keepcase with reversible artwork. Loading the disc presents the VHShitfest logo before landing on the Main Menu screen with hilarious scenes from the feature playing adjacent to typical navigation options.
Psycho Paul’s Film Festival is brought to glorious Blu-ray thanks to the weirdoes at VHShitfest and OCN Distribution. Presented in 1.33:1, this AVC-encoded 1080i presentation looks excellent, given the source materials. A disclaimer at the beginning of the features indicates that the film was assembled using badly damaged VHS tapes, which were painstakingly cleaned. Considering the zero-budget homegrown setups, it's no wonder the tapes weren’t in good condition. Colors are discernible, and contrast is high. Black levels are deep, and compression looks good, given that the film takes up less than half the 50GB space on the disc.
There isn’t any fine detail to speak of, though some closeup shots reveal the impressive makeup appliances. Paul’s goopy practical effects are bargain basement DIY but look fantastic when out of focus and covered in a VHS analog patina. A far cry in terms of quality seen from other full-feature SOV titles, Psycho Paul’s Film Festival brings the glory of homemade horror back to life without sacrificing any of the analog grandeur from its heyday.
We get a single DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track in English with subtitles for audio. I encourage anyone willing to sit through this feature to use them, as fidelity is questionable at times. The audio is appreciable, with fairly clear dialogue recorded through the on-camera mics. As expected, you also get the sound of grinding wheels within the VHS camera and a light buzzing sound of the camera operation. Background hiss is noticeable, though it never detracts from the overall presentation or appreciation of the feature.
VHShitfest and OCN Distribution dust off the tapes and load this release with plenty of special features for fans of Psycho Paul. Start with the making-of feature and then move through the various featurettes at your leisure. Beware of the Raw Footage Tapes, as these 2-hour dumps of production footage are a true deep dive.
Psycho Paul’s Film Festival is an utterly bizarre collection of weirdness from the singular mind of one horror fan armed with a camera. Cheap and brimming with gory madness, this insane anthology highlights a key moment in early SOV filmmaking. Given the film's rocky source material, the Blu-ray from VHShitfest and OCN Distribution provides a solid A/V package. Cult oddity collectors will also love digging into the hours of special features on the disc. Psycho Paul isn’t for the faint of heart, making this disc For Fans Only.