There's a certain slobbering, puppy-dog shamelessness to how desperately Psycho Goreman wants to be anointed a new cult favorite. The formula behind writer-director Steven Kosinski's script is clear as a summer day: take the aesthetic of cheesy children's television shows about people in very elaborate foam suits punching each other in the kind of spirited action setpieces with choreography are halfway between cheap kung-fu movies and enthusiastic high-school LARPers, and add tons of violence and sociopathic characters. It's pretty much just that one joke, somehow pulled out to 95 minutes without snapping, and it's not at all a new joke: the "take goofy children's media and make it sardonic and nasty" gimmick is literally decades old at this point. Like anything, though, it can be done relatively well or relatively poorly, and Psycho Goreman does it relatively well: it is a film that's painfully earnest in its unhidden adoration for stuff like Kamen Rider and Super Sentai (the property from which the Power Rangers franchise took all of its effects footage), with Kosinski's joy at being able to re-enact the campy posturing of his models so obvious it's almost physically tangible. And that joy pretty quickly becomes infectious.

The film's story hints at the kind of unnecessary complicated mythology that's part of the charm of the form: many thousands of years ago, a great war broke out on the planet Gigax, where a group of warriors led by the Archduke of Nightmares (played by Matthew Ninaber in a suit that looks like an angrily rotting fish, voiced by Steven Vlahos) overthrew the alien rulers of the planet, whereupon they swore to destroy the entire galaxy. The Planetary Alliance and its military caste, the Templars, were able to trap the Archduke and imprison him on the planet Earth, secure in the knowledge that he, and the gem that fueled his power, could never be found.

Psycho Goreman obviously opens, therefore, with his discovery by a pair of wild kids, Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) and her older brother Luke (Owen Myre), as they play a complicated home-made dodgeball variant called "crazy ball". Mimi, the more openly manic of the two, finds the gem first, and thus quite inadvertently ends up in total control of the alien tyrant; she and Luke name him Psycho Goreman and generally force him to be their super-cool magic buddy, using his limitless cosmic power to entertain them - Mimi, mostly, Luke is a bit of a panicky stick in the mud - while the Planetary Alliance sends a Templar named Pandora (Kristen MacCulloch in a robot angel suit, voiced by Anna Tierney) to kill him. As a result of all of the above, Psycho Goreman learns about these strange human concepts "love" and "family.  He learns them, however, from a real fucked-up family: not only is Mimi a precocious little psychopath, the kids' parents, Greg (Adam Brooks) and Susan (Alexis Kara Hancey), have a marriage that plays as a parody of a well-adjusted suburban household.

The entire film is suffused with a vein of arch irony, as Mimi's no-nonsense selfishness and Luke's neurotic uncertain constantly pop up to puncture the feints towards pan-galactic superheroics with a healthy dose of snark and aggressively quotidian silliness. This is nowhere remotely close to my favorite flavor of comedy, so it speaks awfully well of Psycho Goreman when I admit that all of this worked extremely well for me. Undoubtedly this is at least partially because of the unyielding commitment of Kostanski, costume designer Madi Styles, production designer Alexandra Pozdeeva, and the makeup effects team (which was, based on the names in the credits, by a decent margin the largest crew on the production) in creating such a wonderful menagerie of appropriately fake-looking aliens, dripping with slime and ichor and God knows what, given to bursts of remarkably persuasive gore. There's no grown-up filter here; the entire film is situated in the guileless frothiness of children at play, but children with a particularly bloodthirsty sense of imagination, the kind who get involved in gross-out arms races trying to come up with the most disgusting images to see if they can freak out the other kids.

The film isn't hiding this even a tiny bit: Mimi basically is that kid, and to a great degree, the actual plot of Psycho Goreman is that she's literally bending the entire universe to her will, making things as over-the-top and silly and insanely violent as she likes. And so the whole thing ends up feeling like a mash-up of that jokey childish attitude with the trappings of space-opera, all of it done on enough of a budget where the cheapness feels like the point, and we're less apt to notice the limitations of the effects work than to gawk at how much the filmmaking team was actually able to get out of those effects. The suits are obviously the best part of it, with only Psycho Goreman and Pandora really getting a lot of screentime, but there are a solid dozen other creatures of various sorts who all hit the perfect balance of hapless foam rubber charm and impressively disgusting conceptions. But it's certainly not just the suits, not when so many of the gags hinge on elaborate, realistic gore.

All of which is pure candy for the right kind of viewer, and since I mostly am that type of viewer, I'm a little aggrieved to note that, on balance, I think this all only barely works. Simply put, the characters in the film are absolutely awful, and the actors aren't doing much of anything to counteract that. Not the monster characters, they're all delightful and overwrought in the right ways. But the four humans are miserable company, and none of them more altogether abject than our protagonist, Mimi. No good can come of bagging on a first-time child actor, so I will say only that I am sure Hanna is giving exactly what Kostanski wanted from her. But what he wanted is insufferable. Mimi is an instant contender for the worst child character I have ever seen in the movie, full of aggressively snappy, over-enunciated delivery of acutely brittle, clattering gags, prone to flailing around physically, and pressed into far too many sudden hairpin turns from monster to conniving angel in the too-tight editing by Kostanski and Andrew Appelle (who was also the cinematographer - this was, again, not a financially well-endowed shoot). She's tedious, tiresome company, shrill and horribly over-pleased with her own humor, and other than a few decent gags to the effect of "this sweet little girl is a bloodthirsty maniac" (all of which are a bit on the obvious side; but to be fair, most of the jokes in Psycho Goreman are  bit in the obvious side), the film's willingness to let her demented madcap energy drive the movie exclusively leads it to bad places. This does not constitute an argument against the movie, just a warning: the cheesiness, gore, and great creature work are all wonderful, even more so because of how laboriously homemade they are, but the price the viewer must pay for seeing these things is high.