Director: Larry Brown         
Tom Basham, Gene Carlson, Gretchen Kanne

There are movies where you immediately think, "Oh, I've gotta see that sometime!" after you hear or read a little something about what the movie has, such as it having an intriguing premise or one of its stars being cast in a role that's quite atypical for him or her. That has happened to us all enough times so that it will be no longer unusual the next time it happens. But rarer and more valued are the times when you more or less hear about Mr. Rabbey shows the kids the private life of King Friday XIII the same amount of information about a movie that has you immediately think instead, "Oh, I've gotta see that now," and then you immediately afterwards race to the video store to rent it now. And while you are on your journey, the phrase "Instant classic!" is repeated over and over in your mind. These are special times that make quite an impression. I'll never forget the time I was reading Fangoria magazine several years ago and coming across an article that in part briefly described the movie Sonny Boy; after reading it, I made an immediate beeline to the closest video store that had the minimum amount of trashy titles to my liking in its wares.

It's always great when your expectations of a movie are so high for a movie, and upon seeing the movie, those high expectations are not only met, but surpassed. That's what I experienced with watching Sonny Boy. On the other hand, I think you can also see a potential downside with building up such high expectations for a movie you've yet to watch. Recently, when I stumbled across a brief review for the movie Psychopath, that rare feeling of wanting to see a movie now came up again, and I was lucky to find a copy of the movie in the video store just a few minutes from my house. Unlike Sonny Boy, however, Psychopath did not live up to my expectations. It got me thinking a question, however: How would I have felt about the movie if I hadn't had such high expectations? Would I have liked it better than I do now had I known nothing about the movie? Or if I had thought I was going to see a bad movie? I don't know. To tell the truth, I don't know if my review of this movie is somehow tainted in some way because my expectations were so high. All I can do is tell you how I feel now about the movie, and that is even though the movie fell considerably short of those expectations of mine, it is probably worth a rental for the giggles it manages to generate despite it surprisingly failing to exploit its bizarre premise.

Actually, some viewers who are oblivious to the premise will probably guess they will be in for one weird ride if they know that Psychopath is made by the same people who created the Crown-International classic The Pink Angels, the first (and only) movie to deal with the controversial subject of gay motorcycle gangs. Anyway, onto Psychopath. Though he's referred to as "Tom" at least once,"All we know is that our son disappeard around (*urp*) dinnertime!" the chief character in this movie is primarily identified as "Mr. Rabbey", for reasons that'll become clear later. Before we get to that, let me just say that actor Tom Basham plays this fellow as an odd sort. You'll have a good idea of what this Mr. Rabbey is like if you picture in your mind Roddy McDowall as if he were young, on tranquilizers, and mildly retarded. Yes, this Mr. Rabbey is an odd duck; though a full-grown adult, his mode of transportation is a bike that has a basket mounted on the front, where he keeps what appears to be some kind of security blanket (actually, a very long grey and dirty rag) when he's cruising the streets. He likes to ride to the hospital to entertain the sick children, though he also likes to head to the local playground, where he fools around on the playground equipment and hangs out with the kids. So it shouldn't come to a surprise when one crabby parent yells at him, "With all these children, it isn't normal!"

Well, I guess that's only one way of looking at it. That's because his boss just laughs at his behavior and says, "You live in a world of fantasy, don't you?" Yes, though Mr. Rabbey may clearly be coo-coo for Coco Puffs, you got to admire him for managing to get and keep a job. Can you guess what this job is? Give up? Why, he's the star of a TV show for kids! And what a show it is; "The Mr. Rabbey Show" is not your ordinary children's show, but one that clearly prepares kids for the time when they realize the world is a harsh and cruel place. When we first get to see the show, Mr. Rabbey is putting on a puppet performance where a pissed-off adult puppet decidesMr. Rabbey "playing doctor" (Yeah, that was an easy one) to lock up the baby puppet in the cellar. The children in the studio audience take the skit with great relish, and later at the children's hospital, the children greatly appreciate another puppet skit that involves an executioner and decapitation. So though a lot of parents may not appreciate Mr. Rabbey, the children love him. And he loves them more you can imagine. While giving a performance at the hospital one day, he overhears one of the nurses talking to a visiting police officer about one of his young fans, who has gone missing. The nurse, conveniently mentioning the boy's address in the process, tells the officer that the boy was being abused by his parents. Outraged at this, and finding out a lot of his adoring fans are also being abused by his parents, Mr. Rabbey decides to do something to stop the abuse. So subsequently, he then sets off on a never-ending quest to track down and kill all abusive parents.

Admit it - when you read that last sentence, you wanted to see this movie for yourself. (Well... maybe not, since beforehand you read that less enthusiastic second paragraph of mine.) You've got to at least admit that a movie with a premise like this is hard to resist, and gets you imagining just how sleazy and entertaining the results are. You might want to stop that creative thinking, or hang onto those thoughts without seeing the movie, because the actual end results will probably not be up to your expectations. It's interesting that the four prime areas of error are all not-uncommon errors found in many other B movies that are wannabe-sleazies:

(1) At times, the movie is too serious for its own good. In most cases, that means that the movie has undertaken a serious treatment of dubious material. But in Psychopath's case, there are several instances where it takes serious material very seriously. When you think about it, child abuse doesn't seem to be a promising subject to milk laughs out of, though special cases like Mommie Dearest could argue otherwise. There's a scene in Psychopath where a nurse has a long monologue about abused children she's treated, the physical and mental signs of abuse etc. that is somewhat uncomfortable to sit through, because, surprisingly, it's so well written and acted. No punches are pulled in her describing of the horror of it all, and it's the same when we actually get to see some of the verbal and physical abuse the children go through. There's no tongue-in-cheek or overacting here - it's perfectly straight. It's instances like these that you start feeling guilty for enjoying the campy parts of the movie.

(2) Not only does the movie at times go too far, with the child abuse angle, the movie can also be faulted for not going far enough. You would think that an independent movie with such an oddball premise would end up with an R rating, but the movie was given a PG rating. True, a lot of horror movies in the early '70s got PG ratings that would be R today, but Psychopath is in PG territory even by today's standards. Potentially juicy Mr. Rabbey tans his eyes after his sunglasses made him look pale after a day in the sun sequences are ruined, such as when Mr. Rabbey decides to kill one abusive parent with a lawnmower(!) in the garage; the editor cuts away to a shot from outside the garage, so we only hear the murder. There's hardly any blood to be found elsewhere, and the level of language probably wouldn't have raised the eyebrow even for a TV censor of the era. And forget about there being any nudity as well. If you're only going to touch a sleazy premise with kid's gloves, you shouldn't even bother.

(3) There is nary an attempt at character development, not just for Mr. Rabbey, but anyone else for that matter. Strange as it may seem, though Mr. Rabbey is clearly the movie's central figure, the movie is never really focused on him. Much of the movie is, in fact, devoted to some particularly dull cops investigating the murders. None of the cops manages to stand out from his surrounding peers, and the people they question or encounter are just as bland. Though the movie does remember to occasionally cut back to Mr. Rabbey, we still don't learn much about the man then. What was his past? How did he become a kiddie show host? Why has he gone bonkers? Is that woman he's friendly with his girlfriend, boss, sister, what? (Well, I admit we do learn through a conversation that she's not his mother.) These questions are never answered. If you slapped a bag on his face and dropped him off at summer camp, he'd be indistinguishable from those masked killers (except possibly being stupider and slower.) Just a few hints about his life or his way of thinking would give him some color; at the very least, they could provide some laughs if they had been ineptly written.

(4) All of that focus on the cops and the various incidental characters mentioned in the previous paragraph leads to this last fault: this movie is way, way, WAY padded out for its own good. Not long after the movie starts, you'll wish that they just went down to business. In fact, it's only around the halfway point that Mr. Rabbey manages to claim his first victims, and his subsequent victims are few and far between. Example: Near the end of the movie, when Mr. Rabbey learns of another abused child, he decides to immediately....go and have some fun at the carnival. And go on one of the rides. Then another one. Meanwhile, the potential victim is seen arguing with her landlord over the unpaid rent for several minutes. When Mr. Rabbey leaves the carnival, he decides to kill her husband first. So he spends several minutes at the hardware store in order to strike at the right time, and when the moment is right....he decides not to kill him after all. Then he decides the time is right to strike at the abusive mother. Though the other padding found in the movie isn't as blatantly useless as this part, it still manages to be quite frustrating.

If you look at the movie in an ordinary way, you are likely just to see it as a movie consisting of many instances of those four kinds of faults. But as the tagline for American Beauty said, "Look closer"; viewers who do will find another movie buried there, one filled with many little rewards. Though the strengths of this movie aren't in any of the major categories movies are usually judged by - acting, direction, etc. - (though I must point out the movie is indeed well photographed, even in night sequences) it is filled with many little moments, each of which is precious. For example, take the musical score. The cops on the beat are given their own music, a funky drum That Mr. Rabbey. Such a cut-up. solo that sounds like something musician Isaac Hayes (Shaft) would compose. This same funky drum solo follows the cops around, whether they are standing around, interviewing suspects, or idly chatting about their home lives while in the locker room. Even as their brows are sweating during their intense investigations, you just want to get up and boogie sympathetically for them, since the music obviously shows they are desperately trying to suppress their funkiness. Another audio gem comes with a radio news report in the beginning of the movie; it's an obvious prediction to the quickie on-the-go news reports of later years. Here's exactly what the radio announcer says: "The 7 AM news. Two more persons were found dead this morning. They were killed without apparent motive. This adds to the current rash of slaying still unsolved." Then we immediately go to a weather report.

Though the movie is often slow, unfocused, and underwritten, every few minutes there is a little detail that makes you chuckle and forgive the previous tedium. It could be anything, such as someone's hospital record consisting of one sheet of paper, or a Joe Don Baker-lookalike packing two beers in his lunchbox just before he goes to work. But most of the fun comes from the Mr. Rabbey character and his actions. As I said earlier, his onscreen appearances aren't as extensive as they'd be ordinarily, but the nutzo factor shoots straight up whenever he appears. Basham may be one of the least developed psychos in a movie, but he still manages to be quite an entertaining one. Whether he's scrunching up the blankie he carries around (or wears around his neck like a mink stole), announcing his presence to a victim by sticking out a puppet from behind a wall and saying in a quivering voice, "Mommy!.... Mommy!", or simply smashing a baseball bat in someone's face (it's funny how he does it, trust me), he seldom gives the movie a boring moment. All these little moments make Psychopath to reprieve it momentarily from your video store's dust-covered collection of older movies nobody has rented for years. Just make sure before watching it that the fast-forward button on your remote control is in working order.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: Crawlspace, The Dentist 2, Skinner