The mini-DV backyard horror comedy Psycho Ape! proudly promises to be the “dumbest, cheapest” ape movie of all time, and then it delivers exactly that. In case the audience dare question the scope of that mission statement, the movie is careful to catalog as many dumb-and-cheap ape movies as it can for context. It treats retro ape-movie ephemera as sacred relics: an official Congo boardgame, a pristine Blu-ray restoration of Schlock, a store-bought gorilla suit you’d expect to see in a Bowery Boys comedy, etc. Single-scene characters debate their personal rankings of famous primate franchises like King Kong, Planet of the Apes, and Mighty Joe Young as background-noise hangout banter. When it devolves into a traditional bodycount slasher (with a gorilla-suit murderer instead of a kitchen-knife killer, naturally), the psych expert on the monster’s trail is Dr. Zoomis: a cheeky portmanteau of Dr. Zaius & Dr. Loomis. Psycho Ape! goes absurdly overboard proving its credentials in dumb-and-cheap ape cinema scholarship, so that when it claims to be the “dumbest, cheapest” ape movie of all time, you have no choice but to take its word for it. I’m probably supposed to be aging out of this kind of bad-on-purpose, Troma-tinged schlock at this point in my life, but it’s impossible not to be charmed by something so lovingly reverent of such a disreputable, outdated subgenre – especially since it cites my personal favorite title, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, as one of the all-time greats.
On a dark & eerie night “25 years ago” (so, say, 1995), a “teenage girl slumber party” is crashed by a violent gorilla with an unquenchable bloodlust. His weapon of choice is a standard-issue Chiquita banana, but it wreaks the same bloody havoc as kitchen knives & meat cleavers in traditional slashers. Although most of the slumber-party teens are bludgeoned, stabbed, and choked to death by the phallic fruit, the titular psychotic primate does leave behind one anointed final girl: the obsessive ape-movie cineaste Nancy Banana (played by Kansas Bowling, director of the similar retro-schlock throwback B.C. Butcher). In the following decades, the gorilla continues to kill at random, while Nancy Banana pines for the love that could’ve been, dedicating her life to becoming “the next Jane Goodall” (by which she means she really wants to fuck that ape). They inevitably re-unite, and the film takes wild detours from its initial slasher template into retro romcom & beach party tropes. If you’re at all familiar with the history of ape-falls-in-love-with-platinum-blonde cinema, you know that their cutesy romantic bond can only end in tragedy – complete with an obligatory spoof of the genre’s iconic “Twas beauty killed the beast” stinger. The main difference is that this example also starts with tragedy and is careful to intersperse as many bloody banana stabbings it can afford in-between its cutesy romcom gags.
I just put more effort into pulling a coherent plot out of Psycho Ape! than director Addison Binek intended his audience to bother with. Structurally, it’s more of a loose sketch comedy than it is a linear narrative. Binek raised $7,500 in production funds through Kickstarter, then spent it all on goofing off with a gorilla costume, a camera, and as many friends as he could gather (seemingly including a ton of Troma alumni). It’s basically a hangout movie for sickos, Motern for edgelords. As proudly dumb & cheap as Psycho Ape! is, though, it’s anything but lazy. Most hodgepodge horror comedies shot in this scatterbrained, tangential style are infuriatingly lazy (see: Da Hip Hop Witch), but Psycho Ape! establishes a distinctive internal logic that transcends any need for plot or scene-to-scene logic. It’s a temporal mash-up of schlock ephemera from the past half-century: 50s Benny Hill grabassery, 60s lava lamp psychedelia, 70s first-wave slashings, 80s splatstick gore, post-Kevin Williamson 90s meta horror, 2000s digi-cam backyard movies, 2010s YouTube pranks, sub-Sarah Squirm 2020s gross-outs, and timeless scat & murder gags to tie them all together. Some of the most sublime moments of the entire picture are just throwaway transition shots of Nancy Banana dancing with her gorilla beau in a vintage yellow bikini, with everyone involved openly laughing at how idiotic the project is on a conceptual level. The fun they’re having on-“set” is infectious. It’s a reckless party movie dressed up like a bodycount horror, but it’s oddly sincere in its dedication to having a good time and to honoring the ape-horror comedies that came before it. I had a blast.