I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

The Psychotronic Man, or, the 8 Jobs That Jack M. Sell Is Very Good At

by Chrisaphenia Danai Papagrigoriou
Jan. 10, 2013

(The Revenge of) The Psychotronic Man is a film that is mostly known for its impact on the DIY genre and the fan societies it created, but, leaving aside the academic view of the subject, the film itself is a genuine attempt at quite-worthy cinema. Not a so-bad-it’s-good kind of thing but actually good. That's in spite of the plot holes we come across (for instance, I could never quite figure out what exactly he seeks revenge for), or some of the stars’ mediocre acting abilities.

The story takes place in Oak Park, Chicago, some time around the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s. Rocky Foscoe (Peter Spelson) is a barber who suffers from what he thinks are headaches and nightmares, and sure, the guy likes to drink. Unable to take control of the inexplicable things that happen to him, he tends to harm anyone who interacts with him. But he's a sensitive guy, so whenever he feels threatened, his mind protects him physically. The Psychotronic Man is telepathic, psychic, (he now and then sees flashes of his own future), and he can levitate. In the language of the film, all that stuff is called “Psychotronic Energy” but in the character’s life it comes across as psychologically unstable.

Peter Spelson and Jack M. Sell collaborated on writing the movie, but the bulk acting is on Spelson’s back, giving almost ALL the rest to Sell. Jack M. Sell was the owner of the production company, contributed to the musical score, conducted said soundtrack, operated cameras, directed the photography, edited the film, and of course, directed the whole damn thing. The fact of the matter is that he’s done great at most of the tasks he's given himself and even managed to give the movie an artistic direction.

In spite of the most common view of The Psychotronic Man, it doesn't really deserve to be condemned to the B movie or cult shelves of the video store. In fact, being low-budget doesn’t result in a sloppy, badly-made film. On the contrary, it's a very well-directed one. His very many psychotronic powers, as messy as they are, are only suggested in a serious cinematic way, rather than ornamented with bad effects such as awful lazer beams, toy astral guns and superhero like mysterious appearances of the starring character. The story is brilliantly narrated without ever being too literal, and it stays truthful to the vague term “Psychotronic”.

One of Sell’s other jobs is camera operator, which he is also very good at. The shots remind one of European directors of the same time, and the Chicago setting is just ideal for that. Angular shots are sometimes subtly used in the chase scenes only to surprise you with how much intensity they add to the suspense.

Peter Spelson develops his character throughout the film, surprising himself with aspects of his personality in addition to his metaphysical condition. He is not the good man next door or the hard working husband or the father of two children. He cheats on his wife, he drinks, he hardly ever shows up at home, and he is by all means, troubled. As a human being though, he is mesmerised by the things he discovers about himself and gets lost in the chaos they lay for him.

Indubitably, half the movie is its soundtrack and the surreal interaction between the visual and audio, resulting in a truly odd little narrative. The church bells are The Psychotronic Man’s trademark before the theme score of the movie begins to accompany him in his adventure. The musical floor is a repetitive ascending piano theme with fine distorted guitar touches over it that gives a rather dramatic but always cool tone. Synths and drumrolls are there too, of course, suggesting the mysterious ambience of Rocky Foscoe’s life. If it’s necessary, it could be called minimal prog-rock, but it really isn’t so we’ll stick with “score”. So, the score is exactly what is missing from the storyline and it fits the bill perfectly even as often as it appears.

By and large, The Psychotronic Man is a classic of its kind and that doesn’t mean a cult movie but a DIY art film that, despite its lack of funds, is a solid artistic effort. Even if you can’t find it, puts you in the quest for a meaning. And after all, that’s entertainment too.

Chrisaphenia Danai Papagrigoriou