“Yes. I realize I look … like the Hamburger Helper.”
The idea of a “deal with the devil” tale is to show how—if at all—the victim caught with his/her soul on the line can escape. The fun is in the torture of this latest riff on Faust by his malicious benefactor and the payoff the inevitable bittersweet end. But what if it didn’t have to go that way? What if the victim that always proves to be a good person who made a regretful mistake out of hubris is exactly the type to make this pact? We’re not all moral, empathetic creatures. We aren’t all charitable with hearts of gold that give more than we take. On the contrary, we’re mostly selfishly opportunistic savages searching for an avenue towards power. We often get what we deserve.
You could say this is why Brandon Block‘s Psychic Murder (adapted from the short story “Ghosts” by Maxwell Gontarek) flips the process. Rather than supply a pitiable hero at the end of his rope willing to do anything to lift himself up, we receive Billy (Will Bernish) instead. He’s a fledgling comedian that has just struck gold by feeding his audience what they crave most: negativity towards “the other.” Born with a birth defect that has left him with three-fingered hands (the costuming of which is very poor, but visual realism is hardly what Block seeks), Billy realizes he is the best butt of his own jokes. So he mocks his affliction and soaks up the laughter of those who revel in the misfortunate of others. He succeeds.
This isn’t therefore a tale of woe as much as possibility. Mickey Goldsmith (Timothy J. Cox) isn’t as much a devil as he is an asshole. He doesn’t try and sweet talk Billy or make promises of lofty aspirations and piles of cash. No, Mickey actually tells him the opposite. He explains how easy it is for him to ruin anyone who crosses him whether warranted or not. He presents his body of work as the exact thing anyone with a brain would flee from without a second glance. This monster for all intents and purposes calls his girlfriend (Tatiana Ford) a whore, doesn’t hide his abusive nature towards her or the world, and remembers those times he destroyed innocent people’s lives with reverie—cold, immovable reverie.
The film presents the notion that meanness and vindictiveness work. To get ahead you must be ruthless in presenting how the power you wield earns others’ fear. This devil isn’t pitching assistance; he’s laying out the truth. This is what it takes and this is how serious he is. In a perfect world we’d run as soon as his mechanical stare picked us from the crowd with a steely glint. We’d seek an escape upon seeing his eyes water when recalling those imprinted memories that confirm his malice. Or we’d at least like to think we would. Beneath the film’s poor production value is the truth that we’d all listen to the pitch just in case. And afterwards we may learn that we’re not actually victims. We’re devils-in-waiting.