By ROCCO THOMPSON
Few could have expected that Steven Kostanski, co-writer and co-director of 2016’s The Void, would follow up that Lovecraftian freakout with something as colorful, weird, and frankly, hilarious as PSYCHO GOREMAN, but upon further inspection, it doesn’t seem like such a departure. As a card-carrying member of Astron-6, the Canadian film production company responsible for such lovingly cheeseball joints as Father’s Day (2011) and Kostanski’s own feature directorial debut, Manborg (2011), the filmmaker’s heart practically bleeds retro-styled entertainments with ample daubs of gore and guffaws. His newest film is a deliriously entertaining creature feature starring newcomers Nita-Josee Hanna (Books of Blood) and Owen Myre (NOS4A2) as a pair of siblings who rock their sleepy suburb after accidentally resurrecting and housebreaking an ancient alien overlord. We sat down with Kostanski ahead of PSYCHO GOREMAN’s Shudder premiere to discuss his influences, where he dug up such an amazing title, and what it’s like directing from a prosthetics and effects background.
So, I have to ask – how did you land on the title? Because, honestly, it sells itself.
I know. When I landed on that, I was like, “Oh, shit, can’t believe nobody’s done this before.” When I was coming up with the idea,I was really feeling inspired by the movie, Rawhead Rex (1986), I could not stop laughing at how absurd that name is. I wanted to come up with something that’s a dumb name like that that people have to say out loud. I was imagining a boardroom of executives discussing the movie and all of them having to say “Psycho Goreman” over and over again. But then, I was also inspired by E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). I kind of combined that with what I like about “E.T.,” which is the simplicity. I pretty quickly landed on “PG” and realized, “Yeah, it’s perfect because then you can just totally run with the rating PG.” And always having the movie associated with that seemed like pretty easy marketing. It all really fell into place for that. It’s perfect I think!
PG feels a little bit like something of a return to form for you after The Void and Leprechaun. It definitely has a touch of the Astron-6 humor and style, but it feels as if it’s uniquely and entirely your baby, so to speak. Is that an accurate notion?
Yes, that’s totally accurate. I was approached by some very generous independent financiers a few years ago after I made Void and they said, “We want you to make something that’s more like Manborg. We’re looking to invest in a movie, we want something that’s fun like that.” But they wanted to give me a little bit more money to kind of achieve my vision because Manborg was pretty much made for pocket change. it was just me continuing on from that train of thought that’s kind of sci-fi/fantasy/comedy/adventure movie…it’s really just all the things that I like meshed into one movie. Specifically, like stuff that I grew up on and stuff that mildly traumatized me as a kid. I wanted PSYCHO GOREMAN to be very intense, but also very silly at the same time – a type of movie that’s R-rated and violent but still something that a kid might check out and maybe be a little bit traumatized by. Hopefully, that leads to them being inspired to make their own crazy movie, in the way that I saw movies like Terminator 2 and Guyver: Dark Hero at way too young of an age and feel they scarred me in a good way, in that they had such an impact on me that I wanted to make my own films. I think that’s an important part of growing up – that experience of watching something that you shouldn’t be watching. Kind of taking in what’s considered an adult experience when you’re too young. I wanted it to have that flavor all the way through.
It feels like a horror movie for the whole family.
Yeah. I feel like it’s definitely a departure from something like The Void where the violence was more punishing. Whereas in this, I feel like it’s all..anytime it gets really violent, yes, it can be shocking, but it’s almost a joke how shocking it is. The violence is more of a punch line than an actual punch in the face. I wanted to make it a lighthearted but dark movie at the same time, so it gets very real and intense but still has a bit of levity to it.
Does that reflect your personal brand of humor?
Oh, yes, definitely. This movie is very much my personality. It feels very much like me watching something like Masters of the Universe and making comments while I’m watching it and being like, “Well, what if this happened instead?” All of these left turns that it takes, and it takes quite a few. I want to feel like the audience, they’re sitting next to me, and I’m being like, “let’s go this way instead,” because I don’t like where this is…this is going too generic a direction, let’s go this other way! So, I really want to take people on this weird ride where I’m throwing curve balls at them as often as possible. Here’s some very obvious strokes for this type of movie but then here’s me turning those upside down as much as possible and seeing what would happen.
“I think that’s an important part of growing up – that experience of watching something that you shouldn’t be watching.”
The creature designs are truly out-of-this-world. Can you tell us a bit about developing so many unique characters and what your major influences for them were?
I mean, Japanese cinema and TV were definitely a huge influence. There’s a lot of late ’80s and early ’90s Japanese movies that I really like. One of them is called Mechanical Violator Hakaider that I’m a big fan of, it’s very heavy on the creature scenes and monster effects and pyro. And it’s just a style of movie that I don’t think we’re seeing. Especially North America. With the current movies and TV that we’re making, nobody’s making anything that’s going bonkers with the creature effects. That was part of my motivation for making this. All the designs, I wanted them to feel like toys that were translated into a movie, or like cartoon characters that were translated into a movie, where somebody had to sit down and be like, “Okay, this guy that’s like a meat brain in a glass tube made sense in action figure form, but how do we put that on the screen?”
I want to feel that awkward transition from page to screen, or from toy to screen, in the same way that you do with the Masters of the Universe (1987) movie, where you can see Skeletor’s makeup design [and] feel the committee behind it. Like you can see all these compromises and I kind of had a little bit of that coming through with all my creatures this time. Where they’re just kind of wacky and all over the place. I definitely want every single one of them to feel like they can have their own movie, because each one is fully unique to the one sitting next to them.
Some people may not realize this but you have a really decorated resume as a makeup and prosthetic artist. Can you tell us a bit how that skill influenced this movie and your overall approach as a writer/director?
I mean, my experiences over the past 10 years of working prosthetics effects definitely influenced the making of this movie in that it gave me all these experiences to draw upon, and techniques and things that I learned from all the fantastic artists that I’ve worked for in Toronto over the years. I was just really inspired by other people’s work and learning from the people around me and from the different shows that I’ve worked on, learning what to do, what not to do. Being in the community gave me a host of resources to draw upon. Everybody was just so hyped to work on a thing that was silly and fun and being guided by somebody that is one of their peers and not having to go through the studio or the network system, like, jump through all those hoops because, yeah, your buddy Steve was directing it. So, it was more of a collaborative process with everybody. That was one really fun part of it was being able to work with all my effects where I needed to realize all these creatures. Have them utilize their talents and bring them to the screen.
PG is given life by two actors and they both really do double-duty to bring so much presence to them. How did you know that these were the two right guys for the job?
Well, Matt [Ninaber] was an obvious choice because it’s clear that he had the physicality right from the beginning. I also was really charmed by his personality. He’s such a nice, easygoing guy. He’s so easy to work with. He’s a filmmaker himself as well. So, I love working with people like that that also can talk shop in the same way when we’re on set. So, he was just an obvious choice for PG – I don’t imagine anyone else playing him physically. And then Steve Vlahos, who did the voice, he actually auditioned to play PG but his physicality did not compare to Matt, but his voice immediately, I was like, “Oh, this guy, I love his voice. He’s such a good fit for the character.” He has such a good Saturday morning cartoon villain voice that even when we were entertaining bigger name options for the voice, I always came back to him because he was just so good. Even after he did his audition, months down the road when we were starting to slowly cut the movie together, I took his audio from his audition and I laid it over top of some of the clips that we had. And it just was such a perfect match that we had to get this guy to be just totally embody the spirit of the character.
RLJE Films will release the Horror/Comedy PG: PSYCHO GOREMAN in Theaters, On Demand and Digital on January 22, 2021.