From pint-sized terrors to cult worshippers to gruesome cyborgs, filmmaker Steven Kostanski has covered a wide swath of genres when it comes to telling horror stories, making his career immensely unpredictable. As far as narrative components go, no one really knows what the filmmaker will get up to next, yet one constant that can be found in all of his films are his impressive abilities at pulling off outlandish effects sequences. Additionally, his films often manage to keep a sense of humor about themselves without ever parodying that genre he clearly loves so strongly, with all of these things on full display in his latest effort, PG: Psycho Goreman. Psycho Goreman lands in theaters, On Demand, and on Digital HD on January 22nd.
Siblings Mimi and Luke unwittingly resurrect an ancient alien overlord who was entombed on Earth millions of years ago after a failed attempt to destroy the universe. They nickname the evil creature Psycho Goreman (or PG for short) and use the magical amulet they discovered to force him to obey their childish whims. It isn’t long before PG’s reappearance draws the attention of intergalactic friends and foes from across the cosmos and a rogues’ gallery of alien combatants converges in small-town suburbia to battle for the fate of the galaxy.
ComicBook.com caught up with Kostanski to talk about the film's inspirations, the professionalism of its young cast, and future projects.
ComicBook.com: What makes Psycho Goreman so interesting is that it feels both incredibly unique and entirely familiar all at once. While there's really nothing else like it out there currently, its tone and parts of its whole feel like you're tapping into a specific time and place in cinematic history, combining horror and sci-fi from the '80s and '90s with kid-friendly adventures. It's like if Stuart Gordon made Suburban Commando.
Steven Kostanski: That's like the highest compliment you can give a movie. That's awesome. I really appreciate that.
Did you go into making this with specific inspirations in mind, or movies you aimed to honor? Or, if not, is there a set of films you think you'd like to program Psycho Goreman to play with that would be thematically similar?
Well, the Masters of the Universe film by Cannon Pictures is definitely an inspiration for PG. I'm a fan of that '80s and '90s trope of like, we want to adapt a thing that's like a big, sprawling, sci-fi fantasy, though you don't have the budget to do it, so you end up grounding it on Earth, out of necessity, which I feel like Suburban Commando is another good example of that. I think another movie that is a definite inspiration is Terminator 2, because of the whole conceit of "what if you're a little kid and you inherit this evil warlord monster in your back yard that you have total control over. What would you do with him?" And I feel that's a little bit of the John Connor/T-800 relationship.
So, I feel like T2, Masters of the Universe, Suburban Commando. I would even go as far as, say, something like Guyver: Dark Hero is a big inspiration. I love that movie. I love that it's a movie that, as a kid, I looked at the cover and thought, "Oh, this is going to be like Power Rangers, this is going to be super fun." And then it ended up being a pretty hard-R movie with lots of brutal violence, even though on the surface, it's a lot of fun creature suits and effects and a fun science-fiction plot. But pairing that with really brutal consequences, for a kid, I found really enticing and traumatizing at the same time. So that was another big inspiration for the film.
The young stars of this film, Nita-Josee Hanna and Owen Myre, do a great job of selling the silliness of this movie, especially given that they're surrounded by all these brutal effects. Did you find them through a traditional casting process or had you crossed their paths before and knew you wanted to collaborate with them?
No, it was an idea I came up with in the writing process, when I wrote the treatment. I basically structured the movie exactly as it is on screen, and when I sent it to the producers, everybody was like, "Oh, this is great, this is super fun and fresh and exciting. Where are we going to find these kids?" And so, that was the big question mark in a movie, is like, "How do we pull this off?" Because if the kids don't work, the movie doesn't work. And so we did do a very traditional casting process, where self-tapes were submitted, across the country, even from the States as well. We saw a lot of tapes, did a lot of in-person auditions, and eventually we settled on Nita and Owen, who were clearly the best of the bunch and just had the right spirit for the film.
Nita actually was in the first round of auditions, and I remember watching her tape and noticing something about her that's super charming. I could tell that she was very young, was very professional, and clearly took the work very seriously. And same with Owen, I could just tell that they were both little pros and would be able to handle the task, what we were tasking them with, which was a huge undertaking for any actor, but to ask kids to do it is even crazier. We definitely walked out with them because they are the heart and soul of the movie. It works because they're just so naturally talented.
And these kids weren't even born when all the movies you said inspired you were released, so what would you say they contributed to the film that you couldn't have really anticipated when you cast them?
I think it was their professionalism and their commitment to their craft. They not only had their lines memorized, but they had everybody else's lines memorized. I'd be walking around going like, "What are we doing?" And then Nita would tell me. They ended up becoming the mascots of the movie, because the whole crew saw how hard they were working. And we're like, "Well, we got to step up our game to match these little kids. We're all grown adults and we're supposed to be professionals, and they're running circles around us with their energy." They brought the energy on the whole set up because they were just so committed and so into the project. That's what surprised me the most. There's always that saying, "You don't work with kids, you don't work with animals when you're making a movie or TV show." I can say now from this experience that I don't think that's accurate. They really brought their A-game and were super professional.
That's so funny because I assumed it would be, "Oh they came up with great nicknames or insults," but no, it's how professional they were.
No, it was great. It really was just their youthful energy was something that the movie really needed and really translates on screen as well. Just their way of delivering the insane dialogue. They took it seriously in a way that I wanted kids to take it seriously. I believe them and I believe their performance, I think that's a huge selling point for the movie, because if I'm not convinced by what they're doing on screen, none of the rubber monsters are going to land either. It really was just down to their professionalism, that was the biggest surprise and really makes the movie.
Even before your fans knew what movie you were making, we saw glimpses of creatures you were working on through social media. Was there a specific effect that ended up being much harder to pull off than you thought? Or is there an effect you're especially proud of that's in the film?
There is one effect that happens two-thirds of the way through the movie. I don't want to spoil it for people who haven't seen the movie, because it does come as a surprise when it happens, when a certain character offers to give another character a warrior's death, what he says is not what you're expecting him to do. And we actually shot a version of that during principal photography, where we built it and we thought, "Oh yeah, this is all it needs to be. This will work." Then when we had it on set, we were like, "This is not selling the idea." It was underwhelming. It would have been fine, but I was still disappointed in it. After like a month of just thinking about it and what can I do to make this work, I figured out how to rebuild it and essentially built a more elaborate puppet version of the gags that I wanted to build, and we went and re-shot that piece. And I'm glad we did, because I think it's as horrifying as that moment needs to be. I think that gag, which I cannot explicitly describe what happens, when it happens, you'll know.
Were there any gags that were written into the script or you shot initial versions of that just ended up cut out entirely?
I mean, nothing really got lost where we were like, "That doesn't work at all, let's chuck it out. Cut the shot." The thing is just a constant game of how can we add more stuff and just building more to pile on top of that. Just to try and make the movie as jam-packed with the visual effects as possible. So, nothing really got cut out, necessarily. It was just a case of trying to improve what was already there and either re-shooting or tweaking or re-editing something or tweaking the VFX components to it, because a lot of it is like a marriage of practical and VFX.
You also recently worked on the upcoming Day of the Dead series for SYFY, and since that's such a beloved film from George Romero, I wondered if there was anything you can say to fans of the original about how you honored the spirit of Romero, despite this show having a slightly different storyline.
Well, I can say honestly that the on-set experience for that show was such a scrappy, low-budget adventure that it definitely felt like what I imagined Romero felt like on the '70s movies, where it was a lot of really thinking on our feet and seeing how we can stretch our budget as much as possible. It's a very low-budget affair but we really pushed hard to have as many crazy gags and stuff as possible. I can't explicitly give any details on plot or anything like that. It's not really my place to divulge those secrets just yet, but I can say that I had a blast shooting and I had a great time working with the showrunners. I really feel like we've made something that really captures the spirit of the era of Romero's movies. So I hope people like it.
You also previously directed Leprechaun Returns, which was a sequel to the original movie, and I wondered if that was a one-time gig that you got to cross off your bucket list or if you'd be interested in returning for more?
Well, the producer who hired me for Leprechaun was the one that hired me for Day of The Dead, so I've continued that relationship. But as far as follow-up Leprechaun sequels, I haven't heard anything, but I would honestly be all over doing it. If it happens, I'd love to do it. I had a lot of fun making that movie, and it was a great experience. It gave me more of an appreciation for the Leprechaun movies. I feel we made something that fits into that mythology nicely, and I think there's a lot of room to continue it. I haven't heard anything, but if I was asked to do a follow-up, I'd be into it.
Well, I'm just putting it out there, but I'd be down to see a Leprechaun vs. Psycho Goreman movie.
One thing I like about all my movies is I feel they do work in a weird sort of connected universe way, where Leprechaun could 100% show up in PG's universe and maybe Manborg's universe.
And then the cult members from The Void could be watching the battle as the audience.
Yeah, exactly. They're all observing this battle royale between all these crazy fantasy characters.
Well, 2022 might be too soon for it to happen, but we'll keep eyes out for it.
Yeah. Let me get started on writing that, it might take a bit,
PG: Psycho Goreman lands in theaters, On Demand, and on Digital HD on January 22nd.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.