For many genre fans, the name Steven Kostanski is synonymous with all things gory, gooey and gross. As a former member of the Canadian film production company Astron-6, Kostanski blew minds with his practical effects wizardry in low-budget genre throwbacks MANBORG, FATHER’S DAY and THE EDITOR. His more recent efforts, THE VOID and LEPRECHAUN RETURNS, have solidified his reputation as an imaginative, hands-on, concept-driven filmmaker.
Kostanski’s latest feature, PG: PSYCHO GOREMAN, is a whimsical, ultra-violent and darkly hilarious synthesis of ‘70s and ‘80s horror and science fiction, tokusatsu superhero productions, and children’s adventure stories. And, like the rest of his body of work, it’s also an impressive practical effects showcase. Equipped with a bigger budget and higher production values, Kostanski uses every tool at his disposal to bring us an absurd, blood-soaked spectacle that’s fun for the whole family. You can read our glowing review of the movie here.
PSYCHO GOREMAN follows Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) and Luke (Owen Myre), a precocious young brother/sister duo who unwittingly resurrect an ancient alien warlord entombed in their backyard, and with him, a magical gem that binds him to their will as long as they wield it. The kids dub him Psycho Goreman and force him to participate in all sorts of little kid shenanigans. It’s all fun and games until their antics catch the attention of the Gigax Council and its leader, Pandora, the galactic warrior responsible for imprisoning Psycho Goreman on Earth thousands of years before the events of the film. The fate of the entire universe hangs in the balance as Pandora seeks to eliminate Psycho Goreman once and for all. She has her work cut out for her, though; these kids aren’t too keen on giving up their strange new BFF.
Konstanksi recently joined us by phone to discuss the inspiration behind PSYCHO GOREMAN, the challenges of balancing intimate character moments with big genre spectacle, and more.
Could you walk me through how the concept for PSYCHO GOREMAN developed? The PG origin story, if you will.
I had a few ideas that were floating in my brain for quite a while that I didn’t know what to do with. Specifically, the image of a monster sitting at a drum set; that really entertained me, but I didn’t know what to do with it for the longest time. After I made LEPRECHAUN RETURNS, I was hanging out watching movies and decided to give RAWHEAD REX a spin for the first time. As I was watching it, I started riffing in my head on that core idea of an ancient evil being resurrected, which is such a horror movie staple, and just trying to think of a crazy direction I could take that in. I settled on mashing it with a kid’s adventure movie, something like E.T. The idea of those two worlds colliding really entertained me, so I just started riffing on that concept. So that’s where PG was born.
One of the things that really stands out about this movie is what a showcase it is for practical effects — at different points throughout, we see miniatures, puppetry, elaborate creature prosthetics and of course, liberal amounts of gore. How important was it for you for this movie to have that physical, tangible element?
The movie wouldn’t exist if it didn’t. That’s what I’m all about as a filmmaker. My day job is creature effects as a prosthetics artist, so I’m all about practical effects. It’s my favorite thing to do, making monsters, so this movie is really just an excuse to make the whole kind of gag be monsters and smash everything I’ve got in my brain into one movie and have a full-on monster fest. Unapologetically so. Once I locked down the concept and was able to hang all of these crazy ideas off of it, I realized I didn’t have to hold back. I could go as far as I can with this stuff and make it as insane as possible.
Were all of these character and creature designs created specifically for PSYCHO GOREMAN, or were there some hold-overs from your past projects that for whatever reason you weren’t able to bring to life until now? There are definitely aspects of this film that feel very much in continuity with your Astron-6 work. I love that Bio-Cop makes an appearance!
That just happened organically as I was writing it. I started coming up with this scenario where [Mimi, Luke and PG] encounter police, and my approach to every situation with PG and his victims was, instead of just killing people, what is a crazy, weird, abstract, fantasy monster thing to do? In that moment, I realized he seemed pretty good at locking people in eternal torment, and that’s kind of what Bio-Cop already is, so it just made sense in the moment that this should be a Bio-Cop origin story.
As far as the other monsters, there’s a lot of stuff — again, like PG sitting at the drum set — just sitting in my head that I didn’t know what to do with, and it speaks to the variety of creatures in the movie, too. There’s so much stuff that all feels of its own universe; everything feels like it could have its own story, which is the vibe I wanted with this film. They were all kind of half-realized ideas that I had floating around that I didn’t know how to fit into a movie, because they’re all so bizarre and offbeat. So yeah, a lot of it is just creature designs and things that I decided would be perfect to cross off the list and throw into the movie.
I saw a comment on social media that characterized PSYCHO GOREMAN as “an R-rated kids movie,” which seems a little silly and reductive, and yet, there is a pronounced sense of childlike wonder and adventure at the heart of the film, and of course the protagonists are kids. Did you have a younger audience in mind at all when you were writing? Or, to put it another way, is this the kind of movie you would have loved to see as a kid?
Yeah, that’s pretty much what it is. It’s supposed to be like that R-rated movie that my parents would have rented for me by accident when I was a kid and would have blown my mind and freaked me out. The whole movie is me dealing with that trauma from my childhood of watching stuff like ROBOCOP and TERMINATOR 2 and ALIENS; all these awesome movies that have so much great spectacle that a kid would love in them, but then also real life violence and consequences that would horrify a child that really sticks with you. So I wanted it to be a summation of that experience growing up watching stuff that, while spectacular and enjoyable for a kid, is also horrifying and traumatizing.
On that note, one of the things I found really amusing about this movie is the fact that absolutely nothing fazes Mimi. So many bizarre, horrifying things happen right in front of her, but she doesn’t care. This ancient, galactic conflict she finds herself in the middle of is just a series of annoyances getting in the way of more important kid stuff.
I really wanted to stay true to that childlike mentality. I tried to keep the throughline of the premise as simple as possible. Even though I go on all sorts of weird tangents with sci-fi stuff, those are never the focus and they never overstay their welcome. Once I settled on that idea — oh, this is really from a kid’s perspective, they’re dismissive of all the big sci-fi stuff — it was a fun excuse to have all the big spectacle, but just enough that you want more of it and you’re not totally oversaturated with it. I feel like if I had made this movie a few years ago, when I maybe wasn’t as mature in my filmmaking skills, I would have had a ten minute fight scene, when really, that’s not what’s important. It’s the kids reconciling with each other while that fight’s happening in the background. The spectacle is secondary to everything that the characters are going through. It’s all about prioritizing the characters.
One of the most unexpected but utterly delightful comedic throughlines in this movie is PG’s burgeoning love of hunky boys. It’s funny, but there’s also some weight to it, given that this movie is very much in conversation with a canon of genre films that, while great, are often very heteronormative — and in some cases, outright homophobic. When you were working on the screenplay, did you write that bit with a view towards inclusivity? The fact that it comes up again in the climax of the film in a big way seems intentional.
It was just a thing that evolved in the writing. The banter between Mimi and PG to me was always: she says a thing in her special kid-speak that she has, her weird language of saying “hunky boys” and stuff like that, and he responds. So initially, it was just having that banter back and forth. Her saying a thing and then the joke of hearing PG say “hunky boys” was funny. I think this was a symptom of me watching and obsessing over too many movies; I get hung up on moments and I go on these side tangents where I will live in that joke and be like, “I do not care for hunky boys” and then I’m sitting there, like, “but what if he did care for hunky boys?” I’m having that discussion in my head as I’m sitting at my computer writing it, and I’m thinking, wouldn’t it be interesting if he did? And that’s where it started to snowball.
To be fair, I don’t feel like it takes up enough of the narrative. It’s something I definitely will pursue if there’s future PG adventures, because I think it’s such an interesting aspect of his character. But yeah, then it became, “how can I bring this back in a satisfying way?” Not only make it a part of his character, but make it a big payoff at the end and enhance that finale. Instead of just wallowing in choreography and not really having any character or personality to it, that was a way for me to really make that final moment inclusive and have him freaked out that his precious magazines are ripped up.
So yeah, it’s a really long-winded way of me saying that I really like this aspect of PG that just organically came out of me writing this script, of him liking hunky boys. I agree that these types of characters are so typically heteronormative, and so the idea of giving him this layer to his character makes him more interesting and more engaging, and something I’ve just never seen before. It instantly added more dimension to a character type that is typically very one-dimensional.
Absolutely. I can tell you that it’s really resonating with people. I’ve heard from other LGBT horror fans who have seen the movie and they all really appreciated that aspect of it. It’s really refreshing.
I’m glad that it’s resonating with people. My worry was, is it reading too much as a joke and not genuine? But it sounds like people are treating it seriously, which is good, because that’s ultimately what I wanted. I like that idea and that aspect of the character, so I’m glad to hear that.
One aspect of PSYCHO GOREMAN that’s been generating a lot of discussion is all of the little references and visual homages to other films scattered throughout. Have people been surprising you with what they pick up on?
People have brought up stuff where they’re like, is this a reference to this thing? And I stop and think, “I guess it was?” This again goes back to me being too saturated with my experiences of watching movies growing up that I don’t even know what I’m referencing half the time. I have such an instinctual way of writing and pulling ideas out of the air that I don’t realize the height of it is coming from a very specific experience. If anything, I need somebody to make a definitive list of what they think all the references are, and then I can cross-check it and maybe it’ll trigger some buried memory of mine that makes me realize where something was coming from. [laughs]
Having said that, there are definitely a lot of surface level references that I think are pretty obvious. I’m glad people are picking up on it and not calling me a hack for referencing a bunch of stuff.
As a big Star Trek fan, I can’t let you go without asking about your time as a prosthetic makeup artist on STAR TREK: DISCOVERY.
I’ve had this question a few times and honestly, I worked on it for like a week. I glued on some Klingons in season one, I was basically a daily worker. I came in when they needed extra hands. But it was super fun and probably the biggest TV show I’ve ever worked on. It’s cool to be able to say I had .0001% of a hand in something Star Trek-related.
PSYCHO GOREMAN is out now in theaters and available on VOD from RLJE Films.