Psycho Goreman: Steve Kostanski on Building a Better Monster

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It’s rare that a horror-comedy film gets the attention it deserves. At least, not around the time that it’s released. Even the great ones tend to be labeled a “cult classic” later on, but mastering the genre can regularly lead to bigger things. We see that happen as often as we do because horror and comedy are deceptively hard to balance, and it stands to reason that if you could pull off that balancing act once, you might be able do it again combining other genres.

Steve Kostanski has been in the movie business for the better part of two decades, mostly working behind the scenes in creature and makeup effects, but this very much feels like Kostanski’s “time” thanks to his latest movie, Psycho Goreman.

The director, who already had an established fanbase thanks to other low budget movies like Manborg and The Void, released his latest flick in the time of COVID, so it was denied what would have no doubt been a very long stretch in smaller theatres with sticky floors and worn seats – the kind that would embrace a film so “out there” that audiences might have left wondering what exactly they just witnessed. 

But all was not lost, because Psycho Goreman found a home on streaming and immediately started generating a buzz anyway.

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The urge to conceal some of the joys of Psycho Goreman from other people is pretty strong. It’s definitely a movie that you’ll get more out of if you don’t know what to expect, so we’ll just sum up the plot a little for those who are uninitiated: a brother and sister accidentally dig up an alien overlord who the sister discovers she can control using a magical amulet.

We talked to Kostanski about how the movie got made, how working on The Void and Manborg taught him the lessons he needed to learn to get Psycho Goreman right, and whether there might be a sequel on the way…

Den of Geek: Last month I got a text from a friend I hadn’t spoken to for ages. It just said, “You need to watch Psycho Goreman.” Nothing else, but I could tell it was a pretty serious situation, so I checked the film out and immediately recommended it to somebody else who I knew would love it. Have you found there’s been a lot of this kind of word of mouth support?

Steve Kostanski: Yeah, I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me like, “My friend recommended this randomly and it was totally crazy. So thank you for making this movie”, which is a reaction I don’t usually get. 

I mean, I was expecting my usual fanbase to be into it. I thought I was making a pretty decent movie, but it seems to have spread a lot further into public consciousness than I was expecting it to, which is great. I guess that just means I made a really bonkers film that people like to talk about, so I’m pretty grateful for that.

We’ve been talking about the film quite a lot here; it comes up all the time. The attention to detail is incredible. How early on in life did the makeup and effects bug bite?

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I’ve always loved movies. I was a video store kid. I was constantly renting VHS movies in the ‘90s and obsessing over them. My dad loaned me his Super 8 camera when I was 12 and I used that to do stop-motion animation because I was into special effects. I was a big fan of stuff like Star Wars, and I really wanted to emulate all my favorite movies. 

Eventually, I started shooting live-action movies and did the effects and animation for those, too. It’s been a constant through my whole life of wanting to make movies and monsters and effects and just tell crazy sci-fi fantasy adventure stories. It’s always been there. 

When I got out of high school, I decided I wanted to try pursuing creature effects and prosthetic effects for a living, and luckily, I was able to mentor under a prosthetic artist name Doug Morrow in my hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, who showed me the ropes and taught me about the actual job of doing makeup effects. That’s how I was able to pursue it as a career, while also making movies on the side. I’ve kind of been jumping back and forth between the two ever since.

One of the benefits of growing up in the ‘80s was that there were these wild sci-fi and fantasy concept movies basically on tap. They made it to completion so regularly. The shelves would be stacked with intoxicating covers and unique monster designs. You’d see an image from something like Xtro in a magazine and think “I need to see this at all costs.” It’s fair to say you’ve made a “see it at all costs” movie here. I know you name-checked Prince of Darkness as being a big influence for The Void, but what were the influences for Psycho Goreman?

It was really just a combination of my experiences growing up watching R-rated movies when I was way too young to be watching them – movies like Terminator 2. One of my earliest memories as a kid was watching that movie and being enthralled by the sci-fi action component to it. 

As a kid, you’re into video games and comics and cartoons, so seeing these cool chrome robots shooting lasers is really thrilling, but then you’re also seeing people get their kneecaps shot out and get impaled through the eye. It’s that kind of unexpectedly violent and brutal realism that maybe a little kid isn’t prepared for. Psycho Goreman is me working through a bit of that trauma!

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Did you learn any valuable lessons from making Manborg and The Void that ended up paying off during Psycho Goreman?

I think Manborg taught me that I have to be realistic with my ambitions on making a movie. I went into that project thinking I could feasibly make a sci-fi action epic with no money, and it ended up consuming three years of my life. So going into PG, I tried to be a little more realistic about what I could accomplish on a low budget.

The Void was a punishing experience. It hardened me a little bit and gave me more experience in working within the system, in the traditional sense of working with a crew and producers. It gave me a “worst case scenario” in every possible filmmaking situation to then carry over.

I’m a very introverted person, so The Void was a real “trial by fire” for me and forced me out of my shell. It helped me as a director – keeping everyone motivated, answering questions and just being involved and present. Not thinking like an effects artist sitting in the corner sculpting monsters all day. 

Watching Psycho Goreman has become a kind of moral imperative for genre fans. Honestly, it looked like so much work went into it. How did it go from concept to final cut, and did you hit any roadblocks along the way from people who just didn’t get it?

This film was a once in a lifetime opportunity where a friend of a friend was looking to finance a feature film, and he really just bought into the “Steve Kostanski brand,” and loved my previous work and wanted me to have free reign to make the thing I wanted to make. That’s not to say that the producers didn’t chime in and have opinions on things, but they very much put their trust in me to make a movie that would be entertaining and that audiences would like.

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I think I’ve always been a pop filmmaker. I love cliches and conventions and I like making things that are crowd-pleasing. I think the producers knew that. They knew that if the movie didn’t hit the mark in some way, that it would at least deliver on effects and spectacle and be crowd-pleasing. So I was very lucky to have their confidence.

It is crowd-pleasing, but still subverts your expectations. Did that happen organically while you were making it or was it always planned that way?

I always want to make a movie that would have sat on the video store shelf amongst the other movies that I loved as a kid. I wanted to make a thing that was satisfying, that delivered on its promises in a way that I felt like a lot of low-budget genre films of the past didn’t. 

I wanted to make something that delivered on the epic poster art, but at the same time make something that had a familiar emotional arc, subverting it as much as possible without taking away from the satisfying kind of build up and climaxes that those types of stories have.

I feel like in this day and age, telling a conventional story is almost taboo. The idea of having a traditional story arc is frowned upon. So I liked the idea of committing to that, but then also just using it as a through-line to hang all kinds of weirdness, and go on all sorts of bizarre digressions. I also liked the idea of shocking people a little bit and lulling them into a sense of familiarity, but then doing something totally off the wall just to throw them off.

Mimi is such an interesting twist on the wholesome little girl in the creature feature. Was casting the role hard? Did you audition a lot of actors for that part?

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We did a lot of auditions. It was definitely a big concern going into the movie. On the page it all read great and everybody was excited about the idea of this crazy little girl being our protagonist, but finding somebody that could pull that off definitely had the producers nervous.

Nita [Hanna] was one of our first auditions. Even though her audition performance wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, I could tell that there was a level of professionalism there that I wasn’t getting from the other auditions. So, we had her come back for subsequent auditions, and every time I talked through the role, she just got better and better. 

Big question now, brace yourself: what was it like working with Rich Evans?

[Laughs] It’s such a small cameo from him! I reached out and asked if he’d be interested, and he agreed. I sent him a rough version of the scene that he’s in, and he recorded me a good like 15, 20 minutes of audio that I could just pull from. It was great. It was basically the barest minimum of interaction, but what he gave me was fantastic and I’m very thankful that he agreed to be a part of the movie because it’s a very weird choice of cameo.

You were into RedLetterMedia before you contacted him, I assume. 

I’m a big RedLetterMedia fan. I watch all of their stuff and love their reviews. I’m a fan of anything that brings me back to the days of watching movies with my friends, because I feel like that’s informed who I am as a filmmaker. Watching other people shoot the shit about films and have that kind of casual discourse is very comforting and entertaining to me. 

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I’ve heard you’d be up for doing a Psycho Goreman sequel or a spinoff. Have there been any recent developments on that?

Nothing concrete, but there is definitely interest and people are asking about it. I think there will be more PG adventures in the future. I’d love to do more of it, I just want to figure out the smartest way forward is before actually diving into another project.

Thank you, Steve.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Psycho Goreman is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

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