Psycho Goreman’s director on his ridiculously entertaining (and yes, gory) film

Playing at this year’s Terror-Fi Film Festival, Psycho Goreman brings ancient intergalactic horror to the suburbs, with suitably gory (and comedic) results. Steve Newall spoke with director Steven Kostanski about his ridiculously entertaining  – and highly recommended – film.

If you’ve seen Manborg, Father’s Day or The Void, you’ll know the highly creative, and sometimes totally bonkers, terrain director Steven Kostanski inhabits. Another hint about what to expect from his new film Psycho Goreman (part of this year’s excellent Terror-Fi Film Festival lineup) is W is for Wish, his contribution to horror anthology ABCs of Death 2 that saw kids transported to a brutally realistic world of fantasy toys.

Kids and carnage come together again in Psycho Goreman, in which two siblings bring a violent monster to life that’s been entombed in their backyard. In control of Psycho Goreman (“or PG for short”) thanks to a magical amulet, the killing machine must obey their childish whims—but the malevolent creature’s reappearance has drawn the attention of intergalactic fiends. Set in the suburbs, populated by a rogue’s gallery of creatures, it’s full of crowd-pleasing moments of violence and hilarity.

We spoke with Kostanski, who’d just returned home to Toronto after directing the upcoming Day of the Dead series about Psycho Goreman, a character he, too, refers to as PG for short.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

FLICKS: I had such a good time watching this film, and can’t wait to see it again with an audience who’s completely unprepared for what they’re about to watch. 

STEVEN KOSTANSKI: That’s the part that I’m the most sad about, not getting to sit with a crowd and watch this movie because there are specific beats that are crafted as audience-pleasing moments that I need to see how people react. There are specific moments where I feel like the whole movie goes off the rails that I just want to see how people take it. Because if you’re not on board at that point, you’re not going to like the movie. And so I want to just gauge, in the moment, how it goes over with people. So I’m sad about not being able to be there, but I’m glad that people get to see it in an audience in New Zealand. I think it’s going to be super fun, and I hope it’s a memorable experience.

What was the genesis of Psycho Goreman for you?

I’ve had some of the ideas for this movie floating around in my head for a very long time. I feel I’ve had the image of a monster sitting at a drum set in my brain for as long as I can remember and just not knowing what to do with that. After I did Leprechaun Returns, I came back to Toronto, and I was trying my best to relax. So I ordered a bunch of Blu-rays online, and I was just going to have some movie time. I’d ordered a special edition of Rawhead Rex with this totally gorgeous cover—I couldn’t say no to that, I’d never seen the movie. And so I was watching it, and no offense to the people who made Rawhead Rex, but it was boring the hell out of me. And I’m sitting there watching this movie, imagining other scenarios similar to this because I love the concept of this archaic monster being buried beneath the earth that gets resurrected and just being this ancient god-like evil. And what could you do with that?

I started imagining scenarios like E.T. where this monster has to be friends with kids, and what are interesting pairings with him. He’s bad and he’s crazy, and the kids that befriend him, take control of him, are just as crazy as he is. What kind of hijinks do they get into? And so that was where the idea came from.

Every time you’re pushing this monster’s buttons and make him frustrated leads to some really great audience-pleasing moments. 

Well, what I love and what Matt, who plays PG, did so great physically, was giving PG vulnerability in those moments too. I think that’s the most fun is when he betrays his kind of stoic nature to kind of mutter little comments, and as the movie goes on, he becomes more human in funny ways and starts to get a little passive-aggressive about stuff. I think Matt, especially, gave him a fun, subtle layer that really made those moments sing for me. His reactions would range from being really big and broad to being small and human and almost like Curb-Your-Enthusiasm-style responses. The unpredictability of it was what was super fun to me. It was not really knowing how PG would react in certain situations. It kept it interesting.

How extensive was the process of pulling together the endlessly interesting ideas seen in the film? There’s a crazy amount you put into this film, as in your other work.

Well, it’s like I’ve got a lot of half-baked ideas just floating around in my brain that I needed to get out. I think some of that came from spending a good part of five years making The Void, making that very serious dark horror movie with [co-director] Jeremy Gillespie, and not really having a place to put all of the goofy stuff that floats around in my brain. So when I started writing this, it was like a bit of catharsis getting rid of all this stuff that had been sitting there pent up for so long. I love coming up with weird worlds and scenarios—stuff like the scene in the movie with the alien council? I could do that all day. I don’t consider myself a particularly skilled writer, but if somebody commissioned me to make a thing like that, where it’s just aliens discussing alien politics and it’s just all nonsense, I could write that all day.

It’s, I think, a bit of a symptom of loving/hating the Star Wars prequels because that council scene is very much my Phantom Menace moment where it’s like the opening crawl of that movie where you’re like, “What, are they talking about trade disputes? What does this have to do with anything?” So I wanted that feeling that they’re talking about stuff that’s totally inconsequential, but they’re very serious about it. And that’s a thing that I love about the prequels, is it’s a lot of nonsense thrown into those movies that feels like it’s trying to build a universe and backstory, but it just makes me laugh. So yeah, I was trying to emulate that a little bit. I love that kind of half-baked sci-fi bullshit that feels like somebody trying to flesh out a world but it not being entirely successful.

Being more Attack of the Clones than The Empire Strikes Back, I guess, is what I’m saying. I like those kinds of things, like the knockoff sci-fi universes that try to have the scope of a Star Wars or a Star Trek or a Blade Runner but don’t quite get there and kind of feel like it was just a bunch of writers throwing ideas around a table, being like, “I don’t know. Planet’s called Gigax, I guess. Move on to the next thing.”

You’re also approaching that territory by the sheer amount of time invested in building alien character costumes when they might not even get a line of dialogue. Your toy range is great with this film!

Oh, the whole point is to just make so much stuff that it has to be a toy line. And that’s my favorite thing too. Everybody loves The Empire Strikes Back, everybody loves the bounty hunter lineup. You see all those characters in a line, and you’re like, “I want to know what that guy’s deal is.” And so I wanted to have a bit of that, as well, where we cut to characters where, clearly, there’s something going on with that guy and we don’t address it, and so you spend the rest of the movie thinking, “Why was that guy and why was his head in a tube?”

It sticks with you in funny ways. I feel like it’s something that I get also from a lot of Asian cinema, specifically anime and Japanese movies. They’re really good at building up these weird mythologies and things where you just look at their creature designs and you’re like, “I want to know why that thing is the way that it is.” So yeah, I really went out of my way to try and make things as interestingly obtuse as possible so you’re looking at it and wondering, “Why is that the way that it is?” And it’s never addressed necessarily in the movie. Yeah, the weird witch lady just happens to have a shrunken head on her staff. I’m not going to explain why. You can make up your own story.

I feel like, as a kid too, that was a big part of growing up was watching cartoons and movies and things, like Masters of the Universe, He-Man type stuff where you’d see a character, you’d see Trap Jaw, and you’d want to know, “Well, why is his jaw like that?” And so I just wanted to emulate that as much as possible.

And then you’d find out it was just some guy who went, “His jaw should be a trap.”

Yeah, just a bunch of middle-aged dudes sitting around a table drinking beer, throwing ideas back and forth, which is super funny to me. I just love the idea that kids—I guess adults now, too, now that nerd culture’s expanded so much—get so hung up on these details that are totally inconsequential. So yeah. I wanted to just cram a movie full of stuff like that for people to enjoy.

Clearly, practical effects really important to you, and we see it throughout this film. The Void had great examples of it as well. What’s your attraction, and what do they mean for you as both a viewer and a filmmaker?

I mean, I just love the artistry behind practical effects. I love the problem solving that goes into it. I love writing a story and then trying to figure out, “Well, how does that go on screen? How do I make this thing real?” And I think, as a viewer, I just love watching people find ways to make that happen. It’s a bit of a magic trick, trying to fool people into thinking something’s real even though you know it’s not, and you know, obviously, that gag is a practical effect. But in the moment, through editing and clever ways of shooting stuff, you can sell people on pretty much anything.

I just find the process of bringing creatures to life really exciting. I’ve always been fascinated by it. As a kid, it really blew my mind, even just watching Ninja Turtles, the movie. Jim Henson’s stuff really impressed me as a kid. And, obviously, Yoda and Star Wars was really awesome. I love the fun, handmade quality of practical effects. There’s a bit of an arts-and-crafts vibe to it that I find really entertaining. It feels very wholesome and innocent, and that, to me, is what storytelling should be. It’s like putting on a puppet show, almost, for people, and you know it’s not real, but you appreciate that somebody’s hands made those things to entertain you. And so, yeah, I will always make things that have practical creatures and effects and stuff because that’s what movie magic is to me.

I do think that seeing a thing somebody made with their bare hands has an inherent quality to it, and there’s an inherent sympathy to it as opposed to something that’s made on a computer. No matter how much work goes into it, something about that feels like a shortcut to me, and it’s also expensive. It costs money. With practical effects, I was doing that stuff in my parents’ basement, making monsters for Manborg and stuff. I just find it more charming, and that’s just my bias, I guess.

What are some of the practical gags and other stuff you’re proudest of in the film?

I mean, it’s such a small thing, but it’s a big thing to me. Our physical effects coordinator, Mike Hamilton, who I’ve been friends with for many years now, he rigged up all the spark gags for the movie because he knew that I wanted that Power Rangers look of when somebody gets hit with a sword, sparks burst out. And it’s a thing that, if I was super cheap and lazy, I could have done it all in post-production, but Mike knew I wanted it on set, and he really went out of his way to give me as many sparks as possible. So when characters are sword fighting or getting slashed, and sparks are bursting out of these monsters I built, it’s the most satisfying feeling I can get right now. It’s just so exciting.

As far as other things that I’m proud of, I mean, just the sheer variety of stuff in the movie really makes me happy because it’s the kind of thing I feel like, especially in modern filmmaking, people have shied away from. I call it the Army of Darkness logic of, like, “Just throw everything at your movie.” I miss that inventiveness and that feeling of being overwhelmed with stuff in a movie. Everything’s going the direction of, like, “a family moves into a house and there’s a ghost” and it’s like you have one spooky thing. And that’s fine and can be done well, but I think my childlike brain just wants as much shit as possible, especially from having so many movies underwhelm me. Like the Masters of the Universe movie—love that movie, but it’s clearly a dud, and it does not deliver on the promise of a He-Man movie.

So I think, for me, with Psycho Goreman, it was about trying to have as much payoff as possible. And I think, for the most part, achieving that was very satisfying, just in terms of the quantity of gags and things. As far as all the creatures and stuff, I had such a huge team help out on this, so many people at Masters Effects in Toronto I basically begged into helping out on this movie, and they donated their time to create all these different things. So another thing I was super happy about was just the sheer variety, because of all the artists I had involved, and I think it shows on the screen just how many different kinds of creatures are on display. It’s just really exciting, and it makes me super happy.

I know everybody says this about their movies, but it very much is a passion project and a movie that really embodies everything I love about movies and why I got into making movies and making monsters. My hope is that this movie will be watched by some kids that maybe aren’t technically old enough to watch the movie but have cool parents who’ll let them.

I want it to be an adult movie that’s also for kids in the same way that I experienced Terminator 2 and Aliens when I was too young. I feel like that really shaped my personality and my creativity and helped kind of push me in the direction that I’m in and put me on the path that I’m on now by enticing me with its kind of adult content but also freaking me out a little bit. And I just feel that was such a great life experience that I reflect on fondly, watching movies that I wasn’t supposed to be watching.

So, my hope is that Psycho Goreman, while also bringing back those memories for adults, will inspire maybe some kids to grow up and also make monsters and monster movies because I hope it can trigger something in their imaginations to make them want to do that.