How to Make a PSYCHO GOREMAN
‘80s montages, talking brains, a battle to enslave the universe, buckets filled with severed heads, and a sword made entirely of discarded organs. Flying limbs. Eternal torture. Bleeding television sets. A girl and her pet demon. This is Psycho Goreman, and it is already one of the best horror movies of the year.
“I had a few key images in the movie rambling around in my brain for years, and one of them was a big, hulking monster man sitting at a drum set,” recalls writer/director Steven Kostanski. “It just made me laugh, but I didn’t know what to do with it. Then, one day, I had just finished working on Leprechaun Returns and I decided to watch Rawhead Rex for the first time. As I was watching it, I started riffing on this idea of like, okay, you take this basic core concept of ancient evil gets resurrected, a very traditional trope in horror movies. Take that, and what other genres can you mash that with?
“I liked having two genres that were at odds with each other,” he continued, “in a way that I felt could lead to some good comedy while still letting one genre do their thing, and not be diminished by the other”.
Kostanski is calling me from his home back in Toronto, over 2,500 miles away, but he’s so passionate about his latest project that for a minute, it’s easy to forget he’s not sitting in the room right next to me. Previously known for his work on The Void, Father’s Day, and the indie gem Manborg, the director is back with what is arguably his best film yet: a story about a little girl who befriends and bosses around an evil monster looking to destroy the universe. After unearthing an amulet that grants her control over his free will, Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) uses the primeval being to do her bidding. Naturally, hilarity ensues.
“It’s very much like a Terminator 2 kind of wish fulfillment scenario, or even Little Monsters. A kid having a fantasy character as a friend, like a fairly easy trope to transform into different genres,” says Kostanski. “I was also inspired by the trauma of watching those types of movies when you’re too young to be watching them. When the violence hits, it hits hard. Because you’re not expecting it as a kid, having those brutal consequences happen onscreen. So, I wanted PG to have a little bit of that woven throughout. I wanted it to toy with audience expectations in terms of when is it going to be a silly, light-hearted moment and when it is it going to be a dark, brutal moment, and just kind of jumping back and forth on a whim to take the audience on a weird ride”.
But how does one make a Psycho Goreman? Where does one begin when dreaming up the details of their movie monster?
“He’s very much inspired by a bunch of villain characters that I loved as a kid. I mean there’s a little bit of Molasar from The Keep. There’s definitely a tiny bit of him, like that tiny bio-mechanical organic armor, those are things that I was very much into as a kid. Ultimately, what I wanted to achieve with all of the creatures was I wanted to make things that would jump off the shelf at me if I was ten years old and at Walmart looking at toys. What would be the toy that I would gravitate towards? So, with PG, giving him those pink cracks through his body, those glowing pink cracks, that’s the thing that if I was a kid and I saw it on a shelf, I would want to buy it, just because it’s so vibrant and would stand out from other toys. That was my approach with all the creatures, look at the simple gimmicks and expand them to full size. Just almost like thinking in terms of translating a toy to a fully realized creature, just starting as simple as that and building up”.
Having an extensive background in creature and makeup effects proved beneficial in more ways than one. Not only is Kostanski capable of building the intricate organisms that adorn his wild and zany movie, but he’s also great at making them “on the cheap,” as he puts it. Learning how to stretch a dollar is becoming an increasingly critical skill to possess in an industry that is more and more divided between billion-dollar blockbusters and auteur-driven independent features. In this case, the work onscreen looks dramatically more expensive than the dividends used to display their pomp.
One scene, in particular, is incredibly impressive. A so-called “warrior’s death” takes place in the woods, a ceremony which Psycho Goreman explains is the honorable eating of his fallen foe. PG opens his mouth wide like a snake, devouring a former friend in his entirety. It is gnarly.
“It was actually a reshoot because the first time we did it; it was a very simple puppet basically. It was like a big mouth that attached to one of PG’s masks. It was one of those things that was kind of a half thought-out gag, that probably should’ve had more meetings about and put more thought into because when we went to do it, it really didn’t look like much of anything. So, you put that in the edit as a placeholder with the intention of hopefully reshooting it.
“So what I ended up doing,” he continued, “was taking one of the PG masks and building like essentially a giant hand puppet off of it. His mandibles that are consuming Dark Screen are actually the actor’s hands. He wasn’t even played by Matt [Ninaber], who played PG. Chris Nash, one of our effects artists, played PG in that moment.
“So, he’s got his hands in the giant jaws and he’s just operating them like mandibles,” he said, elaborating on the effect, “and then he is actually squatting in a hole that we dug in the ground to hide the lower part of his body. There is a giant, like a full-sized PG from the neck down with his armature dreaded through his body where his hands and knees go. It was a lot of tweaking and after-effects. Getting rid of the stuff that didn’t look very good, but the core elements of it were all practically done.
“We shot it in a friend’s backyard a few weeks before we had to deliver the movie. […] It was right down to the wire. It was one of those things where I built it and the next day we shot it. As with everything on the movie, the key was keep it simple. We didn’t want to get into any conflict. Just keep it as simple as possible. Anything to do with a hand puppet or a rod puppet or just simple compositing, that’s all that I wanted. You start to overcomplicate things and it just produces problems”.
Although the odds are undoubtedly in his favor when it comes to creating fantastical worlds, Kostanski admits that in the future, he might need to rein in his imagination for the sake of his sanity. Considering how much he packed into one picture, it’s an understandable takeaway.
“I think the lesson I learn on every movie and then forget when I go do the next thing is that I need to be less ambitious sometimes,” says Kostanski. “This was a movie that on the page seemed achievable, and then as we were doing it, it was really insane the amount of stuff you cram into it. The amount of effects especially, it’s like a movie that we had $50,000 to do the effects but there was $500,000 of effects onscreen, if that makes sense. There was a lot of late nights and calling in favors from everybody I knew in the effects community just to pull all those off because it was so ambitious. And so you hope to maybe be a little more conscious of that going forward, and not stretching myself too thin, because I feel like at a certain point, something’s gotta give and it’s not gonna work out the way I want it to. I was very lucky with ‘PG’ to have such a great team involved to pull off my crazy vision for the movie”.
Psycho Goreman is available to stream now on Shudder.