Chelsea Stardust’s Satanic Panic recently celebrated its world premiere at the 2019 Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans. The second film released under the Fangoria brand, Satanic Panic is written by Grady Hendrix (Paperbacks From Hell) & Ted Geoghegan (Mohawk), and stars Rebecca Romijn (X-Men), Ruby Modine (Happy Death Day), Hayley Griffith, and Jerry O’Connell (Scream 2). Our very own Kimberley Elizabeth called the film “A late-night romp for ghouls and gorehounds […] Ripped out of 70’s cinema and updated for 2019”. Read her full (spoiler free) review HERE.
We were lucky enough to chat with director Chelsea Stardust about creating a world where the elite sacrifice anyone below them to gain wealth, how she and effects wizard Tate Steinsiek made a monster Brian Yuzna would be proud of, and how Fangoria is helping create a space that embraces female filmmakers. When I first sat down with Chelsea Stardust, we began by discussing her first feature All That We Destroy, part of Hulu’s Into The Dark anthology series, released just a few weeks earlier.
“Unfortunately, there aren’t as many female directors as I would like there to be […] some companies need to do better and Fango is one who is doing better.”
Jonathan Dehaan of Nightmare on Film Street: There’s a really big difference between each of your movies, especially in the pre-production stage. All That We Destroy was written for you but I understand you really had to lobby for Satanic Panic.
Chelsea Stardust: So you know, it was interesting- Cinestate and Fangoria, they reached out to my agent for my consideration – but also, the horror community is fairly small in LA. Unfortunately, there aren’t as many female directors as I would like there to be because they’re just not getting the opportunities that they should, but they’re out there, they’re just not being thought of. We’re on the cusp of a big change so I’m hoping that we’ll be seeing more and more, it’s just- some companies need to do better and Fango is one who is doing better. A lot of my friends who are also female directors also got the script, because that’s just how it is, you go out to a lot of people. I don’t know if people were- you’ve seen the movie, it’s crazy- so I don’t know if people were nervous about it but to me, I was all about it.
We all talked about it like ‘okay, what does everyone think of the script?’ we had a convo about it. But for me, because I had read it a year earlier, I’m like, ‘I want to make this movie’. Like, what do I have to do to get this? But I knew that Dallas [Sonnier] and Amanda [Presmyk] really wanted me because they loved that I came from comedy. I read the script, I did a phone call with them, explained why I wanted to do it, why I loved Grady [Hendrix] and Ted [Geoghegan], and my vision for the movie, but I think I was the only person they were looking at that had come from horror and comedy. Nobody else had done that.
NOFS: Yeah, you really needed that mix for this movie.
CS: I had actually worked for a horror producer and a comedy director, and they’re like “nobody else that we’re looking at has,” and also I had a movie under my belt that they saw. They reached out to Ryan Turek at Blumhouse, he obviously said, “You need to hire her” because he’s best. And so then they saw All That We Destroy, and they were all about it, which is really nice. And it happens so quickly. I think it was July of last year when they finally said yes. Oh, yeah- cause I was home. I was home for the July with my parents. I did these calls and did lookbooks and sent images and all this stuff that I wanted, for my vision, and then I heard nothing for like two weeks. Then I get back to LA and my agent gives me the call, and she’s like, “you got the job,” and then we immediately started casting. So I was in Texas by the middle or end of September, and then we were shooting October into November. It was insane.
NOFS: I was actually thinking on the way over here. For how much I’ve been sweating the last three days, It’s kind of fitting to have your world premiere here [in New Orleans] because I already feel like I’m walking around in Hell. But it looked like it was pretty cold on set. How was that shoot in October/November?
CS: Well, I love that we premiered here. I always wanted to premiere at Overlook. That was the goal so I’m glad that they accepted the movie, that they said yes. This is where I wanted to premiere it. Yeah, so the weather- Dallas is an incredible place to shoot because the production value. We could not have made this movie in LA on the budget that we had. We could not have gotten those houses. Impossible. But we happened to be there during record breaking flooding, and rain. So the first day of shooting, it was a torrential downpour. And of course you look at the movie and it just makes Sam so much more sympathetic.
“…the first day of shooting, it was a torrential downpour […] Maybe it was God punishing us for our satanic movie, who knows?”
But I was like, David Fincher spends a lot of money on rain towers so I should be thankful for this – but honestly, to have the first couple days be so miserable and just non-stop rain and trying to cover cameras and gear and everyone’s soaking wet, especially your G&E crew, and your camera crew, are just drenched the whole time. And then it was about like 50 degrees during the day and then 40 almost into the 30s at night. So that scene at the end […] , it was probably 40 degrees dipping into a little colder than that, so everyone was so game for it, and we had all these things on the altar. We were putting heating blankets on there and covering them in robes and towels and all this stuff and waiting till the last minute to pull everything off. There’s some scenes too where you can see Rebecca [Romijn’s] breath when she’s speaking-
NOFS: Yeah, but it made her look great!
CS: That’s the thing. and you know, that’s something I actually look for in movies. You know, that’s supposed to be winter, can you see their breath? Is it actually cold out? You know, it makes it a little bit more realistic. So that was tricky but you have no control over it. Maybe it was God punishing us for our satanic movie, who knows? But yeah, we have no control over that stuff but it works in the movie. It’s not like it was snowing.
NOFS: So about that scene specifically, where Rebecca has the girls cornered. I saw that you were talking about Race With The Devil (1975)– and this a very specific question but- there’s a scene in Race With The Devil that I love where the Satanists are trying to get into the RV and the rear lights are lighting them up bright right red.
NOFS: In [Satanic Panic] Rebecca looks flanked on both sides with the taillights of her car. Is that where you pulled that image from?
CS: Well, my DP and I, Mark Evans, we studied a ton of movies in terms of the aesthetic we want. So you know, it was Race With The Devil and Drag Me To Hell and both Evil Dead movies, especially the newer one in terms of how that movie looked, it has a very specific look to it especially with how Sam Raimi lights nighttime and things like that. But yes, definitely Race With The Devil is a big influence for that.
NOFS: I like that movie a lot. Like, more than I should.
CS: Cause it’s amazing. But also, I’m just always fascinated with anything Satanic on film. Also, Deathgasm (2015) we looked at, [and] Devil’s Candy (2017). There’s a huge list that that that we went through and studied, and Jennifer’s Body (2009) too- just in terms of the aesthetic. We didn’t want it to be set in like the 70s like Race With The Devil. We wanted it to be in present day. Also, we never see a satanic cult in society necessarily, like a lot of times it’s outside or in a basement like House of The Devil (2009) or whatever. I was always telling my production designer, my costume, my hair and wardrobe, ‘What is the high fashion version of this? How would Martha Stewart throw a satanic cult get-together?’ So what’s the twist on it, how do we take it and just elevate it to the next level? Like, the robes should be a little bit elevated, the hairstyles and the makeup and the jewelry should be a little bit elevated because this isn’t a basement satanic ritual, it is high society. Also there’s a nod to Society in the movie, Brian Yuzna’s movie.
“What is the high fashion version of [Satanism]? How would Martha Stewart throw a satanic cult get together?”
NOFS: Oh wow! What’s that nod?
CS: When they open the newspaper, it’s called “Society”, at the very, very end- because that was another one, that was an example of a movie [where] the upper class create “The Shunting” and they’re very wealthy, you know, playing on what will people do because the movie is a huge statement on classism and white classism. You get this girl pregnant, have Satan’s child, your wealth will come to you, but I didn’t have any references for that. What would the upper class do? What would the 1% do for a satanic ritual?
NOFS: Yeah, they wouldn’t be wearing cheap dollar store robes.
CS: That’s the thing- Everything was custom made, so we didn’t go to a Halloween store and get anything. All of those red robes we had made. Rebecca’s robe during the scene with AJ Bowen that we had made, her robe at the end, the hair piece, the headdress, everything we had custom made for her. That was so much fun, to build that world out.
NOFS: Can we talk creature design design for a minute? Because [a creature] is also very Brian Yuzna.
[Editor’s Note: Some details in this section have been removed to avoid spoiling specific plot points]
CS: Yeah, exactly. That was all done very intentionally. Everything Tate Steinsiek and his team worked on, they were in Oklahoma and I was in LA and Texas so we were corresponding between phone and email and texting, showing me everything. But you know, these are things that we’ve just never seen really in any sort of horror cinema, so coming up the concept, I just wanted it to be something really gross. I want the audience to be like, ‘Oh my god, this is disgusting’. I needed everything to be practical effects. I said “I need everything to feel alive” because with practical effects, it is actually real and you buy it and believe it because it’s a real tangible thing. That one we had a lot of fun with, and Rebecca, I think that was her first- God I can’t remember if that was her first “gore” scene.
[…]The Wizard of Oz is a huge reference in this whole movie. There are a ton of things throughout the while movie which is something for a repeat viewing but, you know, we transition to color when she goes into Millbase and when Dorothy opens the door, Sam is wearing red converse, that’s her ruby slippers. She’s in blue primarily through the movie, Judy becomes her scarecrow, the little bunny becomes her Toto […] and Danica already has a deal with the devil and is the more supreme being of everyone there so she has powers unlike anyone else, like the Wicked Witch.
NOFS: So in terms of repeat viewings, Satanic Panic is playing at Fantasia Fest next, is that right?
CS: The festival circuit is just now starting so obviously this was Overlook, we have Oak Cliff in Dallas next weekend, Cinepocalypse in Chicago the following weekend and then Fantasia in July, and there’s a few more coming that haven’t been announced yet so that will continue the wild ride. I’m really excited to see how it plays in different cities and what people laugh at what they respond to. My biggest thing for this movie is that you’re supposed to have fun watching it because we have so many super intense, depressing things out there, like the world we’re living in right now is a little depressing.
I just want people to have fun. There’s a lot that I’m saying in this movie but it’s just supposed to be a throwback that were almost comfort films when you were a kid that you wanted to watch over and over again. There are horror movies like that for me and I want people to have fun with it, and laugh, and lean into how fucking weird it is. It’s amazing to be able to make something so crazy and kooky, and of course, under the Fango brand was pretty awesome for me.
Chelsea Stardust’s Satanic Panic celebrated it’s World Premiere at the 2019 Overlook Film Festival. Stay tuned to Nightmare on Film Street for more coverage and highlights from the festival, and let us know which films you’re excited to check out over on Twitter, Reddit, and the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!