For the Mid-West Premiere of SATANIC PANIC at the Cinepocalypse Film Festival, I had the chance to speak with director Chelsea Stardust. Having just directed and completed two back-to-back films this year with SATANIC PANIC (you can read our review HERE) and All That We Destroyed for Hulu’s Into the Dark series, Chelsea has been busy taking the horror genre by storm.
The film, which follows pizza delivery girl Sam, played by Hayley Griffith, who delivers pizzas to high society Satanists looking for a sacrificial virgin, has garnered high praise ever since its World Premiere at the 2019 Overlook Film Festival. During our chat, we discussed everything from working with Ted Geoghegan and Grady Hendrix’s script, the use of practical effects, and how music played a big role in the overall film.
Hi Chelsea, it’s so great to speak with you again! To start things off can you tell us a little bit about your latest film, SATANIC PANIC?
Chelsea Stardust: Yeah, so SATANIC PANIC is sort of my love letter to everything from Evil Dead to Jennifer’s Body to Rosemary’s Baby, Race with the Devil, and Drag Me to Hell. It’s a film that I want people to seek out for slumber parties or when they get together with friends to watch. I want people to have fun watching it. We’re in a world of very nihilistic horror which I’m totally into and absolutely love but one of the things I love about horror movies is how much fun they can be. I wanted to really embrace that with this movie and we’re not taking ourselves too seriously. Obviously, the script is bat-shit crazy and really leaning into the fun of the genre that I think we forget about sometimes.
The story is about a pizza delivery girl who’s just trying to get up on her feet and she delivers a pizza to a very expensive, rich neighborhood where she doesn’t get a tip. She’s been doing deliveries all day, not getting any tips, and she’s not going to stand for it anymore. Unfortunately, the house she walks into is the house of a bunch of satanist and chaos ensues.
SATANIC PANIC was written by Grady Hendrix (Mohawk) and Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here). What was it about the script that interested you in the film and how did you link up with them for the project?
Chelsea Stardust: I’ve been a big fan of Grady’s work. I love [his books] Paperbacks from Hell, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, and Horrorstör and I’m also a fan of Ted’s movies. Basically, I read the script before I was even considered for the project. A friend just sent it to me and told me I needed to check it out. She knew I loved Grady’s work and [after I read it] I said, “This script is fucking awesome, I love it and I can’t wait to see it made, it’s going to be pretty wild.” Cut to 5 months later and my reps reach out to me to tell me that the script has been sent [to them]. Fangoria and Cinestate reached out to them and asked if I’d be interested in directing. I told them I had actually already read the script and I loved it and what did I need to do to get this project. Sure enough, they [Fangoria & Cinestate] had done their homework and talked to Ryan Turek at Blumhouse since I did my first movie with them.
Basically, I put together this huge email of my vision for the movie, my references, stills to give them my sense of my visual style I’d like to do, songs and score references and how I wanted the tone of the movie to feel through music. I sent them this giant email Bible, basically my vision for the movie. I’ve worked in horror working for Jason Blum but I also come from a comedy background having worked for Judd Apatow. I have had experience in both comedy and horror and I’ve been on set for both genres. After I sent everything there was a moment when I heard nothing and I figured I probably didn’t get the job, but then, sure enough, my agent reached out and said, “It’s yours!”
Speaking of music, which you touched upon in my last question, that was an aspect of the film that I really enjoyed. When it came to the final product did you get a lot of say with the choice of music?
Chelsea Stardust: Yes, so the title sequence I wanted as a throwback to animation like Creepshow. I wanted to have that so that’s something I pitched to them. I said, “What if we do the opening where the title comes up as animation” and they said sure. I also wanted to lean into the crazy black metal, heavy metal of satanic music. Then for the score itself, I wanted something that was a hybrid of ’70s Giallo – like Goblin-esque rock with an ’80s John Carpenter synth. I remember that there was a composer that followed me on social media and had done the movie Boogeyman Pop and that’s Wolfman of Mars. I had listened to their stuff before and was a big fan. They have that hybrid sound that I wanted but I had no idea if they were available. I knew that the director of Boogeyman Pop had just done another movie called Bit and I knew that [Wolfman of Mars] was probably scoring that so I just took a chance and reached out. I asked if they were available and if they would be interested in doing [SATANIC PANIC]. I sent them the script and showed them an early version of the movie and they said that they would absolutely love to do it.
As for the climax of the movie, my editor Mike Sale and I cut the climax to a Chelsea Wolfe song and I thought the song was so perfect. I very much wanted the climax of the movie to be a female vocalist because I wanted to make sure that our lead characters pain and experience would be reflected through the music as well, so a female vocalist was super important for this. We reached out to Chelsea Wolfe knowing we were taking a chance. At the time she was in the studio working on a new album so we didn’t hear anything. Our music supervisors were trying to reach her and I wrote her this letter telling her I was a big fan of her work and why this song had to be in my movie. I then went on her website and I realized that her booking agent was at the same agency as my agent, so I immediately reached out asking if they knew of [Chelsea Wolfe’s] agent. We were literally days away from locking the movie so we had to know and I couldn’t go back and recut that scene because we had already picture locked. Sure enough, [Wolfe’s agent] reached out and within 24 hours she said yes. I’ve been lucky with music which is something that I hope continues. Music is so, so important and Wolfman of Mars totally crushed it and I think we’re going to work on getting a vinyl soundtrack of the movie when the time comes.
I noticed that in the film there were some familiar faces. Can you talk a little bit about the casting process?
Chelsea Stardust: The casting process was really fun and we have newcomer Hayley Griffith who I think is an absolute superstar. Ruby Modine I was familiar with from Shameless but also Happy Death Day, so I reached out to director Chris Landon and was like, “Hey, what do you think of Ruby?” and he was like, “I love her”. She has such incredible energy and I knew I wanted to be on set with her. Her and Hayley’s characters are the absolute heart of this movie. Ruby told us she really wanted this part and I asked her if she would be willing to put real worms in her mouth and she said, without skipping a beat, yes, and I told her the part was hers! (laughs). Working with Rebecca Romijn and Jerry O’Connell was awesome. They are married in real life as well as in the movie so watching them work together doing this super gory scene was so fun. We also have horror royalty AJ Bowen, Jordan Ladd, and Jeff Daniel Phillips which were all a delight to work with. Mike Winfield is an awesome comedian that we got to have in this movie. We also have influencer Hannah Stocking who totally crushes the sweet babysitter with a sadistic agenda and also her counterpart in that scene, Whitney Moore, who’s also known in the horror community. Clarke Wolfe has a cameo and we have tons of local Dallas talent as well since we shot in Dallas. I felt like I had an embarrassment of riches with this cast. Rebecca had not done horror before and she hasn’t done gore effects so she had a great time with that. Getting to talk to Jerry about Wes Craven and Scream 2 was also very magical I will say.
This film features a lot of practical effects. Was that something that was always on the table?
Chelsea Stardust: Yeah, so practical effects are part of the Fango brand. When you do a movie with Fango they specifically say they do not do visual effects. Basically, this is all practical because that’s their brand and it’s a throwback to old school horror which I was totally down for. Tate [Steinsiek] did an amazing job and as you saw there were some really crazy things that we just haven’t seen in American cinema. I wanted to lean into a really fun camp factor too with some of the practical effects. I wanted to embrace that and have fun with that. Also, there’s an absurdity going into a movie called SATANIC PANIC and I wanted to embrace that and again, have fun with it. The only challenge that comes with practical effects is sometimes they don’t work or they take a really long time to set up. Luckily, Tate had a fleet of people that were working with him and we were doing everything from old school puppetry to things on wires and rods and reverse photography. At that moment you wonder if it’s all going to work if it’s going to cut together like you hope it will and then you go to editorial and you are like “Yes, it totally fucking worked!” (laughs).
One of my favorite scenes had to do with Hayley’s character and a bed sheet. Can you talk about that a little?
Chelsea Stardust: Oh my god, so the Haxan Cloak, that was really fun to shoot. We had to give Hayley directions becuase you have to do things counterintuitive so as to not give away anything when you’re doing reverse photography. Blinking can give things away especially with slow motion. If you’re slowing things down or doing a ramp, blinking throws things off and gives the gag away so we had to be very specific about her movements and about doing the opposite of what she normally does.
I know you talked about this earlier but there is a scene which involves worms that I couldn’t watch because I can’t handle that type of thing (laughs).
Chelsea Stardust: Oh yeah, those are all real worms with chocolate syrup and crumbled up Oreos. In solidarity, I put worms without any chocolate or anything in my mouth for Ruby. Dallas Sonnier came in and told me I had to do it too, so I said fine and threw it right in my mouth as I didn’t want to kill the worm. When you see an earthworm you think they look smooth but no, they actually feel like a cat’s tongue. They’re rough because of those ridges on their bodies so that they can move through the dirt so yeah, it was pretty gross.
Well to wrap up this insightful interview, my last question for you is should we expect to see any additional projects from in the near future?
Chelsea Stardust: Yes, so I have two projects I’m attached to with the writers of my first movie All That We Destroyed, so Sean Keller and Jim Agnew – I’m attached to two scripts of theirs. I have a lot of things in the works because as you know in Hollywood, you just never know what’s going to happen first, what’s going to get green-lit, and what’s going to fall apart, so I always try to prepare myself with multiple projects, so I’m seeing which one of those will happen first. They are both scripts I absolutely love so I’m happy to do either one first. They are a little bit different in that they are exploring another subgenre of horror – one is a psychological thriller and the other one is a female serial killer coming-of-age story. Everything I do centers around stories about women as much as possible. All That We Destroyed is what a mother will do for her child and SATANIC PANIC is exploring female friendships ala Jennifer’s Body, so I’m really excited about those. I hope that some teenager out there will get to see SATANIC PANIC and that it is directed by a woman and it’ll inspire her to make movies. Or girls after prom or homecoming will get together with all their friends as I did and rent this on iTunes and watch it together and have fun – that’s my hope for this movie. I’m so happy and proud of it and I’m just here for the ride and super thankful.