In A Violent Nature special effects lead Steven Kostanski on juicing up the kills

The guy behind one of the year's goriest horror movies spills his guts

In A Violent Nature special effects lead Steven Kostanski on juicing up the kills
Psycho Goreman Image: RLJE Films

While the script-flipping slasher In A Violent Nature is a fascinatingly quiet spin on your traditional kill-‘em-all horror, it doesn’t skimp on the gross-out gags. You’re having a calm walk through the woods behind a shambling monster awoken by some foolish teens and then BAM, all of a sudden, someone’s dead. Every Fangoria subscriber and late-night Shudder streamer will have their jaws dropped by a few of the most inventive, goopy, and extensive murder sequences of the year. One poor yogini gets pretzeled beyond all recognition in truly impressive fashion. You’ll laugh, you’ll scream, you’ll probably put the snacks down for at least a few minutes.

That dark humor and technical skill come courtesy of both writer/director Chris Nash, who has a background in FX work, and department head Steven Kostanski, who, when he’s not making his own movies (like The Void and Psycho Goreman) is lending his talents to his genre peers. Together, they made a handful of horror moments that people will be talking about all year long.

Kostanski talked to The A.V. Club about pulling off the film’s nastiest kill, making indie horror, and his upcoming films Frankie Freako and Deathstalker.

In a Violent Nature – “Buckle Up” Trailer | HD | IFC Films

The A.V. Club: I read that In A Violent Nature got its start on the set of a movie I love, Psycho Goreman.

Steven Kostanski: I’ve been friends with Chris Nash a long time, we’re both Toronto-based indie filmmakers and FX artists. We both come from a DIY background, so we have a lot in common in that regard. We both love genre movies. I had him doing creature effects on Psycho Goreman, he was the head creature effects person on set so he was applying the PG makeup and the suits and gags and things.

I don’t remember the exact conversation, but I know that at some point on that movie he was pitching me this idea of a slasher that was all the in-between moments. What is Jason up to when we’re not sitting with our camp counselor protagonist? I thought that was a really fascinating idea. We kinda jammed on it a bit, and then he and his producing partners Shannon [Hanmer] and Pete [Kuplowsky] were jamming on it and putting it together. Pitching it to Shudder. What started as an off-the-cuff conversation materialized into this movie.

AVC: That pitch is such a horror geek pitch. You have to have a thorough understanding of what a slasher is to get to that meta level.

SK: Chris is a way more intellectual filmmaker than I am, he obsesses about this stuff. He told me he once re-edited, I believe it was Friday The 13th Part V, and took all the Jason stuff out (or, the fake Jason stuff), so it’s just this character study of all these weirdos. He always comes at this stuff from an interesting angle, always considering it in unique ways. It makes total sense that this was an idea that he would lean into. Especially in the slasher space right now, you need a unique angle to hook people.

AVC: Totally. There are the straightforward slashers, which are few and far between, then you’ve got the Scream knock-offs, having their moment, and then you have something like this.

SK: I guess something like Behind The Mask is as close as it gets to what In A Violent Nature is doing. What I love about In A Violent Nature is what I try to inject into my movies: There’s a sincerity to it. Chris loves slashers, and you feel that passion. I’m sure some people will spin it as this elevated concept, but he is not above slashers. He gets down in the dirt when the kills start happening. Things get grungy and gross. He’s not snooty about it.

AVC: For all of its formal experimentation, as soon as you get into the gags, everyone can tell what they’re coming to the movie for. And that leads me to ask you: What exactly was your role on the project day-to-day?

SK: Building all the effects for the film, being on set for a good chunk of it. It was shot over several blocks, so I was there for the first block and then pieces of the subsequent blocks for specific gags. Basically, I was head of department for effects and prosthetics. I sculpted the various iterations of the Johnny makeup. I did all the lifecasting of all the actors for the gags. And I designed a bunch of the effects gags in conjunction with Chris. He had a very specific idea of what he wanted, and him being an effects artist as well was great. We would tag-team components of it. He would build certain things and I would build certain things. That’s what I like about working with him, we complement each other nicely. He’s really good at the architectural components of gags—how do you actually build this thing? I’m more about the sculpting, molding, casting, and finishing of the stuff. In tandem, it’s a pretty good synthesis.

AVC: You’ve got materials specialists.

SK: Yeah, and in the indie world, you need that. You need people who complement your skill sets, especially when it’s a movie that’s this ambitious with its kills. They certainly aren’t simple gags that any movie could have. It’s stuff that took some time, consideration, and testing.

AVC: And a lot of it’s in broad daylight! You’ve got the axes and the drag hooks, then in the darkness you’ve got the log splitter…how are you blending these materials with the weapons with the settings and light set-ups?

SK: A lot of it is specific to the shot. Each gag is built around how it’s framed. Chris was good about storyboarding his sequences. When you’re building an effects gag, it’s always like, “Where can I hide blood tubes? Where can I hide people to operate these things?” He has a good eye for that stuff, and we were able to build these things around how he wanted to shoot them.

AVC: I was reading an interview with DP Pierce Derks, and he was saying that the yoga scene was probably the hardest scene in the whole movie to realize. Can you talk about pulling it off on the day?

SK: I actually wasn’t out for that one on set. I was supposed to be, during the first block, but then everything got pushed and juggled around. But I did build large chunks of that gag. It’s actually multiple bodies. Chris was very specific with what he wanted to see.

One issue we were running into was that these Aurora bodies were made out of silicone, and we want this girl to basically pretzel—pull her head into her stomach, which is anatomically impossible but would look cool if we could pull it off. So, we actually built multiple bodies. The first body was upright and was just for the initial stab and starting to pull the head down. Then the second body was taking it from a 90-degree bend down to the stomach. The third body pulled the head the rest of the way through the stomach, and the hole for that one was enlarged to accommodate it. When Johnny punches through her, it’s the size of his fist, which is not really enough to accommodate her whole head going through. There are a few cheats in there to make it work. I know they had to shoot it over multiple pieces over multiple days to get each component. But again, it’s a thing where storyboards help a lot.

AVC: That takes a lot of planning, knowing where you’re cutting at each spot.

SK: Typically when you talk to a director who has no concept of this stuff, it’s a hard conversation to get on the same page about. But with Chris, he knows how to do this stuff. When we talk about it, it’s way more productive because we’ve both done things in the sphere of what we’re trying to achieve in this movie. We have a shorthand that’s pretty good when it comes to designing these gags, and we’re both good at flagging problems in advance. We definitely sidestepped a lot of problems, and I’m very happy with it.

AVC: Last question: What’s going on with your upcoming movie Frankie Freako right now? Is it being shopped around at Cannes while you’re doing this interview?

SK: Well, I’m about to go into night shoots on Deathstalker right now, so this is our last week of shooting. As for Frankie Freako, we’re still TBD on what our plan is. It’s done, I mean, the movie’s done. It’s sitting there. We’re trying to figure out what the festival plan is gonna be, and then the release will piggyback whatever that ends up being. But I’m sure in the fall at some point, it’ll be coming out. It’s a wild one, I’m very happy with it.

AVC: Just based on your Critters episode of The Flop House, I’m psyched.

SK: I love my little monsters. I’ve been pitching to people for so long: Why aren’t there little creature movies anymore? It was such a thing for 20 years and then it stopped! I want to bring it back.

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