Interview: Director Chelsea Stardust Talks SATANIC PANIC and Eighties Horror

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Director Chelsea Stardust started out as an assistant to some big-name directors and worked for Jason Blum for several years on films like Sinister, The Purge, and the Insidious franchise. She worked on everything from comedy to horror and along the way she learned the ins and outs of filmmaking and eventually became a director herself. She made several short films before directing the Mother’s Day-themed installment of Blumhouse’s Into the Dark, All That We Destroy.

Stardust is thrilled to have directed the first original movie from the newly relaunched Fangoria label, Satanic Panic, which was written by Grady Hendrix and Ted Geoghegan, who worked together on Mohawk. Satanic Panic is a horror-comedy and boasts a stellar cast that includes Haley Griffith, Ruby Modine, Rebecca Romijn, Jerry O’Connell, AJ Bown, Jordan Ladd, and Jeff Daniel Phillips. The film doesn’t miss a beat as it masterfully goes from side-splitting to dark and sinister in seconds.

Hayley Griffith plays Sam, a pizza delivery girl, who delivers pizza to a wealthy neighborhood one night and finds herself on the verge of being sacrificed by a Satanic cult. As Sam tries to escape, she meets Judi, the daughter of the leader of the cult, played by Ruby Modine. The two bond to fight off spells, creatures, crazy cult members, and ultimately, Baphomet himself. Featuring bloody, in-your-face practical effects and an outstanding cast that skillfully maneuver the film from hilarious to what the fuck, Satanic Panic is the most fun I’ve had watching a movie in a long time.

Dread Central had the pleasure of speaking with Chelsea Stardust about Satanic Panic, eighties horror, and a lot more. Read on to find out what we talked about!

RLJE Films will release Satanic Panic in theaters, On Demand, and digital on September 6.

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Chelsea Stardust at the Beyond Fest screening of Satanic Panic
(photo credit: Rodin Eckenroth)

Dread Central: It’s no secret that we need more recognition of women filmmakers and I’m so glad I’ve discovered your work. Satanic Panic also has a strong female-led cast. When did you decide you wanted to make horror movies and why, and how challenging has it been for you?

Chelsea Stardust: I’ve wanted to make horror movies since I was ten years old. Since I was a little kid, I’ve been obsessed with Goosebumps, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Bunnicula, and all the cartoons you watch at Halloween, like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I slowly graduated from the cartoons to Universal monsters and Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and it just grew from there. I wanted to make horror movies and I was fascinated with them. I thought fear was such a fascinating emotion and the fact that there was this genre of movies that some people physically cannot watch, I thought was really interesting. And the fact that you could watch a movie and it would seep into your subconscious so much that it would give you nightmares. Fortunately, I don’t get nightmares from movies, I actually get them from horror literature like Stephen King and Joe Hill and things like that. That affects me more than horror cinema does. Horror is also the only genre that has conventions all over the United States dedicated to it. I think that’s so incredible and I’m so honored to be a part of it.

In terms of my journey, everyone’s journey is different. Every movie is a miracle to get made. The path I took was being an assistant, so I was assisting producers and directors, and that helped educate me to the real, sort of, Hollywood filmmaking process. This maybe speaks to me sounding a little naïve, but before I moved to L.A., I didn’t realize there was a discrepancy of men versus women, that the percentages were not equal. Because I grew up watching Near Dark, which is Kathryn Bigelow, and Pet Sematary and American Psycho. So, I was seeing all these incredible female filmmakers and I didn’t realize until I actually moved here, and was a filmmaker here, and I thought “What’s going on? Where are all the female filmmakers?”

I would look at lists of directors and there wouldn’t be one woman listed. It wasn’t until then that I realized what was going on. However, we’re in a great time now where that is finally changing. Companies are realizing they can do better about hiring women and people of color and LGBTQ. We all have something to say. We should be allowed the platform to do that. So, I’m honored to be making movies in this era where people are like, “There just aren’t a lot of women making movies.” It’s like, “No, they’re not given the chance to do it.” So, I was so excited when I made my first movie with Blumhouse, I had worked for Jason Blum for four years. And then getting to do the first original Fangoria movie was really cool and I feel very honored.

Dread Central: Satanic Panic is clearly influenced by eighties horror, especially the music and the story. What about that era inspired you?

Chelsea Stardust: Eighties horror is what I grew up on, so of course I’m going to gravitate towards that. Those were also my comfort movies. If I’m having a rough day, I’ll put in one of my favorite eighties horror movies and then everything is right with the world. That’s just a reminder of why I do this, why I suffer for my art. Okay, now I get it [laughs]. For Satanic Panic, specifically, the biggest influences for me are a couple of more modern movies, which are Jennifer’s Body, Deathgasm, and Drag Me to Hell, House of the Devil, but also older movies like Evil Dead, and the remake, Race With the Devil, and even Society. There are others sprinkled in there, but to me, Jennifer’s Body has the biggest influence aesthetically, tonally and all that. It’s a love letter to all these movies I love.

Dread Central: The practical effects in Satanic Panic are insane and I love it. Can you tell me a little bit about how the effects were done and what inspired you to use practical effects in this boring world of CGI?

Chelsea Stardust: The Fangoria brand is practical effects, so that’s who they are. The thing about practical effects is that it’s real. I think we’re not quite where we want to be from a technology standpoint with VFX, where you can’t quite trick the eye yet. I think we’re going to get there in the next five to ten years, which is sort of exciting and sort of sad at the same time. To have something tangible for your talent to interact with, and your audience can tell it’s a real thing, is really important. The practical effects were such a blast to work on and getting to do reverse photography, obviously leaning into things like Evil Dead. I was studying some of those movies and looking up the practical effects and I was like, “Okay, let’s find out how they do this. Let’s watch some of the commentary and the behind the scenes footage.” Some of that stuff, when you read it on paper, you’re like, “How the fuck am I going to do this? How is this going to translate onscreen?” I was really brainstorming with the practical effects team. We had to create a soul sack and Baphomet and a tree in the forest that’s a demon. I had such a great time coming up with those and looking at both American horror cinema, and Grady Hendrix has a lot of Asian horror influences as well within the script. Bringing all that to life was so much fun. I owe my actors big time, especially Ruby Modine, for all the things they endure in this movie [laughs].

Dread Central: I’ve seen some absurd comments from people online, who haven’t seen the movie, but are offended by the trailer for Satanic Panic, which goes back to the “Satanic Panic” in the eighties. This movie is so much fun, and obviously a work of fiction, but there are people who think those of us who enjoy things like this are Satanists. What would you say to the people who think it’s real?

Chelsea Stardust: (laughter) That’s really funny. What I would tell people is, I think people are really confused as to what, or who, Satanists are in 2019. I think people are thinking back to old school Satan worship and that’s just not what it is anymore. I would actually encourage them to seek out the documentary Hail Satan? that Penny Lane did, because I think what the Satanic Temple is doing is incredible. On a personal level, I think a Satanist would be the first person to fucking tip and I think they would tip that full twenty percent, so I don’t think they would be stingy at all like that [laughs]. I don’t think people fully understand what the Satanic Temple is right now, and I think they should not be ignorant to it and they should educate themselves. As they educate themselves to all other religions, I think they sort of exist as a checks and balances. I would just encourage people to never make assumptions about that and they should educate themselves. And also, the movie has nothing to do with real-life Satanists. It is a full work of fiction, and if anything, it’s a commentary on classism, not Satanists [laughs].

Dread Central: Horror comedies don’t always work for me, but Satanic Panic effortlessly goes from hilarious to jaw-dropping shocking. I had a blast watching it. How did you find that perfect balance of horror and comedy that makes this film work so well?

Chelsea Stardust: That’s movie magic [laughs]. It’s not easy, it’s very difficult. Horror comedies are so incredibly difficult to really nail that tone, but honestly, I just revisited all my favorite horror comedies. I was like, “Okay, what makes these work?” I think comedy and horror are hand-in-hand because if you can time a laugh, you can time a scare. It’s all about timing. I wanted to lean into the absurdity. I’m a huge fan of John Waters’ work, so I wanted to lean into how crazy and kooky and fun this world is. Also, I come from a comedy background. When I first moved to L.A., I worked for Ivan Reitman and I also worked for Judd Apatow, and then I went to work for Jason Blum. I’ve been on the set of Bridesmaids and Funny People and Get Him to the Greek, so I’ve seen how comedy works and then I was able to carry that information with me and then apply it to my work many, many years later. It’s very difficult to nail the tone and honestly, I’ve got to give my actors a ton of credit, because they help make it all work.

Dread Central: Satanic Panic is one of my favorite horror movies of the year, and I also enjoyed All That We Destroy, your installment of Into the Dark. Can you tell me what you’re working on next?

Chelsea Stardust: Great question. I can’t say too much about it, but I am going to be doing another horror movie. This one is sort of a psychological horror movie and it involves a young serial killer, and that’s all I can really say. It’s also another female-centered story. We are starting to cast it and I’m hoping to be shooting it by the end of this year or the beginning of 2020. I’m working on a couple of other projects, but unfortunately, I cannot say too much about them [laughs].

Dread Central: That sounds exciting! Congratulations!

Chelsea Stardust: I’m very excited for what’s to come next.