Like many independent filmmakers before him, John Lechago’s big break came through his association with legendary producer Charles Band. Initially the mastermind behind Empire International, since 1989 Band has dominated the low budget straight-to-video market with his Puppet Master series and in recent years one of his more popular franchises is Killjoy. With the minor popularity of the first two features, Killjoy was finally resurrected in 2010 with a third instalment, marking Lechago’s introduction to the world of Full Moon Features.
Following his graduation from both the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Columbia College Chicago, Lechago first entered the film industry as a visual effects artist on the monster movie sequel Mimic 2 before progressing to directing through his association with Turning Point Productions. After several low budget pictures, Lechago resurrected the Killjoy character for Full Moon and this year marks the release of his third contribution to the series, Killjoy’s Psycho Circus.
John Lechago discusses taking over the Killjoy franchise, collaborating with Charles Band and mankind’s deep-rooted fear of clowns.
There were recent reports in the media about people being terrorised by creepy clowns. There is an upcoming remake of Stephen King’s It, the Eli Roth-produced Clown and Rob Zombie’s latest 31 which also utilise the clown concept. Why do you think they continue to both scare and fascinate?
I don’t know what is up with clowns. They just freak me out. Seriously speaking, I think that the human fear of clowns is something primal; not about the clown but the make-up. I think it reminds us of tribal war paint, which is only cool to the one wearing it. Otherwise, it is used to frighten and intimidate the victim. To primitive humans it meant violence, slavery, rape, destruction and death. There is no way to sugarcoat it. There is a fine line between a funny make-up and a scary one. I think the fear of clowns comes from something ancient and primitive.
The previous instalment Killjoy Goes to Hell saw Killjoy put on trial for not being evil enough. This is a contrast to similar tales like The Devil and Daniel Webster and Clive Barker’s The History of the Devil where Satan is forced to justify his evil deeds. Did you intentionally subvert these types of stories?
I did not intentionally subvert the stories that you mentioned. I have not read them. To me it is very simple. Killjoy had a job, he did not perform as expected and the consequences would be harsh in the underworld. Good and evil can many times be very subjective. Morality is defined differently in some cultures. This is a silly movie meant to entertain, but I would love the audience to think about this. Are we moral and good all the time? Do we stop and think about our actions from another perspective, or do we just assume that we are always in the right?
Rumours of Killjoy’s Psycho Circus circulated online as far back as 2012, around the release of the fourth film. Was the concept for the fifth story already developed by the time the last instalment was completed?
The moment I finished writing Killjoy Goes to Hell the idea for the sequel emerged. Of course, our demon clown antiheroes would run amock on Earth, but they would quickly realise that it is boring and leaden with responsibility. In this latest movie I had the actors portray the demon clowns more like humans with normal, everyday problems. We relate to Killjoy more easily when we realise that we are just as emotionally lazy as he is. And then – SPACE BATTLE!
Two fundraising campaigns were created to complete the budget for not only Killjoy’s Psycho Circus but other Full Moon films. How involved were you in this process?
The financing for these films is organised by Full Moon so I do not know the details. The only thing that I did was to be part of the campaign video. They don’t let me know too much!
Directors often describe Charles Band as being a hands-off producer during filming. Having produced, edited, written and directed the film would you say you were given complete creative freedom?
You would think that, yes – but no. Full Moon really is Charles Band’s company, so its directors really do what Charles Band wants. Once he is satisfied that it will be first and foremost a ‘Full Moon’ film he then lets the director do their thing. He may be hands-off during the filming but he knows what direction the movie is going in. Charles Band also keeps a close eye on post-production. Of course, it is his job to keep the movies consistent with the Full Moon brand.
There are many aspects to Killjoy’s Psycho Circus that work as a satire, such as his brain-dead talk show. Were there specific themes or statements you were trying to convey?
The main thing that I wanted to convey was how humans seem to be a little mindless when consuming media and fawning celebrity. This is most illustrated when Killjoy’s fans come to rally. Killjoy then accepts their help and uses them as human shields in a laser gunfight. I love humanity, but I think that we get emotionally lazy and I will make fun of that at every opportunity.
Your script references Miskatonic University, a fictional institution which H.P. Lovecraft created for his story Herbert West – Reanimator. Charles Band produced the 1985 adaptation of that story. Did you include any other references to Band’s previous work in your film?
I reference Miskatonic University in Killjoy Goes to Hell. Miskatonic Psychiatric Hospital is the psych ward in which our lone survivor is held. Full Moon and Empire fans would probably be able to make the connection.
Killjoy was portrayed by Angel Vargas in the first movie before being replaced by Trent Haaga in the sequel. Had Trent declined the chance to return for any of the subsequent films would you have considered approaching Angel?
Actually we tried to find Angel Vargas but were unsuccessful. Later he found me, but Trent was already playing Killjoy for the third time. It was just a matter of who was available. I really do think that Angel’s Killjoy is amazing and really frightening, but it is a different approach to the character.
In one scene Killjoy interviews Trent Haaga and intentionally praises Angel Vargas’ performance over Haaga’s. Was this a fun scene for both you and Haaga to perform and do you enjoy breaking the fourth wall and being self-referential?
In the latest movie I have Trent’s Killjoy complimenting Angel Vargas’ portrayal. The thing is that the compliment is not a joke. Angel’s performance should be respected. Trent has a great sense of humour about himself, so he did enjoy playing the Bizzaro Trent and trashing his own Killjoy performance. It was an existentialist comedy bit and I think that it worked really well. A couple of times he really did get confused on which character he was playing. Very funny!
During the scene with Haaga, Killjoy declares, ‘I’m having a bit of an existential moment here.’ This comment opens up the possibility of a story that explores Killjoy’s identity crisis. Could you imagine that storyline, perhaps with him visiting a psychiatrist as he doubts if he really is evil?
Interesting question, but Killjoy would never have doubts that he is evil. He would however be concerned that he cares about others and is not as selfish as he used to be. Killjoy knows that he can be evil but is bothered by the desire to sometimes do good deeds even if for completely selfish reasons. He is also shocked that humans can be much more evil than he is!
The movie made its debut on the El Rey Network around Halloween. How was this received by audiences and was the reception as positive as the previous entries in the series?
The general buzz was that it was very well received, but I don’t have anything official on that. I think that would be a better question for Charles Band.
Killjoy really could work as an online spoof chat show. Is this something either yourself or Charles Band have ever suggested?
Again, a good question for Charles Band. Personally I would not want to do it. I think that Killjoy should run free and the talk show was temporary. The next chapter should be about Killjoy’s family life. Remember, Batty Boop was pregnant in the final scene.
Much like Killer Klowns from Outer Space and the antagonist from Spawn, Killjoy serves as a comic relief character instead of an intentionally scary clown. Do you think there’s something rather ridiculous about dressing as a clown and thus is open to parody?
The whole purpose of clowns is to be ridiculous and at the same time criticise and lampoon our fragile emotions. Clowns are a parody of us. If we pay attention we might realise that it is little more than a thin layer of make-up that separate most of us from their antics.
An article by Complex identified B-movies as having ‘low budgets, slapdash scripts and second-tier actors’ before describing them as ‘the fast food of the entertainment industry.’ Do you think this is belittling of all the talent who work just as hard to bring these pictures to the screen?
Where is this article? Can you send it to me? Of course it is belittling if it is anything like your brief description. To be fair, not having read the article I can only go by the quote and what I think it intends. Everyone who works on B-movies deserves respect. They certainly don’t do it for the money and most everyone performs the duties of ten or more crew. The cast are mostly beginners and most of the time kill themselves to deliver their best performance. Cast and crew of B-movies do it out of love for movies.
Having directed three Killjoy films, do you have other concepts where you could take this character or have you gone as far as you can with this series? What does the foreseeable future hold for you?
Sure there are many places where Killjoy can be taken. In the last film he was just about to become a father. The clown posse was flying to an alternate Earth (our Earth). What could possibly go wrong?