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Drew Daywalt on Mixing Horror and Comedy in 'Death Valley'


Allow me to introduce my new horror step-brothers, Action, Gore and Laughter...

In February, as most of you know, I directed three episodes of the comedy/horror gore-fest Death Valley, which are airing now on MTV.  "Blood vessels" my first episode: it aired last night, actually, opening with one of the goriest, most violent shots in TV history, I'm sure. I won't spoil it here, but you should check it out if you're not squeamish (which you're not). Anyway, I'd been brought on to the project to bring the horror to some incredibly funny scripts. And at the end of the day, I like to think I did exactly that. Bring the horror, but without sacrificing the laughs.

Now if you look at the catalogue of horror filmmakers running amok today, it seems we all have our specialty, some do zombies (George Romero), some do maniacs and slashers (Rob Zombie), some do magical realism (Larry Fessenden), some do twist endings (M. Night), and some do fantasy horror (Guillermo del Toro). I like to think that my specialty is Dread. Creeping, awful anticipation. It's what turns me on as an artist, it's what gets me excited about writing and going to set at 4 in the morning.

But I think if horror was a college and Dread was my major, I'd definitely have a minor in the horror-comedy. I love terror that stops and winks at you in the middle of a disembowelment, reminding you of how ridiculous this thing is that you're watching.

Almost all of my short horror films and my entire web series (Camera Obscura) involve characters undergoing horrid awful anticipation... anticipation of their coming doom, of some unearthly abomination behind the curtain or the door... some breathing, hiding thing in the shadows at the base of the stairs...

I was able to bring some of that to Death Valley and I'm pleased that I could slow down the jump-cutting juggernaut that is the MTV-style long enough to get a few good scares in. But ironically, what I loved most about the experience was diggin' into the action and the gore. Going back to what I said about being all about the experience of dread, you can see how gore and action fly directly in the face of that same dread, which, let's face it, is the most subtle of the horror sub-types. So I guess there was catharsis for me. After years of flickering candles, bated breath, and slow walks down long loathsome corridors, I suppose it was time to explore characters who kick doors in and charge in with baseball bats and guns while munching on cookies.

Working with legendary action/stunt/fight choreographer Phil Tan was absolutely a highlight of that experience. Check his credits (here) and you'll see why it was so fun to work with him. Together we were like kids on the playground, playing fight-scene. The cool part about the collaboration was that I came from hard horror and Phil came from straight action, and what do you get when you mix them and throw in some laughs? Incredibly violent fights with tons of gore and a Sergio Argones style sight gag or two. In short, you get Sam Raimi's Evil Dead, but on speed and a little leaner and meaner to suit the times.

Since February I've shot two more projects, which I promise to talk about more when I can, but both have been action/gore comedies, one of which is executive produced by my new friend Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2, Knights of Badassdom, Chillerama), so you can imagine what we did there.

But I have to say, that after nearly 9 months of gore-horror comedy, I'm hooked, but not exclusively. I've enjoyed my vacation in big-explosive-gross-scary-funny, but I'm very much looking forward to scaring the shit out of you again, rather than causing you to gag and/or laugh out loud.

The lesson learned, for me, anyway, at the end of all this, is don't get complacent, and don't be scared to leave your comfort zone, creatively, because God-forbid, you might actually like it.

Gaudium per atrox.