Any real horror fan will tell you that unlike comedy or drama, horror, like a well-mixed martini, has to be a perfect blend of elements to be really successful. Good examples on TV include True Blood, which swirls just the right amount of sex and horror with a great deal of camp. Last year’s highly-rated The Walking Dead knows that its dark subject matter and brooding characters means they can’t bring on the full fire hose of gore or it becomes too overwhelming for the average viewer.
MTV’s new series, Death Valley, which premieres Monday, August 29th (check your local Riverside area cable provider for channels and times) has also been perfectly concocted for the ultimate horror viewer. Its smart, expertly-delivered humor combined with so much blood and guts, you envision a tanker trunk of it showing up for each day’s shoot, makes for the perfect entertaining half hour.
Thankfully, the creators, producers and writers understand that you can’t do the “How I Met Your Mother” sitcom-style of humor with this level of gore, and the sarcastic, sharp wit is just the right amount of palate cleanser when a zombie’s head is blown off into a million bloody chunks. So just what is the level of gore you ask? Off the meter. So much so that each episode is prefaced with a “viewer discretion” warning for extreme violence and gore.
At May’s Weekend of Horrors in Los Angeles, Spider One, the creator of Death Valley, made it very clear with a hilarious and colorful diatribe that the show was created with the “hardcore horror viewer” in mind. And after viewing the press screener, they definitely did not dissapoint.
The series is shot as a “mockumentary” – think “Supernatural Cops” – as a camera crew follows members of the Undead Task Force, a special division of the LAPD, created after a virus has transformed residents of the San Fernando Valley into flesh-eating zombies. The show doesn’t explain the origin of the virus or why it’s concentrated to the valley, though the UTF is responsible for making sure it doesn’t spread further; nor does it explain why vampires and werewolves are also suddenly appearing, but believe it or not, the show is so entertaining, you find yourself not really caring. Bring on the monsters!
Unlike Cops, we actually see some of the camera crew, mostly the sound operators, and it starts to seem as though these were the “throwaway” employees for some studio that didn’t want to send their best and brightest to possibly be eaten by the undead. Booms mics end up in the shot and there’s a lot of shaky cameras, vomiting and terrified screaming.
As for the officers on this task force? Think less SWAT team and more Reno 911. The team consists of John “John-John” Johnson (Texas Battle) who is as arrogant as they come and not above hitting on his more capable partner, Carla (Tania Raymonde). Then there’s Billy Pierce (Bryce Johnson) the ultimate player with a smart-ass attitude, much to the chagrin of his partner, the over-compensating, incessant rule follower, Joe Stubeck (Charlie Sanders). New to the team is rookie Kirsten Landry (Caity Lotz), who is overly eager but incredibly capable, evidenced by her taking down two zombies alone in the squad room – not that anyone noticed.
The officers are led by Captain Dashell (Bryan Callen) who fully envisions himself the greatest police officer to ever carry a badge, sniffing, snorting and bragging like a modern-day Barney Fife and responsible for some of the most hilarious one-liners of the show. When the camera crew tries to give the team tips for being on camera, Dashell tells them he also has a tip, “I can show a man what it is to be a woman.”
The actors are perfectly cast in their roles, and kudos to the casting director for recognizing spot-on comedic timing. The creators definitely seem to understand that horror fans also tend to prefer intelligent humor as the laughs are never dumbed down or slapstick. .
While working a stakeout for vampire prostitution (because “blood for sex is a big problem in the valley,”) Pierce and Stubeck talk to the cameras about their jobs. Stubeck shows a picture of his family, seriously conveying that he risks it all for them. Pierce holds up his phone, revealing a photo of two naked girls. “I do it all for them. I’ve had this JPEG so long, it’s like my family. Technically, I guess, that makes it incest.”
Later, when they haul a vampire prostitute to the station, Stubeck tells her her’s going home to his warm bed, “which I use for sleeping, not sex, and you know why? I’m a happily married man.”
Don’t worry, horror fans. While you’re laughing, also be ready for gore in the extreme. No expense has been spared on special effects makeup, an art form that some old-school fans would say barely exists anymore in a world of overused CGI. Zombies are seen in various forms of decomposition, and in one episode, you learn that it’s probably not a good idea to poke a bloated zombie with a stick. There was likely a big round of beers and a lot of “holy sh*t, did you see THAT?” for the SFX team after that scene. A zombie head is stomped by a boot, brains shooting out. Another is run over and over again by a car, leaving little but gristle and a bloody stain. People are bitten with flesh-tearing realism, and bats, shovels, chainsaws and, yes, even a boom mic pole are all subject to becoming undead-killing weapons.
With MTV’s stable of quickly-becoming-tiresome reality shows like 16 and Pregnant and Jersey Shore, it’s refreshing to see them take on a smart, scripted series like Death Valley. For those die-hard, “MTV is supposed to be about music” people, may it ease your pain to know that series creator and executive producer Spider One is also the lead singer of metal group Powerman 5000 and brother of rocker and filmmaker Rob Zombie.
Check out the sneak peak of the show that premiered at Comic-Con back in July and psych yourself up for Monday night’s premiere.
Follow Rene’ on Twitter @scaryreporter