Horror. To some, the genre is that of cheap thrills, startles and nightmare fodder to allow entertainment to be entertaining without the need to turn on one’s brain. To others, Horror is a conduit that our deepest fears, anxieties and paranoia are visualized, hence why the community of horror fans has become as large, vocal and intertwined as any group in modern popular culture. Horror molds around our individual perceptions of shock and terror, and often times can be discussed with the enthusiasm and passion that may not apply to other genres. Therefore, Diabolique Magazine presents Talking Terror, a weekly column where we speak to actors, comedians and other public figures about their relationship to the world of horror.
There’s a bittersweet connection between actors who frequent the comedy and horror genres, as there is no quicker way to a career of typecasting than having several outstanding performances in a comedy or horror project. While dramatic actors can often come to and from those genres as they please, the misrepresentation that comes with an excellent horror and comedic actor starts and ends with their roots, often awaiting for the right filmmaker to show off the extent of their true talents. And while it is not impossible to break free from these roles, as consistent as they may be, the true hurdle is then to prove themselves to the audience at large whilst staying loyal to your fan base.
This is especially true for actor Dave Sheridan, who broke onto the comedy scene with a one-two punch of scene stealing roles in the original Scary Movie and Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World. While also keeping up with his documentation of the Palmdale-based rock band Van Stone, Sheridan went onto several studio comedies before stepping out of his comfort zone for a memorable part in Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects. Since then, Sheridan returned to the world of comedy with the horror spoof A Haunted House and the ‘80s sex-comedy homage Sex Drive, and recently returns into thrilling territory with his upcoming sci-fi horror film, White Space. The always-funny and energetic Sheridan spoke to Diabolique about his relationship to horror, his unconventional convention appearances and pulling one hell of a prank on the set of The Devil’s Rejects…
DIABOLIQUE: A couple of weeks ago, you attended your first Monstermania convention, which is one of the most revered horror conventions on the East Coast. Have you always been a fan of horror?
DAVE SHERIDAN: On the convention side of things, yes, that was my first Monstermania and, really, that was my second convention. Honestly, I wanted Monstermania to be my first convention, or at least I eyed it up to be something that would be my first convention because I’m from Philly, and I wanted that first one to be with my home crowd, so to speak. Unfortunately, the timing worked out that in either May or April, there was Blood at the Beach, and they called me because they were doing a Devil’s Rejects reunion, so if there was a time to bust my cherry at one of these conventions, doing something like a Devil’s Rejects reunion would be cool to do that. I made so many friends in that film and there were people like William Forsythe, Leslie Easterbrook, LewTemple there, and though I see Lew all the time, the other guys I hadn’t seen in years. So, obviously, that deserved my first appearance.
But at this Monstermania, I saw that Carrie Fisher was going to be there, and I’ve met her a couple of times and been up to her house, and she’s definitely somebody I’d love to reconnect with. So I thought I’d go to Monstermania and that’d be a great way to get into her face, say “hi” and hang out. So don’t let all these actors, writers and filmmakers fool you thinking they’re at a convention doing work. “Oh man, it’s good for me to be here and sign autographs for the fans.” I’m only on my second one and I’m doing it because I want to talk to and see the other stars at the convention.
I’m next going to do the Rock and Shock convention in Worcester, Massachusetts, and literally I have to look at the running order and who is going to show up. In the back of my head, I’m going, “Oh, who is going to be there that I can talk to for my Van Stone documentary?” So, I’m killing two birds with one stone.
But going back to your question, I’ve got to be honest with you: I don’t know if I’m a fan of horror or have always been a fan of horror. The Shining is my all-time favorite movie, but I don’t know if that classifies traditionally as a horror movie. Some people might say it is, and it’s definitely up there in the realm of the top movies that people consider scary, but wouldn’t you say it’s more of a thriller? How would you classify The Shining?
DIABOLIQUE: I would say that The Shining is, at it’s basic root, a horror film because by the time the third act hits, there’s very few other genres that applies to the film. I think up until that point, the film blends horror with comedy, drama and thriller aspects, and there’s certainly not a huge body count to the film, but the film is often nightmarish in it’s horror throughout, especially during the surreal sequences, so I’d say, if anything, The Shining classifies as horror.
SHERIDAN: Right. Well, I guess, for me, I’m 44 years old so I loved Carrie, John Carpenter’s stuff like Halloween, and Jaws, too. In a weird way, Jaws is the Jason [Vorhees] of the Ocean, you know what I’m saying? So, I’m into Halloween and the original Friday the 13th where Jason actually wasn’t the killer. I liked that one, and The Fog. But a lot of that is because of my age and the age I was at that time. I was 9 or 10 years old and movies were $1, so you’d go to the movies and you could actually afford popcorn because that was $1, too. So I have great memories of seeing these films in a movie theater that still felt right, and I watched The Fog, Friday the 13th and Jaws, which I saw like ten times in the theater.
I remember when The Fog came out, and my friends and I were all looking forward to going to see that. I can imagine that must have been very similar to back when kids would go see The Wolfman, Dracula or Frankenstein. What I’m saying is I don’t know, in a modern sense, the genre and horror movies, like Paranormal Activity, You’re Next and The Purge, which I don’t know if that’s traditionally a horror movie either. I don’t know if our culture has the same experience, because there’s so much in people’s hands nowadays, between the library of stuff you can see online on Vimeo or Netflix. You have so many media resources to see all of this stuff, so I don’t know if there’s the same kind of vibe from a 15-year-old seeing The Conjuring that I was getting from a John Carpenter movie.
Again, look at The Thing. Just the thrill of getting your friends together to go see that movie isn’t there any more. And horror movies are the only movies where it’s like, “Hey, you’re going to pay $10 for the seat, but you’re only going to need the edge!” Back then, Carrie and those Stephen King movies were made for that theater atmosphere and that moviegoing vibe. I know that people still go to the movies now to see this stuff, but again, it’s my age. I’m 44, not 15, so I’m not in contact and I can’t connect with the horror movies now, because I don’t know if they’d have the same effect because back then, horror had a place in the heart of our culture. There’s still a sense of, “Oh, I love this movie. I’m going to go to the movies and it’s going to be great,” but at the same time, I don’t know if the experience is the same.
The same thing goes for drive-in theaters: I didn’t go to a lot of drive-in’s when I was growing up but I do remember going to drive-in theaters. Now, there are no drive-in’s, except for a handful of eclectic ones. I don’t know, I’m out of the loop there but I know there are none in L.A. There was one drive-in theater in Culver City when I first moved here, and I’m sad to say that I never went there. So if you’re asking me if I’m a fan of horror movies, I don’t know because the horror movies that are out today could never touch the type of horror movie that I’m a fan of because it wasn’t as much of the movie but it was more of the age I was at and what I felt during those movies. That’s what I’m really a fan of, and that can never be repeated or taken back.
DIABOLIQUE: I definitely agree in some ways about that, because back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, horror films were event viewing where nowadays it’s moreso closer to, “Oh, there’s another found footage sequel. Let’s see that.” In a way, that makes the cool and fresh ones that come out worth the trip, and it seems that young people are embracing that, especially this year.
SHERIDAN: Exactly. But anyways, I’m about to start A Haunted House 2 near the end of this month, so that should be fun. I can’t tell you what we’ll be spoofing, but it’s pretty obvious that it’ll be whatever hot movies came out between the last one that we did and now. It would be The Conjuring, maybe a bit more Sinister, I’m sure they’ve already gone into You’re Next and written some bits from that. They’ll probably be spoofing Mama, although Scary Movie 5 covered a lot of Mama so I don’t think A Haunted House 2 is going to cover a lot of that.
DIABOLIQUE: Speaking of those comedy projects, you’ve been in two big horror spoof movies, as Doofy in the original Scary Movie and more recently in A Haunted House. As an actor, do you prefer horror productions that are more comfortable with your comedic sensibilities or do you like more seriously inclined projects to push you as an actor, like The Devils Rejects?
SHERIDAN: Believe me, I’d rather do more Devil’s Rejects kind of stuff, 100%. It doesn’t come up for me as much, but I’m not saying I’m stereotyped. Now and then, I need to find that director that can see a little bit more of what I can do and take a chance or have some trust. When you work with someone like Rob Zombie and you look at the people that he casts, he always tries to create an interesting cast in the same way that Quentin Tarantino does, where he’ll pick people here and there so they’ll go, “Oh, I think that’ll be an interesting choice.”
Hopefully, I can do more of that stuff because when you do spoof horror things, you’re not doing “original” material. You’re rehashing something that’s already out there and your performance is predicated on the previous performances of whatever that is. Like, when I played Doofy in Scary Movie as well as the Killer using the Killer’s voice, I’d be going, [imitates Ghostface voice] “I’m in the house. Listen to me, Cindy!” So I was just performing off of the guy who already did Scream. So your creative choices are removed, because you’re absolutely making your creative choices on somebody else’s creative choices and you have to match.
In The Devil’s Rejects, with [my character] Ray Dobson, however I wanted to style his hair and wear the glasses, and how I wanted to act with my character was all me. I literally had the freedom to go into that character and make it however I wanted to make it, versus something like Doofy, where I’m playing a dumb version of David Arquette, so I have to have certain aspects of David Arquette’s performance that I have to go ahead and copy or emulate. So when you’re doing these spoof things, and I don’t want to give away A Haunted House 2, but I’m spoofing a very iconic character in A Haunted House 2, so I’m going to rent some DVD’s and watch the performance of this other character because I want people to recognize what we’re spoofing so they go, “Oh, that’s great, they’re doing a little twist on it.” Then, that becomes comedy, so you have to do something very familiar so that they recognize what the spoof is. Both genres have their merits, but I’d definitely rather work in original horror. On a selfish note, I think that’d be more rewarding for me as an actor to do that.
DIABOLIQUE: You’ve appeared in many projects throughout your career, including high profile independent projects like Ghost World and studio projects like Sex Drive. Did you approach independent projects any differently as a performer than you would a studio film?
SHERIDAN: I don’t approach independent projects in any different way, but certainly, in the back of my head, when I work on an independent production, I’ll know I’ll at least have a conversation with the director ahead of time. No matter what, [acting] is a collaboration with the director to make decisions as a performer, like, “What are you going to be doing? What’s the tone? What’s the look? What’s the character thinking?” You always collaborate with the director. Honestly, that doesn’t change whether it’s an independent or studio thing since it’ll always come down to your relationship with the director.
However, I always find on the independent level, especially when there’s not a lot of money that the production is paying you, the director always opens up a little bit and they’ll go, “Look, I know you’re not getting paid that much so let’s have fun with this. What are you thinking? I want you to do what you want to do.” It’s like going to sleep at your grandparents house when you do an independent movie because you know your grandparent is going to give you ice cream and your uncle is going to take you out on some carnival rides. But when your in the studio process, it’s like your with your parents and they’re going to be a little bit more stern with you, and that’s mainly because you’re getting paid.
You get paid a lot more when you’re acting in a studio movie so they expect you to be a little bit more of a puppet. The expectations on a studio film to do what you’re told is already built into me. Now some actors want those expectations broken down, but even on a studio movie, you’re always going to get something like A Haunted House, where the Wayans will tell me, “Whatever you want to do, dude. We want to see what you’re bringing to the table.” In many cases, it’s more of a burden because they’re expecting me to bring these ideas and they’re expecting me to bring the comedy.
So when you’re doing an independent movie, you know you’re going to get that vibe of indebted expectations. Honestly, when you’re on an independent film, it’s tough for production companies and directors to not want you to feel like you’re an artist and you’re respected and you have the freedom to do what you want to do because you’re not getting paid to be there as much, so they have to make it artist-friendly.
DIABOLIQUE: Since most of your spoof work has resided in the world of horror, is there anything specifically you think that makes horror and comedy compliment each other so well?
SHERIDAN: Yes. This is what lends horror to parody and spoofing over anything else. There’s two major factors, one being is that it’s important to spoof something that is serious. I’m going to give you an example: I know somebody who did a spoof of The Hangover. THEY TOOK THE HANGOVER AND THEY SPOOFED IT! I was like, “How do you spoof something that’s already a comedy? It’s already funny!” Why would you spoof that? How do you spoof that? That’s not how it works. Case in point, look at Airplane!, which is a very good spoof. It’s spoofing something very serious: the dramatic Airport 1975.
The other point is that if you’re going to spoof Iron Man and The Avengers, those movies already have an element of comedy relief to them. So it weakens the amount you can spoof when they are already comedic on some level. But the reason I mention that is that the majority of horror films are inexpensive to reproduce because they’re not expensive movies in the first place. So when you go to spoof something, you never have a budget so in order to make something look and feel genuine, like, “Oh my God, they nailed that! That’s Paranormal Activity! That looks like Scream,” you have to target movies that aren’t expensive.
It works for A Haunted House because it’s easy to match Paranormal Activity when your entire budget is $1.5 million, whereas we’re not trying to match the $50 million or, in the case of The Avengers or Iron Man, something that cost $150 million to make, it’s going to look like shit. If you’ve got $10 million, it’s never going to look good, and people are going to say, “Ah, that looks terrible. That’s not funny. That’s cheesy.” I think they did that in Epic Movie and Meet The Spartans.
When you do that kind of stuff, you’re never going to have any production value and it’s immediately going to throw the audience off. They think it’s going to look shitty and cheap because it is shitty and cheap. That’s going to hurt the comedy. So those are the two defining aspects that really help when you’re spoofing horror. Another example is what the Wayans did with Don’t Be A Menace, they were spoofing that early ‘90s hoodsploitation films like Boyz n the Hood and Menace II Society, which were $2 million movies. They didn’t cost much to make, so it’s easier just to align that up, and Keenan [Ivory Wayans] learned that from his first movie, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka! So they’re able to make the spoof movies actually look like the movies they’re spoofing.
You also have to be careful because you don’t want to spoof something that’s already cheesy. Like if you look at Burning Love and Reno 911!, they’re both very funny shows with the guys from The State, but they’re spoofing The Bachelor and Cops, which are reality shows that are cheap and easy to recreate but already are cheesy and funny, and I think that takes away from the comedy because it’s such an easy target. When Cops started out, you learned how ridiculous the people were that they were arresting, like the guys who are hiding out under the kiddie pool in their underwear. It’s already funny.
Horror is definitely not funny, whether you’re talking about Jason, Freddy Kreuger, Michael Myers or whatever it is. It’s dark, it’s bloody and people get killed, so it’s not as much as an easier subject to spoof as much as it’s a better subject to spoof. If you’re really working on something that’s entirely not funny, then you’re able to twist it to be funny.
DIABOLIQUE: Many genre fans will recognize you from your supporting role in The Devil’s Rejects, especially from the film’s now-iconic climactic sequence. How was your process working with Rob Zombie like as compared to other directors?
SHERIDAN: Well, that’s Rob’s film and it’s the only film I’ve worked on with Rob. Hopefully, I’ll get to work on another one soon. I know he’s making a film about the Philadelphia Flyers and I grew up in the Philly area, so I’d love to be a part of that. Who knows? I doubt it. [laughs] Rob is super collaborative and wanted everybody to make their character their own, no matter who it was. He wanted you to be in the moment and not to be afraid to bring up a question or to offer an idea for what to do.
The one thing about working with Rob that I remember in terms of me bringing in improvisation, as in improvising lines and creating a character, was that I worked with William Forsythe very closely, because I was his partner. William had this thing where he had to have the last line in every scene, and I noticed when I would improvise something, William would ALWAYS have to answer or say something after that. So I talked to Rob and I said, “Man, he just never lets me have the last word in the scene. Whatever I improvise, he’ll always answer or come up and say something.” So Rob just said, “Well, let’s just keep going. Don’t shut up. Just keep saying stuff.”
So we did a scene where I wouldn’t let William get the last word and he was getting really upset because the scene just kept going on and he had to keep answering me. He had to keep walking back onto set because he would leave when he exited the scene, and then I’d say something and he had to come back into the room. It was just an inside joke between Rob and I and we were just rolling tape on it. I didn’t make the movie, obviously; it was the scene down in the basement of the Firefly house when we would be collecting all this evidence and stuff like that.
Basically, I would collect more and more evidence, finding more things and having more questions for him, and he would just say, “Dobson, gather up all this stuff and let’s get moving,” or whatever he was saying. And I would just keep going, “Do you want me to gather all of this? Is this evidence?” And he’d storm back on set and say, “Yes! Yes, that’s evidence!” Then he’d walk back out. “Okay, I’m gonna gather everything up.” “YES, DEFINITELY, GATHER IT UP! THAT’S WHAT I SAID!” That was funny.
DIABOLIQUE: Sounds like you had a surprisingly lighthearted time on a movie that’s so grim and brutal.
SHERIDAN: Well, yeah, but that’s just me. I don’t know when this is going online, but I hope to do little cool things for these conventions that I go to. For Monstermania, I was talking to the people running the convention because I still have the Doofy uniform and a lot of that memorabilia stuff, so I offered to dress up as Doofy and had a Photo Op for people to get a picture with me as Doofy. We arranged that but that was a unique thing; I don’t think I’m going to do that anywhere else. I’m not in it to head off to each of these things with the intention of dressing up as Doofy. I’m not gonna wear the Batman suit every time. But I thought that I wanted to do something that’d be unique and would be something I could do when I came back home to that area so that they’d say, “Man, when Dave Sheridan comes to fucking Monstermania, he dresses up as Doofy.”
DIABOLIQUE: Were you ever hesitant to board a project like The Devil’s Rejects just based on how exactly far the film goes with its violence? Alternately, was that something that attracted you to the project, as it was something out of your wheelhouse?
SHERIDAN: No, I had no hesitation with [the violence]. I was hesitant because technically, it’s a sequel to House of 1,000 Corpses. That was the first time where I was in a sequel without being in the original. I was a little hesitant for that reason, as in, “How is this going to be portrayed?” To be honest, I thought House of 1,000 Corpses was Rob’s first feature film and I felt there might have been some tonal issues with that one, so I was wondering, “What was going to be his take on The Devil’s Rejects?”
What [Rob] really did was that he didn’t look at [The Devil’s Rejects] like it was a sequel. He wanted it to stand on its own as its own film but with a continuation to who those characters are. So when I sat down and had discussions with Rob, he discussed the tone of the film and how it was going to look, and he was going to make this film more of a period piece for the ‘70s. You don’t get the vibe from House of 1,000 Corpses that it’s set in the 1970’s, so there’s more of a focus on that and also you get that sort of thing where he’s putting pop culture stars of that era in this film. I wouldn’t say I was necessarily hesitant about that, either, but I was more excited to work on The Devil’s Rejects when he explained what he would be doing with the film.
DIABOLIQUE: That’s very interesting considering how much the film varies from the world of horror at times. Of course, there are moments in the film that are so depraved and terrifying that you are reminded that it’s a sequel to House of 1,000 Corpses, but for the most part, the movie plays closer to just a seedy crime-on-the-road film.
SHERIDAN: Yeah, it definitely wanted to capture some of the car/road exploitation films of the ‘70s like Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and those Peter Fonda road movies, even if it’s Easy Rider. [Rob Zombie] just wanted it to have that kind of vibe to it.
DIABOLIQUE: You mentioned before that you were working on a documentary on the band Van Stone. What’s the status of that project?
SHERIDAN: Where it’s at right now is that I’m editing together a movie / documentary from 10 years worth of footage. I’ve been shooting this thing for 10 years and it’s really going to have a unique view that I don’t think anyone is going to be able to capture again through history. Nobody has really done anything like this where they’ve shot a movie for 10 years. The interesting thing is I didn’t even start out doing that. I was just a filmmaker and as someone involved in filmmaking, when Van Stone started as a band, I just started rolling footage. It wasn’t like from day one, I was going, “Oh, there’s a story here I want to tell.”
A lot of the footage I shot at their early shows was just for them to watch the playback tape so they could improve their live shows. We’d get together and they’d say, “Hey, let’s watch that tape and see what the show was like and how we could improve it.” So I just started getting into the habit of rolling camera at their shows.
DIABOLIQUE: So, aside from the Van Stone documentary and A Haunted House 2, do you have any more projects in development or awaiting release? Do you hope to continue working in the horror genre?
SHERIDAN: If anyone is reading this, I’d love to work more in the horror genre. I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t want to speculate on things that might come up or filmmakers I want to work with. But what I want to do, because I’m 44 right now and I’m trying so hard to hold on to my looks so that I look 33 or 34 and I do exercise and keep my abs in shape, is that I just want to find my Sam Raimi. I just want to be somebody’s Bruce Campbell, dude! I think I can be the next Bruce Campbell. So I want to do more horror, but if they say, “Who did you model yourself after?” I think I’m a Bruce Campbell. I think I can get into those types of roles. If I can just nail a few of those, then I can just move up to the older roles later on. I think I’m at the right age and level to play the town sheriff that says, “Goddamn, there’s murders going on! Someone’s got to fucking solve it.”
In terms of what’s on the horizon, I have a movie that’s being edited, so I don’t know where they are on it, but the movie is called White Space. It’s basically The Shining but set in space, and what it’s really about is that this ship is hunting down this space monster that killed the Captain’s father, sort of this Moby Dick situation. I’m a part of the crew and Holt McCallany assembles a small crew and a small ship way out into space, and basically, it’s too far for our space craft. It’s like we clocked in on a one way ticket and we didn’t know about it. Soon, things get bad quickly, cabin fever sets in and blood is spilled. It’s really good.
For more from David Sheridan, keep an eye out for A Haunted House 2, slated to release on March 28th, 2014, as well as his documentary on Van Stone, which is aiming for a premiere in 2014 or 2015. He will also be appearing alongside Devil’s Rejects co-stars William Forsythe and Lew Temple at Rock and Shock 2013 at the Worcester Palladium in Worcester, MA from October 18th to the 20th. For more on White Space, visit www.enterwhitespace.com and check out the trailer below!
Remember, you can learn more about the evolution of horror comedy in Issue #17 of Diabolique, now available for preorder and iPad / iPhone digital download (at the App Store) and will be on shelves and available on other digital platforms soon! Check back on Monday for the next installment of Talking Terror!
– By Ken W. Hanley