Dana Gould is a horror geek of the first order. Armed with his passion for the genre and his unique comedic sensibilities he created an exceptional horror comedy show at IFC in Stan Against Evil. Join us at That’s My Entertainment as we sit down for an epic chat about all things Willard’s Mill with the man who created Stan.
Big Night in Willard’s Mill
TME: So, Wednesday is the big night. Stan and company have had a very great story arc which really showcased each character well. Tell our readers what you can about the finale.
DG: It culminates in Stan’s ill-advised desire to go back in time and also into the past which never turns out right. He will find that what it takes to get there leads to some terrible mistakes.
When he gets there, he makes more. It’s good intentions gone wrong. One of my favorite things to write about the law of unintended consequences.
This will definitely be an example of that. Even good ideas can go wrong and I don’t think this was ever a good idea.
TME: How do you think the fans will react to it?
DG: I think the fans are going to love this because all of the characters have their moments. I think it’s a very ambitious story for a half-hour horror comedy. I sort of wrote it the way I would have written a Doctor Who episode.
It tells a story on a big canvas. You get to see Willard’s Mill had things gone differently and then you go back and forth. I think the fans are really going to like it. The last episode is the most ambitious story I’ve told so far.
A Delicate Balance
TME: Stan is a great example of the two genres of horror and comedy marrying well. It can be a delicate balance.
DG: It is a very, very delicate balance. It happens to be the only thing I know how to do.
TME: How do you integrate your background in observational comedy into Stan?
DG: That’s a great question. Writing Stan gives me an opportunity to take some of my observations about the world and give them a voice.
A great example would be in episode five where Evie and Deborah are watching The Fiancé, which is our parody of the Bachelor. The whole monologue that Stan gives about those shows, “That’s why we know marriage is sacred. We give one away as a prize on a game show.”
Those are all things that I have said to my daughters when I’ve caught them watching the Bachelor. It just gives me an opportunity to work them into the show.
Comedy Boot Camp
TME: Do you think your time on the Ben Stiller Show served as a boot camp for writing & performing? Both of which you are doing on Stan Against Evil. How did this experience help you with your writing for Stan?
DG: We are going back in time. There’s no question. What I learned the most from the Ben Stiller Show which really set the template for Stan was how to take things that I was interested in and turn that into a piece of comedy or a piece of entertainment.
At the time of the Ben Stiller Show, I had a brief period where I was really into The Doors. I’m not proud of it. Some people get into drugs, I just get into bad music. Out of that came Oliver Stone Land and it gave me an opportunity to write about the stuff I was into at the time.
That’s really what Stan is, I am a big horror movie fan and this gave me the opportunity to take the stuff I love and live in that world. At the same time, I get to be funny which I sort of have no option when it comes to that. It’s very hard for me to write anything and not try to make it funny at the end of the day.
It Came from Collinsport, Maine
TME: There was definitely an homage to American Werewolf in London with the Werepony episode. What movie or television show started your love affair with monsters and horror?
DG: Dark Shadows. I got into when I was about four years old. My older brothers used to come home from school and watch it when I was a kid.
So much of Stan is influenced by Dark Shadows. The color palette is the same, the music is very evocative of it. Then when I was about ten, eleven and twelve there was a show I watched called Kolchak: The Night Stalker with Darren McGavin.
That cemented it for me. I also grew up watching the Universal classics, those horror movies when I was a kid. That was really what sort of set the die for Stan.
TME: You can definitely see Kolchak: The Night Stalker as a Stan influence especially with the monsters. I know that you said in another interview that you are dying to get the moss monster in the show one way or another.
DG: Yes, I am! I actually have a very good idea for next season so that I can have it.
TME: Now that season two is ending are you already hard at work planning season three? Do you have an idea of the general direction for next season?
DG: Yes, absolutely! Very much so. I am so lucky as a writer because in addition to working with other great writers like Jessica Conrad who wrote the finale, episode eight and in addition to having great collaborators as writers, I also have this amazing cast.
It really is like a repertoire company. They get to play so many different things. They get possessed, they get to play demons. What I think will be a very interesting arc once we extricate ourselves from the corner I paint us into at the end, which I do every season, I would like to see Janet and John flip roles, not personalities.
Janet is the very open minded one and John is the hard ass. With the experiences they have had this season, I’d like to see that flip. I’d like to see Janet exert a little more control as Sheriff and try to bring this whole situation to a head.
John’s experience is going to force into play contrary to his natural role and he’s going to have to be a little more open minded. When Mulder becomes Scully and Scully becomes Mulder. I think that’s what season three should be about.
TME: When I think back to various episodes of the X-Files, there were several that pertained to the origins of characters on the show like the Lone Gunmen, the Cigarette Smoking Man and for season 11, Skinner’s backstory. Have you thought of doing something like that on Stan? We saw a bit of why Stan became a cop. Do you have any plans to go into the past for that type of story with any of the characters?
DG: Yes! The character that I think has the most potential for an interesting backstory and I sort of read into it a little bit this year is Kevin, the caretaker of the cemetery. All of those stories that he tells are true.
Just no one seems to care about them. I think at the end, at some point, so much of the curse of Willard’s Mill revolves around the cemetery, it’s not an accident that Kevin is in charge of it. I think that is all going to come together at the end.
You have to keep Evie sort of pure in the backstory because she is standing in for the audience. You have to keep her devoid of those influences for the audience’s perspective.
Will They, or Won’t They?
DG: That’s exactly it! No one was more surprised than me and I play Kevin!
TME: Are there plans for future episodes to see their relationship develop?
DG: Oh, yeah! Absolutely! Because I believe in surprising the fans. People love Denise so much that they want her to be happy and if she likes this guy then they should be together. I absolutely think that there is a life for these two characters together but what that does is put Kevin in Stan’s orbit.
Kevin and Stan have a very strange relationship. I think it’s because John and I as people have a good relationship. Kevin isn’t someone that Stan would
normally like but there is a sense of respect there. Both of them are civil servants. I think we will see more of that.
The Real-Life Stan
TME: When most people think of their parents, they don’t envision them as stars of a horror-comedy show. What about your father inspired you to create Stan?
DG: It was because he was so wrong for it. I wrote a pilot for ABC called Nolan Knows Best. The premise of that show was essentially what if my father came to live with my wife and my kids and myself? That pilot got made.
I played myself. Brian Dennehy played my Dad and the show didn’t go to series but it did get made. When I saw the show, I realized that although the series didn’t go, the character worked. That you could have this intemperate, old school, misogynistic guy but most people would still like him.
To me what I want to do is take him and put him in a show where he didn’t belong. What if I took that guy and put him in the X-Files? What if Dana Scully was partnered with my Dad instead of Fox Mulder?
That was basically the origin of Stan. It’s that simple. What if I took that character and put him where he shouldn’t be but people had to deal with him anyway? It wasn’t that he did fit, it was that he didn’t fit.
What Makes Stan Tick?
TME: John C. McGinley said that Stan’s motivation in season one was “get to the chair.”
DG: Right. John’s a real actor. He has a very disciplined method that he works from and for John what motivated Stan in the first season was “get to the chair.” That’s all he wanted to do.
He was forced into retirement, so screw you. Now, with the second season he has a very different agenda. He wants to reunite with Claire to become whole. Not every episode of the second season was based on that journey.
So, what he is doing in those other episodes is he is resting and preparing for that journey. John is a very serious and dedicated craftsman. With the rest of the cast, nobody is phoning it in because everybody on the show is such a pro that’s not an accident.
Jumping the Shark Prevention
TME: Some shows, as you know when they go on in perpetuity there’s that theory of how do we not jump the shark. Do you ever think about that?
DG: Oh, yeah. Every time I start a script I’m afraid I’m going to jump the shark with it. I think to me the shark will not be jumped as long as the characters never make fun of their situation. The characters take the danger that they’re in very seriously.
The danger is always very real and the comedy comes from them behaving like regular people. That’s the American Werewolf template. The reason that movie works is because the guys don’t act like they’re in a werewolf movie. They act like regular guys.
Same thing is true of Stan. These people don’t really behave like they’re in a horror movie but a horror movie is happening around them. That would be the algorithm of the show.
TME: Because the characters play it straight while the horror is happening around them do you think that is why people identify with Stan, Evie, Denise and Leon?
DG: They behave in the way an audience would behave. It’s the reason that Brody is so important in Jaws because Brody is the only one who is afraid of the shark in the way that the audience would be afraid of the shark.
People who relate to Stan in these situations would still be making wisecracks and would also be nervous and scared. No one’s brave in the show. They are only brave when it is self-preservation.
TME: There has been a shift in the industry to go a little more mainstream with entertainment. Being a fan of horror, Chiller met an untimely demise. As the creator of a horror comedy niche type of product how do you feel about that?
DG: It’s a little heartbreaking. We are the niches niche. I like to think that there is always an audience for it. I also think that horror is like comedy in that it’s not the main course. It’s a side dish.
That might have been the issue with Chiller. 24-7 of something. When I was a kid the great thing about horror movies is that they were on Saturday nights at 11:30. If you wanted to watch a horror movie, you had to wait for Saturday night.
We have a nice little niche in IFC’s schedule. All of their programming appeals to a very specific slice of the audience. I look at the schedule as a color wheel and I would like to think we have a place in that wheel.
Stan and Ash Fans Unite
TME: Were you aware that there is a movement to unite the fanbases of Stan with Ash vs Evil Dead? What are your thoughts on it?
DG: I’m incredibly touched by our fans. It’s so flattering to be a part of something that means so much to people that they would go out of their way to do that. I think Stan and Ash are absolute cousins. I totally get that. They share fans.
TME: The fans are very enthusiastic. They are out there asking for more with #KeepStanKilling and #ShovelsUpforSeason3. Do you have a message for the fans about the campaign?
DG: The thing I would stress to them is ask for more. Keep watching the show. Stay on social media and keep talking about it. The more people tune into the show the better it bodes for another season.
If we find ourselves “on the bubble” the fans will be the first to know. When they mobilize to keep a show on it’s the greatest thing. I’ve done it. My promise to them is if we get another season, I will definitely make it a season worth watching.
TME: Since the curse is on the constable of Willard’s Mill and Evie is currently in that position, will John C McGinley eventually transition out of the show and remain behind the scenes as a producer? What is the plan for Stan’s character?
DG: The heart and soul of the show to me is the interplay between John and Janet. They are both cursed because they were both the Sheriff. I think they are sort of tied.
I know what happens to Stan at the end of the show. I’ll just leave it at that. Do I think there is a show there without Stan?
The heart of the show is Stan and Evie. They are Mulder and Scully. Without Mulder and Scully, The X-Files wasn’t that good.
DG: The network pays attention to that. I get metrics every week on the ratings and what we did on social media.
TME: Anything else you would like to add, Dana?
DG: We really love our audience. I think of Stan like that little band you love that still plays. If you’re there for us, we’ll be there for you.
Catch the season finale of Stan Against Evil on IFC, Wednesday, November 22 at 10 p.m. Eastern 7 p.m. Pacific.
If you love the show tweet #KeepStanKilling #ShovelsUpForSeason3 to @IFC and @stanagainstevil on twitter.
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Midnight Mass: The Blood of Life
The isolated island community of Crockett receives a mysterious new head priest, full of secrets and a brand new testament under a very unusual Messenger of God.
Meet poor Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), freshly released from prison and wracked with guilt over what got him there, a stupid drinking accident that caused the death of his ex-girlfriend. The last thing he wants to do is go back to Crockett and the judgment of the mostly religious community there, his disappointed family, and the nightmares of his ex’s death that plague him. But where else would have him? Resignedly on the ferry, he goes.
Riley’s dad Ed (Henry Thomas) isn’t the kind of man who talks very much at all, much less about his feelings, or his very real disappointment in his elder son. Riley’s teen brother Warren (Igby Rigney) has no idea what to say to him either, and just generally keeps mum. Riley’s mom Annie (Kristin Lehman) is accepting and loving, hesitant in how to help her eldest son but never wavering in her faith in the help of our lord Jesus. Mom seems to think a good heaping dose of the Church would set Riley right but is surprised to learn that the old priest of the Parish, Pruitt, has taken an extended leave of absence from the island, and his newcomer replacement Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) is young, charismatic, and bursting at the seams to tell the whole island about the gifts he brought them, most especially what he claims as a new testament under a messenger of God.
We’ll get back to that whole ball of issues in a moment, the other interesting characters of Crockett Island. Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan) is the nightmarish overly polite and gently, almost lovingly condescending neighbor Christian woman you’ve ever loathed, the kind of person who explains away every last thing her Church may do wrong or contradictory because, after all, God works in mysterious ways. Pfft. Of course, Bev immediately ingratiates herself as the second to the new Father Paul in their services and is the first to start covering up his transgressions as they become more rampant.
Newcomers to Crockett Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) and his son Ali (Rahul Abburi) present a burgeoning problem to the plans of Father Paul and his shadowy companion, for they are both practicing Muslims. The practical side of investigating these so-called ‘miracles’ and strange happenings falls on Hassan’s shoulders, as he already struggles with barely-concealed racism and suspicion from his fellow islanders, and of course his son is being wooed away from him by the promise of actual, tangible miracles, but from a different whole faith and God. Father Paul definitely does not practice a traditional Christian faith and relies far too much on making use of the eucharist, the ceremony of the blood and flesh of Jesus Christ turning into bread and wine and, well, consumed.
Wade (Michael Trucco) and his wife Dolly (Crystal Balint) are lifers of the island and both in general interested in one thing, the advancement of their own family, specifically their daughter Leeza (Annarah Cymone), who happens to be in a wheelchair. And that happens to be the canny Father Paul’s first real miracle-with-a-cost that he demonstrates to the astonishment of the parishioners, after a heartfelt and rousing sermon, Father Paul commands Leeza to rise, to stand, and to walk. And lo, she does. What parents wouldn’t wholly dedicate themselves to a cause after seeing this happen to their beloved precious daughter? The fringe benefits of healing, and power, the ones that come at a mighty, currently unnamed, cost, are simply a nice bonus.
Joe Collie (Robert Longstreet) is the town drunk, and while his reasons for drowning his sorrows in the sauce might be understandable, absolution wears a very different face when it comes from Father Paul. While Leeza might be willing to forgive Joe, and even as Joe begins attending the newly-formed Al-Anon meetings on the island of course hosted by Father Paul, redemption might’ve been better sought from medical professionals, and not this newfound method of religious worship.
Dr. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish) is the islands’ kind of all-around medic, and this is how she and Riley’s old friend Erin (Kate Siegel), also newly returned to the island, a few months pregnant but traveling quietly alone, met when Erin comes to the Doc for obstetrics. Sarah’s older mother Mildred Gunning (Alexandra Essoe) has many medical and mental issues, and Sarah struggles in their shared home, to take care of her addled mom and balance her own life. Then Father Paul takes it upon himself to visit one of his oldest parishioners, bringing the sacred host and wine with him to give directly to Mildred, who starts looking and acting so much better under his loving care.
The show is very much a slow slow burn, with a lot of the actual action taking place in the last two episodes. Much of the beginning and middle episodes feature two people just sitting alone, having quiet and seriously in-depth conversations about heavy subjects – grief and repentance, what happens when we die, the disasters that come as a result of addictions, how our actions’ consequences reverberate to those we love around us, faith and the foibles of man, and of course, the giving of oneself over to a higher power, for strength, and guidance, and love.
Except, for the higher power that Father Paul brought back with him, to share with his beloved flock of Crockett Island, while it may be extremely powerful and full of what could be considered miraculous magic, everything comes at some kind of a cost. And when the Messenger of God is finally revealed to the shocked denizens of Crockett at Easter Mass, with Father Paul rapturing on about rebirth as the bloody massacre begins in earnest, it’s faith, not in any kind of God or religion, but faith in each other, that may save a few hardy souls.
Question the wisdom of your religious leaders along with the rest of us in a fine slow-burn addition to the Flanaverse, Midnight Mass is on Netflix now!
Saw X: It ain’t brain surgery!
Legendary executioner Jigsaw returns to exact revenge on a cadre of scam artists who promised him a bogus cure for his cancer!
First off, be aware, that this is what I call an interleaved sequel, a movie set between previous films in the franchise. In this case, Saw X occurs after the events of the very first Saw film, and before Saw II. Everybody got where we are? Good! Into the madness, we dive!
So, as we all know, John Kramer’s been diagnosed with cancer, very aggressive brain cancer, and likely doesn’t have much time left. And he’s tried everything under the sun, doing a ton of meticulous research, we’d expect nothing less from our master of the art of murder, and not one thing has worked. Yet one man from the support group for cancer sufferers, Henry (Michael Beach), offers an off-the-books supposed miracle cure, and John jumps at the chance.
Why does this nonsense always sound too good to be true? Because it is. Deleted scenes from the first Deadpool movie already told us why traveling to Mexico for any kind of medical cure is a sublimely stupid move, but Kramer is desperate. And while he might be sick and dying, John Kramer has never been what anyone could call stupid. So the villa out in the Mexican countryside, the affable cab driver Diego (Joshua Okamoto) professes surprise at Kramer being highjacked for his good, the nervous muttering from assistant Valentina (Paulette Hernandez), the side-eyeing from little housekeep Gabriela (Renata Vaca) and her tequila, and most especially the smooth and smarming reassurances of head “doctor” Cecilia Pederson (Synnove Macody Lund), all leave a kind of sour taste in John’s mouth.
The whole cluex4 scene is done in the style that the Saw films are known for, where we the audience are treated to cut-together explanatory scenes in a flip-flash fashion of usually about two minutes, for poor John when he realizes he’s been hoodwinked and just how badly, seems a little contrived. But then it’s entirely possible that we the audience truly expected our genius mastermind of the infamous Jigsaw murders to have realized what was happening sooner, and got enraged along with Kramer. And cheered as he prepared to take his bloody and ultra-violent revenge!
First up in our grand guignol of executions is the return of Jigsaw’s first protégé, Amanda (Shawnee Smith). And despite her avowed reverence for Jigsaw and his proven “therapy”, Amanda does waver a bit when the scammers are put through the paces of their specially-made Saw traps, and they shriek and blubber and bleed out. The appearance of the ringer of the bunch, Parker (Steven Brand), doesn’t even slow our beloved engineer of the damned down, because we knew Jigsaw would have his other apprentice waiting just off stage, the deliciously vicious Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor). Even the monkeywrench of involving little-boy soccer fan Carlos (Jorge Briseno) in the traps, is just another cog in the machine that is the brilliantly plotting mind of John Kramer.
A fine addition to the Saw legends, showcasing a return to the beloved style and panache of the original Tobin Bell-starring Jigsaw films, Saw X is splashing gore and gallons of blood in theaters now!
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off,” Netflix’s latest series, is a rollicking journey through the world of video game culture, blending nostalgic references with a fresh narrative twist. Centered around Scott Pilgrim, portrayed with magnetic charisma by Michael Cera, the show skillfully integrates gaming elements into its storytelling, creating a delightful homage to the video game subculture.
The series cleverly employs pixelated graphics, power-up animations, and game-like sound effects to bring the virtual world to life. These visual cues, reminiscent of classic video games, enhance the storytelling and resonate with audiences familiar with the gaming landscape. The attention to detail in recreating iconic gaming moments is commendable, creating a visual and auditory treat for enthusiasts.
The exploration of video game culture goes beyond mere aesthetics; it becomes an integral part of the characters’ identities and interactions. The script intelligently weaves gaming terminology and tropes into the dialogue, effectively blending the real and virtual worlds. The series navigates the challenges and triumphs of the characters through the lens of gaming, making it a unique and engaging experience for both gamers and general audiences.
The ensemble cast, including standout performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, and Chris Evans embraces the gaming theme with infectious enthusiasm. The chemistry between the characters is palpable, adding emotional depth to the series.
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” successfully taps into the zeitgeist of video game culture, offering a nostalgic yet contemporary take on the gaming phenomenon. It’s a must-watch for those who cherish the pixelated roots of the gaming world while providing an accessible and entertaining narrative for a broader audience. The series takes off not only in its title but also in its ability to soar within the ever-expanding realm of Netflix originals.