MTV goes, like, totally monster for horror-comedy ‘Death Valley’
For some residents of such glamorous Los Angeles enclaves as Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades and Venice, where ocean breezes cool and clean the air, the very idea of heading over the Santa Monica Mountains or the Hollywood Hills into the hotter, smoggier, somewhat declasse San Fernando Valley can inspire concerns about dehydration, wheezing, and unsettling glimpses of Botox-free faces and unfortunate fashion.
Starting Monday, Aug. 29, those petty fears will pale in comparison to a new threat in the Valley: an infestation of vampires, werewolves and zombies. But fear not; the LAPD is on the job, creating the Undead Task Force to protect the citizens of the Valley and make sure that the contagion never reaches the other side.
The UTF’s adventures are chronicled in “Death Valley,” a scripted horror-comedy in which documentary camera crews follow the intrepid officers on their daily — actually nightly — patrols.
Spider One, founder of the band Powerman 5000, conceived of the idea and brought it to Julie and Austin Reading at Liquid Theory. They shot an 11-minute pilot presentation, scripted by Curtis Gwinn, which caught MTV’s eye. Executive producer Eric Weinberg then came in to flesh out the concept and turn it into a series.
“The Valley gets a bad rap,” says Reading, “then you go to the Valley, and it’s got everything. It’s very family-friendly, but there is an obvious class system going on in California. Spider said this very well: As long as it stays over the Hill, the people in Hollywood and Beverly Hills and Santa Monica don’t care.
“We don’t give away why it’s just (in the Valley). That’s part of our bigger mythology. Hopefully we’ll get enough seasons to explain that.”
Reading and his fellow producers also have specific ideas about their supernatural creatures. Vampires are portrayed, as Reading says, “very cartel, terrorist, ganglike.”
Werewolves are more of an “animal control” issue, needing to be locked up during the full moon but no more harmful than other humans the rest of the time.
“Zombies,” says Reading, “are like an infestation and a virus, like rats, and they need to be eradicated.”
On the job with the UTF are Capt. Frank Dashell (Bryan Callen) and Officers Joe Stubeck (Charlie Sanders), Billy Pierce (Bryce Johnson), Kirsten Landry (Caity Lotz), Carla Rinaldi (Tania Raymonde) and John “John-John” Johnson (Texas Battle, who, by the way, was born in Houston and went to the University of Texas).
Calling in to talk “Death Valley” from the rainy South Carolina location of his latest job, the movie “Sleeping Around,” Callen starts out by describing his character.
“Dashell’s an enigma to the guys,” he says. “He’s obviously a bit of a bada... . He’s war-torn. If he wasn’t doing this, he would have probably had some special forces experience back in the day that he never talks about.
“But he’s also got this mysterious side. You’re never sure if he’s gay or straight, if he’s a nudist. You know he’s got some perversion somewhere. He’s definitely having some hard, angry sex with someone, or everyone; who knows?
“But the one thing you know about this guy is he hates vampires. He is going to stop at nothing to get this job done, and that is to make sure that the undead are corralled and kept separate from the good people of the Valley of Los Angeles.
“He’s got a lot of compassion for were- wolves, because werewolves just got caught at the wrong time. Zombies need to be shot through the head. Vampires are just scumbags. That’s the real enemy.”
Callen then describes his character’s tense, wary attitude, his exercise regimen and his restrictive diet. But when asked about consuming dairy, he quickly morphs into the voice of Frank Dashell.
“Dairy slows you down,” he says, “clogs me up, you understand. I’ve got to be watching at all times, because it’s obvious werewolves and especially vampires do not sleep. Sleep is death, my friend. I keep myself awake and alive. I keep my arms heavy and my belly tight, you know what I mean?”
Asked what’s the most fun about the job, Callen lets loose with, “The most fun part has been loading my guns and blasting people away. That’s the fun part.
“Shooting zombies in the head and stabbing vampires through the heart, that’s a good time. Punching vampires and zombies in their face — the action is nonstop. It’s a combat unit. We are combat-ready at all times.”
As for the concept of containing the threat in the Valley, Callen/Dashell is very clear on that.
“Death Valley” premieres Monday on MTV.