Now in its second year, Fun Size Horror is an eclectic collection of horror shorts released online every Halloween. One of the highlights of this year’s crop is “Playing Dead,” a short about a band of mischievous ghosts whose pranks on the living may turn around to backfire on them. Cast members Jake Varta – who plays one of the ghosts – and Tony Krol – who plays one of his victims – came to the project from their Funny or Die project, “The Restaurant,” and they spoke to us about the project in an exclusive interview with The Sci-Fi Movie Page.
Question: How did you guys first get involved in this project?
Jake Varta: It was one of those things where we took a leap of faith. The director and co-writer, Ned Ehrbar, is a friend of ours and once we read the script, it was an easy sell. We thought we could bring something to it and luckily the other members of the team agreed.
Tony Krol: The comedy parts of it were a big sell too. Combining horror and comedy is just such a winner if you do it right, and this script had the right touch.
Q: Why do you think horror and comedy interact so well so often?
JV: Serious horror is very hard. It can be cheesy if you do it wrong. There’s something unrealistic about it: Jason, Freddy, all of that. In a lot of cases, you need to take the leap past that implausibility, past the inherent fiction of the scenario to get it to work. Great serious horror movies do that, but it’s hard. Comedy can exploit that inherent unreality: acknowledge it and help the audience embrace it in an amusing way. It’s still tough – timing is key and if you don’t have that energy you’re not going to get there – but if you hit it, then the audience embraces that unreality instead of just accepting it.
Q: How does the short format help that equation?
TK: It just helps it work better. You get in, you get out, you get your scares and laughs in between. There’s no room for error – either it works or it doesn’t – but there’s also no build-up or dead space you have to work through in order to get to the punchline, or the scare, or the combination of both.
Q: There were some fun gags in this one, fun bits where the characters are letting their spook out. Were those the only ones, or are there other “ghostly practical jokes” on the cutting room floor somewhere?
JV: Not really. We wanted to stay true to the script as it was written, and with a project with the budget and timetable of this one, improvising is luxury you just don’t have. We were all pretty devoted to sticking to the script as written.
Q: Does a background help for these characters? Do you know how they died or what brought them to this place?
TK: I played the drunk in the car, and I got a little bit into my character. He’s a war veteran, he’s drunk and he was shouting out things that I wasn’t happy about.
JV: My character was kind of a party guy and sees being a ghost as the best chance to do that ever. He’s drinking formaldehyde at one point. I thought that party-boy excitement had the right tone for what we wanted to do with the piece. We found those moments and we figured out where these characters were coming from.
Q: How about the make-up? What does that do for your characters, either wearing it or reacting to it?
TK: It was really cool to see Jake and everyone else come out in that make-up. It was so well done, and I got to have the juice of it – I could react to it – without having to spend the time in the make-up chair.
JV: It was fun to get into that make-up. Definitely gets you in the mood. The big challenge was doing it under the gun. We only had three or four days to get this together and I only had a couple of hours to get that out.
TK: The crew was small too, so everyone had to multitask. But it looked great at the end of the day. That’s one of the things that [producer] Mali [Elfman] is so good at. That attention to detail. Getting it together and making it look awesome for nothing.
JV: Ned too. Ned Ehrbar, our director. Here he is, faced with all these things to get done and no time to do it, and he came through. That’s one of the great things about a shoot like this: seeing people do the impossible. I love this project, Fun Size Horror, and I’d love to do more next year if I could. We’ve done other stuff as well, some behind the scenes stuff for other projects. I’d love to write or direct one of these. But it was great to just act, to relax and focus on the character.