What does an evil substitute teacher, killer bridesmaids, and demonic puppet all have in common? They’re part of the amazingly bizarre new project, A Comedy Of Horrors, Volume 1, from Dan DeLuca (The Wire) and Ken Arnold (House of Cards), along with Matt Servitto (The Sopranos). This latest release comes on the heels of 2017’s The Night Watchmen (our review), which garnered much success in the festival circuit. This time around, the guys are trying something new. A Comedy of Horrors is a five-part anthology, with each installment offering a plot that’s hilariously creepier than the last.
The anthology begins with a classroom of children who are unwittingly forced to listen to horrifying tales told by substitute teacher, Mrs. Evanora, played by Kathy Searle (The Changed 2021). They hear “Clown Town,” a murder mystery about the serial killings of clowns; “Fun with Furklee,” which is all about a Muppet-like friend who doesn’t exactly need his owner to make him talk; “Last Maid Standing,” a bloody test of loyalty and friendship among a bride and her besties; and “Good Head,” which sees Servitto under the physical control of an evil prosthetics master.
During our recent interview, DeLuca and Arnold chatted in-depth with PopHorror about each of the segments, the perks of working with friends, and upcoming projects, including one set in an Austrian western town.
PopHorror: It’s been five years since the release of The Night Watchmen. Can you talk about the film’s success?
Ken Arnold: It’s done well! We were in 40-something film festivals, and I think we won over 20 awards. We got worldwide distribution. It was fantastic. If you were in Malaysia, you could’ve watched us in a movie theater.
Dan DeLuca: We’re big in Malaysia.
Ken Arnold: We can’t even get off the plane, it’s like The Beatles! (laughs)
PopHorror: That’s great to hear! Now, let’s talk about A Comedy of Horrors. I’d love to hear how this concept came to be.
Dan DeLuca: Ken came up with the idea. He said, “Let’s do an anthology. Let’s bring in a lot of local actors and other players that we’ve wanted to work with over the years.” And we did. We were able to bring in a lot of these people who set up their own teams, and we said, “Go for it!” It’s a crazy, diverse bunch of short films. The only thing they have in common is that they’re bizarre. We wanted everything to be different and strange, and I think we accomplished that. We also wanted to do something with a much smaller group of people. The Night Watchmen started off small, but after Ken and I presented the script and people got involved, then it got huge. We wanted to reign that back in. We had, like, 100 extras. God bless them, they were great, but there were just tons of people on that set.
Ken Arnold: On the flip side of that, we were producing five different movies. It became somewhat complicated in that you were dealing with a different group of creators in each one. The directors were different. They had different styles, and they needed different things to get done what they needed to get done. But the shoots were a lot smaller. It was only a four or five day shoot for each short.
PopHorror: Could you guys provide a breakdown of each segment and explain the inspiration behind them?
Ken Arnold: The first one, “Clown Town…” We actually came up with the idea for that when we were working on The Night Watchmen. What was popular at the time was the clowns being seen by the schools and local authorities were freaking out and that was pretty popular on the internet. I said, “What if it was flipped? What if it was a town of just clowns and there was a normal person standing outside these places and was who you should be afraid of?” I relayed the information to Dan, and he went ahead and wrote out a script for us. We tweaked it, but it’s mostly what you see now in the film.
Dan DeLuca: Part of it was thinking, “How bizarre can we make this? And if we were gonna make the clown world, what would be in the clown world? If you were gonna kiss somebody on the cheek, would you just honk their nose instead?” That type of stuff.
PopHorror: How about “Fun with Furklee?”
Dan DeLuca: That was directed by Jamie Nash, who is probably best known for his work with Ed Sánchez, who directed The Blair Witch Project. He had this great idea with Furklee the puppet. There have been other puppet stories done when the puppet comes alive, stuff like in The Twilight Zone, but this was specifically comedy horror, leaning a bit more toward comedy than horror, tongue in cheek. To me, it was funny as hell.
PopHorror: Next up was “Last Maid Standing?”
Ken Arnold: It’s the idea of Nick Tucker and Taylor Hamilton, who co-directed, wrote, and edited it and shot the thing. These guys are out in Northern California in the San Francisco area. I knew Nick Tucker. I had met him on an independent film in 2005, and he was the assistant director for that film. I’ve just followed his career, and he has a great sense of humor. Every time I hung out with him, he was always making me laugh. When this project came up, I said to him, “We need a film.” I didn’t say a slasher film but something in that genre. He sent us the outline, told us what he was thinking, and I said, “Yep, let’s do it.” They came out here to Maryland. We got them a really cool location and said, “Have at it.” We provided them everything they needed for five days, and they came up with bridesmaids.
Dan DeLuca: It was great, because it’s a female-centric film. It was mostly all women, and that was nice to bring more variety to the whole thing. It was pretty cool.
And then we have the setup with the substitute teacher that comes in. We all have these substitute teachers that don’t teach you anything and tell you some bizarre story about baseball or whatever. I don’t remember some of mine. We thought, “What would be the greatest thing?” Well, a horrible witch and these tiny kids. The kids were great. They always say in the industry to never work with little kids or animals. I have to disagree. Never work with adults.
Ken Arnold: I’ll take that one step further… never work with Dan DeLuca or Matt Servitto! But yeah, the kids were fantastic. They make us look way better than we actually are. And we had Kathy Searle (Empathy, Inc. – the PopHorror review). She’s out of New York, a comedic actress. She is mostly known for her commercial work, but she does some really cool dramatic work as well. We’re always trying to find a spot for Kathy in our projects.
PopHorror: And finally, we have “Good Head” starring Matt Servitto.
Dan DeLuca: We went through multiple scripts before we selected the one that would be in this film. We turned down some scripts. We hung out with Matt, went to his beach house in Jersey, and started hammering out ideas. This is the idea that Matt took and ran with, and it became what it is. He, like us, wanted to work with some of the same people that are talented and do this because they love doing it. Nobody got rich off this film. In fact, a lot of us didn’t get paid.
Ken Arnold: By the end of the film, I was smelling rich!
Dan DeLuca: All these people love to make movies. Let’s be honest. It’s fun when you’re with a group of people that you like. You’re all working 12-16 hour days, but you all enjoy each other’s company, and you’re having a blast. It doesn’t seem like work, and we like working like that. When it stops becoming fun, we’re done. We’ll just do something else. But it’s been good fun, a good way to waste a life.
PopHorror: When did production wrap up? Was it impacted at all by COVID-19?
Ken Arnold: We finished right before COVID hit. We finished shooting, and then all of the sudden, we were in COVID. So, we had time to edit and things like that. But we wanted to do film festivals and no one was doing anything. Everything was online, and we didn’t want to do the virtual ones. We wanted to go to a festival where people were. We waited and waited, and then finally, we were just like, “You know what? We just gotta release it.”
Dan DeLuca: That’s part of the fun once the film’s done, going out and meeting like-minded people, horror fans, comedy horror fans, and sharing stories or giving advice—probably not good advice, if you’ve met me and Ken—but advice nonetheless. The best we can give. We’ve also been to a lot of horror cons, and we love the people. They’re the most fun. You can’t find a more fun, genuine crowd, and so we fit right in. Well, we try to fit in.
PopHorror: How did you guys and Matt meet?
Dan DeLuca: The three of us got stuck in a Mexican prison back in 2020…
Ken Arnold: That’s a different story. Don’t tell that one, Dan! Actually, Dan and I met in the mid-2000s. I invited him to do a film for Project Greenlight. It was on HBO, a competition for independent filmmakers. They would give you $1 million to make your film. So we submitted a short. It did well. It made it to, I think, the semifinal round. I had known Dan from working on sets with him, seeing him on auditions and stuff, and then this idea came up. I knew Dan was a good actor, he was in The Wire for a season, and I was like, “Want to come up and play with us for a little while?”
Then Matt came on board for The Night Watchmen. A mutual friend of ours had done a short film with Matt and had his number and called him up and said, “Hey, we’re doing this quirky independent fun film, you wanna be a part of it?” He said, “Sure!” We asked him what his price was, and it was affordable, so we paid it, and Matt showed up. We became really good friends as well.
Dan DeLuca: He is a trooper, being in all kinds of costumes and makeup and latex. He was really, really a trooper on that film. But he really likes this type of work. He could do dramas all day in and out, but he doesn’t really enjoy them as much as he does the bizarre stuff that we put together. We have the same kind of demented humor.
Ken Arnold: Everyday, you know what he’d say? “I went to Juilliard for this?” We’d say, “Yes, you did, and here you are. Knock yourself down a peg, pal.” The Sopranos? Come on! This is where it’s at.
Dan DeLuca: They would tease him on The Sopranos all the time, “Oh look, here comes Juilliard.”
PopHorror: Now that A Comedy of Horrors has been released, what’s next for you guys?
Dan DeLuca: Our next film that is in the edits right now is A Town Called Purgatory. That is a straight up horror film that was originally written during COVID because I was sitting around on my hands. Again, it’s a small cast of people that we wanted to work with. Matt Servitto directs it, Ken is in it, and myself. We like to stick with working with a lot of the same people. We don’t have to do anything but turn on the camera, and they’re golden.
Ken Arnold: We also have a lot of Austrian crew because that’s where we filmed. Some are from Italy, Spain… We had a really diverse crew from different countries. In Austria, it was tough because we were under strict COVID lockdown over there. But the way we designed it, it was in a bubble. It was in an old western town that actually had a hotel on the lot, and the crew stayed in that hotel. We didn’t have to really worry about it, and the government paid for the testing. If we were to have done that in the United States, we would’ve had to have tacked on another 20 to 30 percent for testing and COVID coordinators.
Dan DeLuca: And nobody got COVID. One hundred people, and nobody got it.
Ken Arnold: It was nice. We were actually supposed to do another movie, another horror comedy, about a road trip through Romania. But COVID hit and we had to shut it down. And then this just fell into our laps. We were having a Zoom—me, Dan, our producer in Austria and Matt Servitto—and we were about ready to sign off, and one of us said jokingly, “You wouldn’t happen to have a western town in Austria?” And the producer there said, “Yeah I do. It’s 15 minutes from my house.” Next day, he’s giving us a cell phone tour of the whole place. We went over, Matt and I, pre-scouted everything, and about a month later, we were over there shooting a movie. We weren’t expecting to shoot a movie during COVID, but we figured it out. We had to go to Europe to do it, but we made it happen.
PopHorror: Is there a potential release date for A Town Called Purgatory?
Ken Arnold: Our deadline is October, because we want to have a screening. The American Film Market is in early November, so we want to have it done and then see if we can sell it. The release date, if somebody buys it at the film market, will be determined by whoever buys the film. It probably would be sometime in 2023, we’re not sure yet. Hopefully 2023, maybe more toward the fall because it is a horror film.
PopHorror: Will there be any more volumes of A Comedy of Horrors? If so, what can audiences expect?
Dan DeLuca: We want to do the next volume with all women directors. We tried to get women directors on this one and everyone was booked that we knew of. So this next one, we’d like to branch out and get women directors and writers and let them run with it. That’s what we have in store.
And with A Comedy of Horrors and pretty much any film that Ken and I put together, it’s just an hour and a half for you to kind of shut your brain off, have fun, crack open a beer. This is not Oscar-winning material. It’s fun, and we like making people laugh. We like entertaining people. Don’t expect enlightenment. Just expect fun. That’s it.
Ken Arnold: That’s all it is. I told somebody the other day, “I wake up in the morning, and that’s my goal… to make somebody laugh.” If I didn’t do that by the end of the day, I didn’t achieve my goal.
PopHorror: You guys do the comedy horror genre so well. Do you have any favorite movies that inspires your work?
Dan DeLuca: I’m a big fan of Shaun of the Dead [the PopHorror retro review]. That type of comedy horror for me is great. I love it. But then, honestly, going back to the old Abbott and Costello stuff from the ’40s and ’50s, funny stuff that my dad used to watch on TV and I’d sit down and watch with him. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, just classic funny stuff.
Ken Arnold: Young Frankenstein, anything Mel Brooks is fantastic. Of course, Shaun of the Dead, but also Hot Fuzz and The World’s End by Edgar Wright.
PopHorror: Well, Zoom is yelling at me that we only have a few minutes left. Do you have any final words?
Ken Arnold: We’re still gonna be cranking them out. Dan and I have been talking about coming up with some other films in the vein of, I don’t know if you saw that film Hush. It’s on Netflix. And I watched one last night called The Night House, which is also a pretty cool one-location kind of a feel to it, strong woman lead. It’s just really cool, scary, tense. They show you some horror stuff, but they don’t go over the top with the gore. It’s more about the sound effects, the jump scares. We’re trying to come up with some ideas in those realms and hopefully, we can make that happen in the next year.
Visit linktr.ee/acohv1 for more information on A Comedy of Horrors, Volume 1 and streaming options.