Screenwriter Dale Zawada Looks to Parlay Rom-Com Success into a Horror Career
Dale Zawada is a screenwriter and stand-up comic from Chicago. His first film was an award-winning romantic-comedy entitled Worth the Weight. Why do we care, you ask? Because Dale wants his next project to be horrific. Come meet Dale.
Zawada has proven he's got the talent to write a killer script. Worth the Weight won several awards on the festival circuit. And he's a self-described horror fanatic. These are the people we need working in the genre, folks, talented and motivated with a true love of horror.
Zawada talked to Dread Central recently about his desire to make the jump into the dark genre. "I've always been a horror guy," Zawada said. "When I sold Worth the Weight I was actually trying to pitch a horror-comedy script of mine at the time called The Adoption. That story is about a celebrity couple who gets up there in age and starts to lose their fame a bit, so they do what most celebrity couples do in that situation…they adopt a child from a foreign land. This particular couple adopts a nine-year old boy from Cambodia who is just the cutest kid in the world. He's also a cold-blooded killing machine."
The director Zawada was pitching the project to, Ryan Sage, liked the concept for The Adoption, but it seemed too expensive and time consuming. He chose the comedy film Zawada had instead. Too bad, sounds like an interesting concept. Hollywood celebs importing brutal third world killers into their homes.
However, Zawada has plenty more where that came from. "I've been trying to get a horror script produced ever since," Zawada said. "Right now I'm pushing Dark Vigilance. It's a unique take on the "teens in the woods" slasher sub-genre. I want to write another award-winning film and I want it to be in the horror genre. That would mean a lot."
Of course the "teens in the woods" slasher sub-genre has been done quite frequently and thoroughly. But Zawada feels he has a fresh concept for the familiar tale. "Dark Vigilance picks up where Cabin in the Woods left off in regards to turning horror stereotypes on their heads," Zawada said. "The group of teens in this story are very real. They have a lot going on and are relatable whereas the majority of slashers give a teen one characteristic and call it a day. The stoner, the whore, the jock, etc. Dark Vigilance has these characters, too, of course, but there's much more to a person than if he smokes pot or plays football. I felt it was important to get people to have feelings one way or the other about these characters."
Zawada continued, "There's also a lot of mystery and intrigue around the slasher of the script: The Rockdale Ripper. He's a serial killer who did a lot of damage to this small community 10 years ago but was shot down. Now 10 years later, the killings start again and there's a "whodunit" angle about if it's the same person, is it a ghost, is it a copycat, etc. I can't tell you which one it is though. Also, another aspect that's pretty unique that I think horror fans might like is that in Dark Vigilance, the Rockdale Ripper is caught mid-movie by our scrappy group of teens. They catch him and his life is in their hands. I've always fantasized about what I would do if we could catch Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. That sequence in the story is intense and a fun twist I think horror fans would enjoy."
Since Zawada has had success in the comedy field, one has to wonder how much of that he brings to his horror scripts. "There are some humorous moments for sure but this movie is my love letter to slasher movies so I didn't want to make it too goofy," Zawada said. "Horror-comedies are very popular but they're also extremely hard to pull off, which is why a lot of them seem sub-par. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil nailed it. That's the only movie the last 10 years I think really delivered. Most of the time the movies seem to have too much horror in the comedy or too many laughs in a horror movie. Finding the balance for writing a horror-comedy is extremely difficult. The Adoption takes a good swing at it but Dark Vigilance is pure slasher."
Zawada's discussed the people in horror he considers his main influences. And it's an impressive list. "Joe Dante was a big influence," Zawada said. "He's one of the masters of horror-comedies which you can see in Gremlins and The 'Burbs. He's one of those guys that gets you to care about the characters. They aren't cardboard cutouts. There's a reason you remember the name Billy Peltzer. Another one of my favorite horror guys is Lloyd Kaufman and Troma in general. I grew up on that stuff and I like to watch Lloyd's movies and just sit back and realize Here's a guy who said 'to hell with the problems of filmmaking and people telling us no' and got it done. It's very inspiring to me. Also, there's a lot of boobs in those movies.
As for his future plans, Zawada is currently trying to get the Dark Vigilance script noticed and hopes his previous success will help. "I'm trying to get Dark Vigilance into the hands of talented and passionate directors and producers. The problem is a lot of the guys I admire and think could make this movie write their own stuff, guys like Trent Haaga and James Gunn, tend to write their own stuff. But I know there are some directors and producers out there looking for the next big slasher script and I think I might have it. I don't have an agent or manager. I thought I'd get one when I sold a movie but that didn't happen. I thought I'd get one when that movie won awards. That didn't happen either, but that's okay. I'm all about thinking outside the box. I know that it would make a great story if a filmmaker reading this Dread Central article went on to produce Dark Vigilance. And with the passion and loyalty within the horror filmmaking community, I wouldn't be surprised if it happened."
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