Horror Favourites – Hayden J. Weal

Hilarious horror comedy DEAD received its UK premier at the October FrightFest and we managed to grab hold of the films director, co-writer and co-star Hayden J. Weal to chat horror.

A laugh-out-loud comedy horror buddy murder mystery… with ghosts. Marbles, a hapless stoner, can see dead people, thanks to a homemade drug. Officer Tagg, a recently deceased wannabe super-cop is on the trail of a serial killer. So when Marbles’ mum plans to sell the family farm, and the only way of buying it is taking the money offered by Tagg in exchange for his help, Marbles accepts. Will the unlikely duo of directionless medium and ghost cop get over their prejudices and navigate their way through ghouls, perverts, a mysterious hooded figure, and an unexpected shot at love.

Hayden J. Weal is a director, writer and actor in the New Zealand screen sector. After getting a front row seat to big budget movie-making as Martin Freeman’s body double in The Hobbit trilogy, Daniel Radcliffe’s double in Guns Akimbo, Hayden wrote and directed the feature film Chronesthesia (Love and Time Travel), released worldwide in 2016. Hayden’s second feature film DEAD, a buddy murder mystery with ghosts, co-written and starring Thomas Sainsbury, is being released right now around the world.

Below Hayden talks about his favourite horror film:

“In 2007 I attended the New Zealand Film School, a full-time course packed with practical learning and like-minded nerds. Our class was 90% male and seemed to fall under two camps: people who wanted to be the ‘next Peter Jackson’ and people who shunned popular cinema and masturbated each other to the score of David Lynch films. Both camps were equally respected by the other — film nerds unite!

I was living with friends in a cold, damp flat (typical of Wellington due to lax housing laws), drinking alco-pop mixers five nights of the week with friends and watching DVDs until the early hours. Watching films by night, learning how to make films by day. Truly the dream! Pan’s Labyrinth hit the screens saturated in Oscar buzz and we adored it, and later that year, a Spanish supernatural horror film was released, executive produced by the great Guillermo del Toro: El Orfanato.

Despite being a slightly chubby from excessive drinking and hash browns, peppered with cystic acne, and cursed with a white-privilege-infused boisterous comportment, I was somehow seeing multiple people romantically, and El Orfanato became the perfect date film. It’s scary, it’s tragic, it has an unexpected detective-style plot — perfect for a night in with someone who makes you simultaneously soft and hard. My chosen paramour and I would cosy up with a glass of red wine and some coconut chocolate, snuggle close and cling to each other through the sinuous story of Laura, her missing son Simón, and the ghosts of orphans past.

I must have watched this film a dozen times the year of its release (I worked at a local video store so I could get rentals for free), and the more I watched it, the more in awe I became of its controlled direction. The score is fantastic, the performances spot on, the jump scares erring just on the side of classy. But what really made the film sink its claws past the superficial layers of film-lust and deeper into the heart of film-love was emotional weight the film punches with. A mother, determined to find her son, only to be confronted with harrowingly costly past mistakes. The ending of El Orfanato is a sledgehammer to the gut.

Earlier this year, during Covid lockdown, I rewatched the film with my partner and was struck by its strange lack of message. In a world where stories have come to exist only as forms of moral pedagogy, El Orfanato feels almost like a fairytale, with its themes hidden beneath a layer of pure entertainment. I love it, and I can’t tip my hat to director J.A. Bayona enough. Bayona was 31 years old when he directed this film, with a modest $4 million budget, and he’s served as a major inspiration to me ever since. Jump scares are fun, but alone they’re not enough. El Orfanato proves that heart has a place in horror.”

DEAD is available on Digital Download now.

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Alex Humphrey

Alex studied film at the University of Kent and went on to work for Universal Pictures in their Post Room gaining an inside look at the movie industry from the very bottom. Constantly writing reviews in everything from local magazines to Hip Hop sites Alex honed his critical skills even spending a brief period as a restaurant critic. Read more

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