I mostly know him through his work hosting the current revival of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but Jonah Ray has been making comedic waves with his work on @midnight, The Soup on E, and more! However, comedy is not the only thing he embraces. For those horror fans out there, you might know him from his work in the film, Victor Crowley, where he gets dispatched within the opening scene by Kane Hodder’s killer of the same name. Now Jonah is stepping back into the horror realm with his latest role in Into The Dark’s POOKA LIVES!.
For the recent release of Into the Dark’s POOKA LIVES!, I had the chance to talk to Jonah Ray. During our conversation, we discussed everything from what initially drew Jonah into signing onto POOKA LIVES!, what it was like working onscreen with the practical monster effects, and why it’s important to remind right now the beauty of comedy in these dark times.
I’m a wee fan of Pooka and, right off the bat, I noticed that the tone of POOKA LIVES is almost a complete 180 from its predecessor. It gives a sort of Supernatural/Buffy the Vampire Slayer-esque vibe, especially with the humorous elements interwoven in. What was the initial draw for you in signing onto POOKA LIVES?
Jonah Ray: I love horror-comedy and knowing that this was going to be directed by a master of that genre I was in. Alejandro Brugues’ Juan of the Dead is one of the most fun times I’ve had watching a zombie flick. On top of that, getting to play husband to Felicia Day’s “Molly” was exciting. Our characters on MST3k almost got married in the Season 1 finale, so now we can finally fight with each other on a deeper level.
The story centers around a group of old childhood friends who come back together after Derrick, Malcolm’s character, escapes back to Spring Valley. Usually, with ensemble groups, it can be pretty easy to get lost in the crowd, but everyone has such distinct personalities and interests that it is so hard not to fall in love with the vibe you guys developed. Of the characters, which would you say is most like you? Do any of the characters remind you of your own friends?
Jonah Ray: I would say I’m the most like Derrick. I tend to have a distaste for internet culture and find myself getting the wrong end of online backlash when I comment on it on Twitter. Then I get all sad about it while still, deep down, enjoy the attention. There are elements of Matt in me as well, as I am highly skeptical of the supernatural.
You face off against POOKA in a couple of its leveled-up forms. While many films render these monsters in CGI, more people have been returning back to good ol’ practical effects. What was it like having to figure out the choreography for the more confrontational sequences? And would you say it was harder to work with an actual physical manifestation of the critter or easier?
Jonah Ray: Actually, seeing the monster helps A LOT. I am a sucker for practical FX and being able to interact with the monster helps the scene a lot. When I did Adam Green’s Victor Crowley, it was all practical. And being on set when Kane Hodder shows up screaming with his hatchet, it puts everybody in a frightened mood. I also got to do my own stunts, which mainly consisted of falling over a desk in one scene and a child’s bed in another. But hey! It’s still me taking those tumbles.
One of my favorite aspects of the film was that it really seemed to tackle the power we’ve given the Internet and what happens when people or ideas can go viral. We see that your character ends up being an active participant in the POOKA Viral Challenge on a Creepypasta-like site. If you’re familiar with Creepypasta stories, which one is your favorite and which one would you like to see come to life?
Jonah Ray: I’ve never really known much about the Creepypasta stuff online. When I heard about Momo and Slenderman, I just assumed they were new versions of Bloody Mary or Candyman. But I think Momo is my favorite just because it is a genuinely scary design. And, the fact that nobody has taken credit for the design of it, makes it really creepy.
There’s a fine line between horror and comedy and, given the state of the world as we know it, it can be a lot easier to get sucked into the horror-side and forget about the lighter, more comedic side. Why is it imperative now more than ever remind ourselves that comedy is a good foil for the darkness in horror? Or, perhaps, why do you think it’s important to remind ourselves of the humor in situations when everything seems just super ultra-dark?
Jonah Ray: I actually use horror to lighten my mood. The best part about horror is that, eventually, the story will come to an end. After that, you are safe. We live in an uncertain time and we don’t know when this will wrap up. But at least when watching Nightmare On Elm Street, you know they’re gonna get Freddy in the end. When I watch comedy, I think to myself, “Hey, life ain’t so bad!” Then it ends and I turn into a little kid, “SHANE! WAIT! COME BACK SHANE!”
And, to end the interview on a more serious note, here is my final question. What advice would you give to a person if POOKA just showed up in their closet right now with shining red eyes? I’m asking for a friend.
Jonah Ray: I would say, “Run.” But that won’t help you….It was nice knowing you…