Zach Villa Interview: Scream Park

From award-winning director and filmmaker Tony E. Valenzuela comes Scream Park, an immersive virtual-reality series created for Meta. The 360° horror-thrill ride is an extension of BlackBoxTV’s Enter Scream Park and consists of eight episodes in total. Each 7-minute installment adds to the narrative and creates an overarching story designed to give viewers an unforgettable and frightful experience.

Actor Zach Villa plays the role of Will, whose girlfriend, Kelly, is trapped in the abandoned amusement park. Villa is known for starring in the psychological horror film Hypochondriac, and Season 9 of American Horror Story. The cast of Scream Park also includes Grace Van Dien (Stranger Things) as Kelly, Monique Coleman (High School Musical) as Robot, and Steve Zaragoza as Toby Terrific.

Zach Villa chats with Screen Rant about his role in the immersive virtual reality series and discusses his other work in the horror genre.

Screen Rant: You’ve done a lot of work in the horror genre—

Zach Villa: I don’t know what you’re talking about [laughs].

Right? I’ve never seen you in a horror film before! [laughs] This is a VR miniseries. So what are the main differences—because I’m sure there are a lot—between filming American Horror Story or Hypochondriac and doing something like this?

Zach Villa: There are so many differences. Where do I even start? When you’re doing regular horror—what a weird thing to say nowadays—it truly is a traditional process. The machine is kind of well-oiled and people know what they need to do for certain effects. And I think with VR, it’s just such a completely different bag of tools. Like the medium is just as breathtaking. I came from a traditional, classic stage background, and then moving into film and TV, it was like, « Whoa, this is amazing. »

And I remember the first time I ever did VR. I never did the park. Like, there’s the installation stuff where everybody goes and pays the ticket, and it’s this very built experience. But in recent years, just having a headset, you can sit in the comfort of your own home, and it’s breathtaking to literally just put on these goggles and be like, »Okay, the world is gone. » I’m really sensitive to my environment, my surroundings, just energetically. I think there’s something passive and lovely about sitting back and hitting play on Netflix, but when you have to put on these goggles, you literally get transported.

Your whole mood can change, just from the boot up screen. I’m like, « Oh, and now I’m in space in my house, that’s like a million square feet, and I’m just sitting in this tiny room. » That’s the immense difference between these mediums. So when you say, « What’s the difference? » Where do you even start, you know? You can literally just be transported to an alien world in real-time and trick your brain in these psychological ways that I think a 2D TV, no matter how big it is, just can’t do. And so I’m just really excited about the future of that medium for that reason.

There’s actually a movie called Scream Park. They’re not related in any way, are they?

Zach Villa: Not that I know of. I mean, haunted theme park—I definitely have heard of that. I don’t want to say it’s an unoriginal idea. I mean, you see that a lot across all mediums right now, like, with Netflix—have you been watching She-Hulk at all?

I have not! I’m one of the very few.

Zach Villa: I love it. It is such a funny and broad thing that’s like a departure from what Marvel is doing. And I love how the main character in that show breaks the fourth wall. You know like, « Oh, crazy, right? We haven’t seen that before, either. » But we haven’t seen it in streaming, we haven’t seen it in TV. Or at least not that often.

I just think that we’re inundated with so much content nowadays, there’s something to—not only trying to reinvent new stories and new storylines…you feel like you’ve seen the same movie a bunch? Or the same version of movies a bunch? I have, and now I’m starting to see people experimenting, maybe with the same narratives, but they’re telling it in different ways. And a lot of that is due to technology, you know? It may be something that we’re familiar with, but not in this way. Not in this medium.

Well, this is based on Enter Scream Park, right? That was the original VR experience?

Zach Villa: Yeah. If I remember correctly, I’m pretty sure that the team was actually talking about a real theme park based on a real roller coaster and trying to capture that experience, because the brainchild of this original concept was born during the pandemic. With the technology of the art—I can’t shut up about it—you can literally preserve things in real time, as though you were experiencing them no matter where you are. And I think that concept just kind of snowballed into this adaptation.

So there are eight episodes. Are they all connected? Or is each one a different story?

Zach Villa: They are connected. I don’t want to give too many spoilers, but it is a connected linear storyline. In fact, that’s what’s so cool about it. It’s like you’re unlocking levels and more information about this story as you go through the episodes. Does that make sense?

Oh, it definitely does. You learn more as you progress.

Zach Villa: Yeah. And again, it’s the difference between a passive storytelling style versus something that you’re engaged in. I think a lot of the time we get hooked with a character or show, and we binge-watch because we want to know what happens next. But I think there’s another level of investment of like, « Oh, okay, I’m involved. I have to get to the next level, get the next thing, figure out where the hostages are. » It’s like all the little clues start to add up, and you just need that next piece of the puzzle.

Were you given any backstory on your character, Will? Did you know any fun tidbits before you got the role?

Zach Villa: It’s so funny. Tru is one of the one of the producers for the project, and we actually met on a music video shoot for the artists Mod Sun, who I’ve worked with before in Good Mourning. And Mod was doing this video, and very last minute, I was like, « I’m free. I can come out. » He was like, « Okay, really? » So I show up, and he’s like, « I can’t believe you’re actually here. » And I was like, « What are you talking about? If you want me here, I’ll be here. » And I ended up playing a fairly pivotal role in the storyline of his music video.

And then Tru, one of the producers, just hit me up out of the blue a few weeks later, I think it was on Instagram, and she was just like, « Hey, do you want to play the boyfriend role in this haunted theme park VR adventure? » I was like, « Yeah! Wait, who are you? » and she’s like, « I wasn’t really on set that much, but I produced that Mod Sun video. » I had no idea. So it was just funny. I had very little prep, very little information, and she was just like, « Just trust me, it’s gonna be fine. » And then she told me who was involved and what the technology was and that was it. That’s all I really needed.

I’m not an actor, but I would think that could be a fun opportunity—going in blind.

Zach Villa: It happens more often than you think. The tidbits are basically…I don’t think you know at the beginning that Grace’s partner is even involved in the storyline. If you watch the first episode, I’m not even a whisper. And what’s cool is that my character comes in at a point where you’re like, « Oh, wait, there’s way more of the story here. There are more people involved. » And so I’m just really excited to kind of push that narrative and up the creep factor, because like, « Oh, wait. It’s more complicated than you all thought. »

On a scale of 1 to 10…how scary would you rate this series so far?

Zach Villa: That’s so unfair! Of course, I want to say 10. Look, there are different kinds of scared, okay? Like the Dahmer series by Ryan Murphy, it was a 10 out of 10 scary on the second episode. Like I needed to throw up, like I needed to leave the room. It wasn’t that I was scared to keep watching. I was just like, « I am sick. I am sickened at this. I have to go. » This isn’t so much that. It’s 10 out of 10 scary in a different way in that you’re always looking around the corner like, « What the f*ck is going to come out of the shadows? »

I had to watch the episodes multiple times because there’s something terrifying, in horror, especially, about what you can’t see, right? And the thing about a traditional horror is, yeah, you’re going to get jump scared. We know when the music gets to a certain place, there’s a silence or heavy breathing or whatever, we’re getting prepped for the jump scare. But case in point, it’s all contained in that screen in front of you. You know where it’s coming from. And with this, you literally can’t see the whole screen all the time. Which is like real life. If you’re running through a haunted theme park, you literally can’t look behind you. You have to run forward.

I have to watch these episodes multiple times and I remember in the first episode, in particular, there’s this moment where you’re approaching the beginning of the ride or the entrance to the park, and they’ve got it lit in such a particular way that there’s this giant creature in the shadows off to the side, but all of the ride is happening still in front of you. And so if you take your eyes off the front, you miss parts of the story, but you can’t stop looking over to the left because you’re like, « That thing is huge, and it’s going to come alive at any moment. And I literally can’t see both at the same time. » That’s fascinating.

It sounds terrifying.

Zach Villa: It is! That’s what I’m saying! It’s like the thing hiding under your bed, but to the nth degree because you’re literally living it. If I’m looking at my TV screen, it’s all right there. I know it’s there. And unless the movie or the show is like insanely immersive and incredibly captivating, I can just look off to the side, and I’m safe. I’m still home, you know? And that’s just not the case with this. You just never know where it’s going to come from, and I think that’s the strength of it.

Lastly, do you have any other projects coming up?

Zach Villa: I’ve had quite a year. I’m in New York because we had a couple of screenings for Hypochondriac—the horror movie that I did that premiered at South By. And so that’s still making the rounds. I’m really proud of that movie, and it was really cool to see an East Coast audience and see them react to it in a different way, just like a different temperature in the room. And so that continues to make the rounds. I’ve just gone back-to-back film wise. I have one thing that I can’t talk about that I’m starting in a few months. But honestly, most of my energy right now has been in the music.

In January, I started writing a massive seventeen track emo/pop-punk concept record. Just got the album title last week, and it’s all recorded. It’s done. We finished it about a month ago. So I’ve been working on that since January, and we’re filming music videos for that right now. It’s so funny, last year I did four movies or something like that back-to-back, which is such a weird humblebrag, but now in 2022, I’m really left pivoting into music. I’ve always done it, but this is a big jump into the deep end.

So having Scream Park, my album that I’ve been working on, and I’m also still doing like add-on chapters for the new Diablo game. I’m actually cast as the Necromancer character, which is super sick, because there’s only so many characters you can actually choose to play as that you’ll follow through the whole game, and that’s me, so I’m pretty stoked about that.

But yeah, that’s really what I’ve been doing. I don’t want to say acting is taking a backseat, but I definitely have had to put my energies toward my music in a really centered and specific way. Because if you don’t, then it just doesn’t get done. That’s why Scream Park was so great. I was like, « I can come in for a few days and really get into the team and join this dope cast—it’s like AHS meet Stranger Things, yes, please—and just kind of do my little occasional video game voiceover. And that’s been my year.

Deep within the ruins of an abandoned theme park, Kelly Q (Van Dien), is trapped and needs your help. Immerse yourself in this thrill-ride horror show and defy the laws of physics on the most dangerous ride of your life. Alongside Van Dien’s character ‘Kelly’, will be Zach Villa (FX’s “American Horror Story”) as ‘Will’ in live action, and the voices of Monique Coleman (Disney’s High School Musical & “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series”) as ‘Robot’ and Steve Zaragoza (Actor & Viral Sensation), playing the series’ antagonist, ‘Toby Terrific’.

The first four episodes of Scream Park are currently available for Meta Quest with the remaining four coming soon.