In the pantheon of horror movies, there have been a number of memorable visages used by famous fictional killers to stalk their prey. Halloween famously used an altered William Shatner mask to make Michael Myers one of the most memorable slashers of the ’70s while Friday the 13th Part III gave Jason Voorhees a memorable visual identity, a hulking killer with a hockey mask, that has lasted for decades. In 2023, evil gets a new face in the form of … a killer duck?
That’s just one of the many bizarre things that separate Wreck, the new horror series now streaming on Hulu, from others in the horror genre. Set on a luxury cruise liner, the show is a hybrid of horror and comedy as someone disguised as the ship’s alarmingly cheerful duck mascot starts slaughtering employees and guests alike. At the same time, one of the workers, Jamie Walsh (Oscar Kennedy), tries to investigate his sister’s mysterious disappearance that occurred months ago. Digital Trends talked to Wreck‘s writer and creator, Ryan J. Brown, about why he chose a duck to represent his show’s killer, why he hates the cruise ship industry, and how he infused a comic sensibility amidst all the bloodshed.
Digital Trends: I only watched the first two episodes, but I had a blast with Wreck. It was a lot of fun. The show has a, pardon the pun, killer logline: a brother tries to solve his sister’s disappearance on a luxury cruise ship while a mysterious murderer dressed as a duck slaughters people. How the hell did you come up with something like that?
Ryan J. Brown: [Laughs} Everything began with the cruise ship. The cruise ship came to me before the duck. I’m glad you thought it was fun, because that’s what I was aiming for. But I also wanted to have some truth to it. I think comic horror is at its best when there’s some horrible truth beneath the surface. You don’t know whether to laugh or cry when you discover that truth.
And for me, the industry in which the show is set is one of those terrifying industries that slips under the radar. Luxury cruise ships are exploitative and terrible and just seemed like the perfect location for a horror story. So it began with the cruise ship and the duck came about because a lot of these cruise liners have mascots on board.
With the duck, who is bright and shiny and smiling, I thought that was a perfect representation of a deceptively innocent corporate image. There’s something sinister lurking beneath there. What’s kind of funny is that the duck actually isn’t in the show that much. It’s only in it for a few minutes here and there.
It sounds like you’ve had experience working on a cruise ship since it informs a large part of why you made the show.
Actually, no, I’ve been fortunate enough not to have done that, but I know a lot of people that have and they hated it. There were also at least four years of research that went into Wreck, so I feel like I have worked on a cruise ship.
After finding out the things I found out, I’ll never go on one. There’s a website called cruiseshipdeaths.com that tracks crimes, assaults, and deaths on old cruise ships. That was a primary source of information for me while researching for the show. There’s this whole hidden world out there that happens on cruises that no one really knows about.
Wreck is gory, as any decent horror movie should be, but it’s also very funny. That’s a fine line to straddle. How did you maintain that delicate tone? It’s really hard to make an effective horror movie that’s funny.
Yeah, it’s really hard. You have to embrace that both horror and comedy are so subjective. Everyone has a different idea of what’s funny or scary. What unites them is the fact that you can explore uncomfortable truths through comedy and horror. I feel like they both exploit the same tension. Some of my favorite horror films are darkly comic.
You seem like you’re a big horror fan. One thing I liked about Wreck is how it takes the normal horror tropes and sort of tweaks them a bit. For instance, instead of a final girl, Wreck has a final boy, Jamie, played by Oscar Kennedy. Instead of him being straight, he’s an out gay young man. So can you tell me how you conceived of Jamie and why you picked Oscar for that role?
I think there’s a combination of factors involved, I think. You write what you know, and I’m probably very similar to Jamie, so that was a starting point. But also I was very keen on everything I create to have queer characters at the forefront and I don’t think we’ve really seen that in horror unless it’s in a very coded way. Gay characters are usually relegated as sidekicks or worse.
I think queer characters like Jamie make for really interesting protagonists because they’ve experienced some sort of trauma in their past that’s equipped them to be survivors. Jamie has a great sense and understanding of fear and danger. Gay people make really good protagonists since we can sniff out danger in seconds because it’s all we’ve ever had to do.
What’s your favorite kill that occurs in Wreck?
Oh, easy. This is a mild spoiler, but in episode six, there’s a chainsaw death, which sounds wild. You’re probably like, “how do they get to that point?” But yes, there’s a “chainsaw to the face” death in episode six, which is probably my favorite. There’s also a harpoon gun death in episode three that’s a close runner-up. What’s yours? Not in Wreck, but in past horror movies. Do you have a favorite?
Rose McGowan’s death in Scream. Getting trapped in the garage door and then having her head crushed? Brutal. You?
If I had to pick one, I think it probably would be the death of Casey Becker, Drew Barrymore’s character in Scream.
Yeah. And again, it’s that fine line of, you know, we’re laughing with this person and getting to know her in a short period of time and then we see her die in the most terrible way. You feel that loss, which is what all great horror does to the audience.
All six episodes of Wreck are now streaming exclusively on Hulu.