Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to sit and chat with one of my favorite genre directors William Malone. You can read all about our conversation regarding his latest film, PARASOMNIA, here. But there is much more to this unique director than that, and during the course of our interview, we talked about much of his career. It made perfect sense to include him as part of the AITH column, Time Out with Horror Legends. So not only did we talk about sleep, dreams and a world beyond, we also spoke about his past resume and the state of horror today.
It was clear that William has a very strong knowledge of film history, and everything that has come before him. We spoke about how remakes have always been a part of Hollywood. We also spoke about his own work, from SCARED TO DEATH to HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and even a little bit of FEAR DOT COM. We had so much to talk about that we didn’t even really get a chance to talk Masters of Horror. But luckily, if you live in the Los Angeles area, you can see Mr. Malone’s latest PARASOMNIA and ask him a question or two on March 5th. I’ve included information needed at the end of the interview. I’ll be there, and I hope some of you get a chance to come check it out also. And now, I present Mr. William Malone…
I had read somewhere that your inspiration was more science fiction than horror?
Yeah, I mean, actually I’ve always sort of thought of myself as a science fiction director although I’ve really only directed one piece that was a sci-fi film, which was CREATURE, which was sort of sci-fi/horror anyways. I really like science fiction and so forth. When it’s done well, its really cool. And I’d love to be doing other science fiction pictures, in fact, I’ve got a script and a project I’m working on called PHOENIX DUST which is sort of a sweeping sci-fi, action adventure picture. And it’s pretty cool, so hopefully I’ll get the money to make it, but you never know.
Now I want to go back early in your career, I remember when SCARED TO DEATH came out…
Now that’s a long way back [Laughing].
That was one I missed, I saw most of the horror features back then but sadly it was one of the few that my mom didn’t take me to see.
See, she warped you at an early age.
See, that’s what my mom did to me. She took me to see THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and I was a little tiny kid, you know, I could barely see over the seats. I just remember spending the entire movie under the seat, you know [Laughing].
It’s kind of cool though because you can go and tell all your friends about these scary movies that they aren’t seeing.
Well you know, when I was a kid in junior high, there wasn’t any video at that time. There was no way of seeing things. And I grew up in Michigan and we had like a local exchange, a film exchange for Films, Inc. which rented 16mm films to schools and stuff like that. And I found out that you could rent movies from them for about five dollars for the weekend. And their catalogue was all the Universal pictures. So I would rent movies and I would have friends over, and we’d have Creature From the Black Lagoon or something like that, you know, all those movies. And it scared the hell out of all the neighbors. So it was a lot of fun.
What was it about SCARED TO DEATH that brought you into the genre?
What happened really was that I’d been working for Don Post Studios as a mask designer and stuff and one of my dubious things, which I mentioned, was that I sculpted the original Michael Myers which was really just a Bill Shatner “Star Trek” mask.
And every Michael Myers fan thanks you for that.
[Laughing] It was sort of one of the weirder things… After that, I really had been wanting to make a film for a long time while I was working there. And one day, I just decided… or I realized that I didn’t have any connections in Hollywood. I didn’t know anybody. And the only way I would get a movie made is if I sort of financed it myself, which is what I did. I mortgaged the house and sold the dog and all this stuff [Laughing]… and I made Scared to Death on a budget of , I think it was about seventy-four thousand dollars then, which was dirt cheap even in 1979 or so when I started it. So that’s how it really got started.
And the reason the movie was what the movie was, I thought to myself, what can I bring to the movie that I would have to go and spend a lot of money for, so I needed production value because I knew I’d have to sell it so I could get something out of it. So you know, obviously it was monsters, I was like, ‘Well I’ll make a monster movie!’ So I designed the Syngenor and concocted the story along with Bob Short, the effects guy. He and I wrote the story and we shot it in, I think four weeks, which was actually a long schedule for that amount of money. It was mostly just because we didn’t know any better [Laughing]. We had locations all over the city and…
Didn’t get the permits and such…?
No, we didn’t [Laughing] we just went and shot it wherever we could. Actually what happened was, we found this guy who had a company called Catalina Boats and he made yachts. And he had a big warehouse where all he did was keep his cars. He had like, three cars in this probably thirty-thousand square foot building. So he let us build our sets there. We built a sewer set up there and stuff. And when we needed an apartment, we’d go rent an apartment and go shoot in it. So that’s pretty much how it happened. Oddly enough, when the movie was done, we were able to get a distributor and the picture wound up playing the circuit of drive-in movies and all that stuff. In fact, our first premiere we had was at a drive-in in Dallas, Texas I think it was. That was pretty weird.
What was that like?
It was very weird because they stuck us next to the concession stand. I was with Toni Jannotta, the girl who played the young, spunky girl. And we were just sitting at this table and people would walk by going, what are you guys doing here, you know [Laughing]. And of course it was a very dark movie because it was a scary movie, but because it was a drive-in, you could barely see it [Laughing]. Anyway, it was a very weird experience.
I saw it when they cleaned it up for VHS. I think in 1985...?
Yeah, I think it was on video we were able to go in and… I think Media Home Entertainment put it out. And as I recall, they actually were nice enough to give us a good proper color timing session. And they tweaked the movie a lot and made it look a lot better. That was a good experience. Oddly enough, after it was released, I got this phone call from one of the producers who said, ‘Have you read Variety?’ and I said, ‘No. Why?’, ‘Have you looked at the charts? We’re number sixteen on the charts.’ [Laughing] So it did pretty well for what it was.
It’s funny, I was on an airplane once and I was traveling someplace and this guy next to me turned out to be a submariner. And we started talking and he said, ‘I saw Scared to Death on a submarine.’ [Laughing] Underwater, that would be a pretty weird movie to see.
What is your take on these new filmmakers, who are making a first feature and finding success with it like Eli Roth and others? It seems like they are doing the same thing you did, but it feels as if horror has become more acceptable today.
Well I think it was. I mean, I think for a long time horror was, I think the studios considered it akin to porn [Laughing]. And I think what’s happened really that’s made it legitimate is… and I want to give some credit for Forrest Ackerman for “Famous Monsters of Filmland” which I think gave [horror] some credibility. And then other people sort of took up the fight. With Cinefantastique and all these different magazines… and Fangoria and stuff like that. It sort of elevated the genre and made people think of it more as an art form. I mean, there are still movies that I see that I go God, why did they do that? Because I think that there are movies that damage horror, you know. But at the same time, I think there are people that are genuinely trying to make cool, weird movies today. And I applaud them, you know.
Can you name a couple of recent ones that stood out for you?
Well I liked the first HOSTEL, you know. I thought that was a really well done idea for the film that it was trying to be and I think Eli did a great job on that. And I like a lot of Guillermo del Toro’s movies. I think he’s really added a lot of art to horror, which is something I aspire to. You know, I don’t really want to make, you know, FRIDAY THE 13th PART 8 or something like that.
Now, with the F13 remake coming out, I want to discuss your own remake of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. Nowadays it is almost the norm to release a remake instead of something original, although I have to say that I really had a blast with MY BLOODY VALENTINE.
You know what, I thought it was a really fun romp. And it did all the things that it should do. And it made use of the 3D.
I found it really refreshing to embrace that period of horror with that particular film. I mean, horror lately has been so dark and depressing in the past few years, which is not necessarily a bad thing, because horror by nature should be kind of depressing. But how nice it was to go back to that 80’s feel?
Actually… I actually had mixed emotions about it. It think it’s really good that people are doing that, they are making movies that are fun and I’m hoping that people find PARASOMNIA fun, although it’s certainly not an Eighties kind of movie. At the same time, there was a period where I spent a lot of time struggling, trying to go the opposite way. Because at the time when HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL was made, the whole spin about horror was all they wanted to make was comedy horror. They wanted to make stupid, silly horror.
So it was a long battle for me just to keep talking to people going, no, it can be more than that, it can be artful, it can be scary and it can be creepy. And more of that has now become what horror is. You know, horror should really encompass a lot, you know, a really broad spectrum. I think it is always bad when it gets pigeonholed into a certain area. You know, I’ve told John Carpenter this, I mean, John’s a friend and I think HALLOWEEN was a great film. As a matter of fact, the problem with that movie is that it was too good a film. It was so good that all the studios didn’t want to do anything but just make movies with guys with masks and knives. And I think that when that happens, I think that is a bad situation to be in.
And at that time period, you know, 81’ and such, after FRIDAY THE 13th, all of these movies come out and they all make money. And so you have the studios looking at the dollar sign and not the art of it…
And they don’t think of what the possibilities are. The reason that HALLOWEEN did break out is that there was nothing like it out there at the time. So they never think about that, they only think about how do I rip that off, you know, and that I think is tragic. It still happens but it happens less I think.
Well you made a remake before the latest craze, and it was a film that was much older and it felt sort of ripe for remaking. Nowadays you look around and five years… I mean, they are remaking LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.
You’ve gotta be kidding me. Do you think it’s gone too far?
Well, I don’t know, I think that always happens. Historically, if you go back, I was watching THE MALTESE FALCON the other day, you know, the Humphrey Bogart version. And it turns out that that was actually the third version of it. And the earlier version was only two to three years earlier. Which was SATAN MET A LADY. And then there is a movie only a few years earlier than that called THE BLACK BIRD.
I wonder if audiences were complaining back then about it, because back then they didn’t have the luxury of DVD, I wonder if they even knew, you know…
I think that maybe some of that… you know, it was cleaner back then because nobody could relay anything and you couldn’t go back and watch a movie. Once it went out of the theatre, that was it. In fact, as a kid, I remember sitting watching 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. I think I went three days in a row, twice a day, because I loved the movie so much and I thought I’d never see it again once it was gone.
Now let’s talk a little a little about PARASOMNIA… where did the idea come from?
Well actually, what happened was, I did FEAR DOT COM which was pretty much universally trounced except for a few people.
How did you feel about that, looking back what are your thoughts now?
I think that there are things about it that are good, but it’s not one of my favorite films. But I think it’s got a lot of good stuff in it. And, you know, I don’t think I’m removed yet enough from it to really be objective about it. What happened really with that film, we’ll talk about it for a second…
The idea was brought to me and the script, which I didn’t like the script particularly, but I thought the idea was worthwhile. I thought it was something that could be made into a cool, weird movie. And I was told a lot of things about the production that didn’t happen, like we’d spend more time on the script. And apparently there was this strike that was coming, you know, the actors strike… so we got rushed into production and actually there was a moment when I decided you know, should I quit the picture. And it became an issue of should I quit the picture and get a reputation as the guy who leaves the movie, or should I potentially make a film that I’m not going to be as happy with. And I thought, well first of all, I’d put a lot of people out of work if I don’t make the movie. Either situation was bad, so I figured I’d do the best I could with what I had. That said, the actors did a great job and I think the cinematography is some of the most wonderful cinematography that I’ve been connected with. So there are good things in it, like I said, I’ll have to look at it again. I haven’t watched it in quite a long time now.
Ultimately, the thing that usually kills a horror film or any film for that matter, the thing that really can destroy it is if you don’t have a decent story or script…
And with FEAR DOT COM, you know, as I was shooting I kept thinking nothing happens in this movie. So my approach to the film really was just to create a piece of horror that is just about tone and mood and that’s what it’s about. That’s really what I set out to do was to make a picture that just had a consistent tone that would be weird and creepy.
Speaking of creepy, before we get to PARASOMNIA, I also want to mention that when I first saw HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, I was surprised at how damn creepy it was. The stuff with the fellow walking around the room creeped the hell out of me…
Are you talking about the television set …?
That was funny because it was just sort of a half baked idea that I had at the time. The division of things on that film was Dick Beebe wrote most of the character stuff, and I wrote most of the scary stuff. But he wrote the psychos going crazy in the beginning. And I wrote the rollercoaster, that was my invention. And then the scenes that you’re talking about, those were just kind of wacky idea that just kind of… actually the script was really vague about, and in fact, the saturation chamber scene actually had put in the script, “weird sequence”.
That’s all that was in the script about the saturation chamber really, was just ‘…goes into this thing called the saturation chamber and there’s a weird sequence.’ So most of that was done during the pre-production period. But the scene you’re talking about, it’s funny because it was one of those ideas where, how can we do this? Should we see it for real? Or should we see it on television? Maybe it’s just creepier if you see it on TV. So that’s what we did, and many people pointed out that they thought that was a scary moment, which I’m glad it worked.
I was very impressed at how well that worked.
The scene that actually scared me when I was actually writing it, was the scene with the camera. I thought what would be really scary is if you are taping something, video taping, and suddenly you see ghosts and you put the camera down and they aren’t there anymore. And then you put the camera back up and you can not only see the ghosts, but they can suddenly see you and they turn and look at you. I thought, now that’s a creepy moment.
So you are having a screening of PARASOMNIA on March 5th right? Tell me a little bit about the screening and what makes it special?
Well, we’re going to have a panel. And the panel will include Wes Craven, Stewart Gordon, Mick Garris, Tobe Hooper and myself and we’ll have a moderator. Basically we will be talking about how fine art has influenced all of us and other people in general in their use of fine art in film and so fourth. So that is sort of the premise of the screening. And then we are having a curator… Zdzislaw Beksinski who is a Polish surrealist.
And we used a lot of his art work in Parasomnia. He is sort of… I don’t want to say he is like Giger, but he is sort of in the same zone as Giger. But his stuff is really whacked and really beautifully rendered and a contemporary… actually I think he is a little older than Giger… or was. He predates him a little. And he was murdered two years ago at the age of eighty something by his roommate’s son who, I guess, wanted fifty dollars or something and he wouldn’t give it to him, so he murdered him. You’d think at that age you’d be immune to that sort of thing but…
But he’s a brilliant artist and we used five or six of his images in the film, as part of the dreamscapes. So we’re going to go into a little piece on him. And then we’ll show PARASOMNIA. But as far as the other directors, they’re just there to talk about art in general and how it’s affected them. And we’ll have somebody from one of the art museums come and talk as well.
I’d like to thank Mr. Malone for taking time out to talk to AITH and joining us with Time Out with Horror Legends, and again, urge those of you who are in the Los Angeles area, or if you plan to be on March 5th, to check out what is sure to be an exciting evening of horror. As mentioned, you’ll get to hear from Bill, Wes Craven, Stewart Gordon, Mick Garris and Tobe Hooper and of course, see William Malone’s latest feature PARASOMNIA with a Q and A beforehand. It will be held at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard. For further information, you can check out their website at www.americancinematheque.com or call the 24-hour program info at 323.466.3456. Hope to see you there.
Let me know what you think. Send questions and/or comments to JimmyO@JoBlo.com