Fun With Horror chats with William Malone about his biggest influences in the film industry, working with Robert Englund, and his inspiration for THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL 1999. William also gives us the details behind his decision to self finance his most recent film PARASOMNIA.
Fun With Horror: What inspired you to write the script for PARASOMNIA?
William Malone: “I think it was about 12:00 at night, I was watching THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI which is a movie that I like a lot that was made in 1919. It occurred to me while I was watching it that nobody has done a sleep walking movie with a sleepwalking killer in a long time. I thought that’s really kind of a cool idea. Then it started me down a path of doing a lot of research on sleep disorders. I came across the story of this girl who actually was asleep for twenty years and then woke up. I thought that must have been quite a shock. So, that really set me down the path and I began building the script from there. I’d wanted to do something about sleep disorders for a very long time.”
FWH: You went outside of the studio system and self financed PARASOMNIA? Is that something you would do again?
WM: “It was foolhardy. (Laughs) You know, it was kind of a double-edged sword. It was bad because, at the end of the day we got taken to the cleaners by the distributors and we got ripped of by pirates. It was a bad situation financially. On the plus side, we got to make a film that the studios probably wouldn’t have made. I’m proud of the film. I’m happy with the way it turned out. You’re never completely happy with anything you do, but a lot of what I wanted to do was in it, and fans seem to like the film. That’s the bottom line.”
FWH: I would imagine that going that route gave you a lot more creative freedom than a studio financed film.
WM: “Oh, yeah. There are a million things in the film that the studios would have said no to. Of course, the down side is that when you don’t have someone looking over your shoulder, it takes forever to do something. We didn’t have an actual release date. We spent at least two years on post production. That was for a couple of reasons. One was that we didn’t have a deadline, but beyond that, not having the money to have a lot of effects artists working on the film. We had over 150 effects shots and there were like four guys doing them. That made it a lot more difficult and time-consuming. It really gives you perspective on guys like Ray Harryhausen when he did all the effects for EARTH VERSUS THE FLYING SAUCERS. It makes you think God bless him.”
FWH: I think PARASOMNIA turned out to be a great film. It’s great to see your passion behind getting the movie made by any means necessary.
WM: “I appreciate that. The thing about it is that I had come to a point in my career where I just want to make stuff that I want to make. It’s not to say that I wouldn’t be a gun for hire. But, it would have to be a project that I really loved and could get behind. I’m going to continue making films until somebody rips the camera from my arms. (Laughs).
FWH: Was Parasomnia the first title to be released via your production company Luminous Processes?
WM: “Luminous Processes is just a new name for my company. I had a company called Malone Productions which I did SCARED TO DEATH, CREATURE and a few other things with. I just thought having it called Malone Productions was a little too over the top. I figured if I gave it a different name it could encompass more things.”
FWH: So, it was a rebranding of sorts?
WM: “Yes, just a rebranding. It works under the corporation of Malone Productions. I also have a small effects company which I drag out from time to time and reanimate, much like Herbert West. It’s called Dartford. You’ll see some of the effects in PARASOMNIA and a few other projects. Although, I don’t think that shows up on IMDB, because I’ve never submitted it.”
FWH: Does Luminous Processes have any projects in development, right now?
WM: “There are a couple of things that I’m working on. I’m actively looking for funding, which is always a problem. I’m working on another horror film that’s probably in the same budget as PARASOMNIA and another couple of things that are bigger budget projects. You never know what’s gonna go. People will ask what my next movie is, but I never know. It depends on what there’s money for. I think that one thing that a lot of the fans of the genre don’t understand is that a lot of times movies get made just because there’s money. They think that every director’s project is a burning ambition, which is also not the case. There have certainly been films that I have wanted to make. When I did HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, I wanted to do a haunted house movie but my intention was not to make a horror comedy. That really came out of what the studio wanted to make. I was already committed to it so I said I would give it my best shot.”
FWH: I think that the finished product turned out great. It satisfied fans of the original and it also had its own unique perspective.
WM: “I’m a great fan of William Castle. When they handed me the original screenplay I told them it just wasn’t going to work. I sat down with the writer and we rewrote a new draft. I suggested that we look at the original film and see what we liked about the movie. Then we tried to incorporate as much of the original plot as possible but then we added twists and turns when you think that you know where the plot is going and then took it someplace else. We wanted to keep true to the spirit of William Castle.”
FWH: If I’m not mistaken HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL was the number one Halloween release of all time.
WM: “It actually started the whole Halloween release. To me, it’s such an obvious connection, Halloween…horror film…hello? I always thought that’s completely stupid that no one was doing that. So, when we did HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL it broke all box office records for Halloween. That was kind of cool.”
FWH: You’ve done a lot of revolutionary things. FEAR DOT COM really pioneered the technology horror genre. Since, it has morphed in to its own sub genre, since. What attracted you to FEARDOTCOM?
WM: “The producer of the film came to me with the idea. He said that he wanted to make a movie where people log on to a website and they die because of some sort of spirit. That was the extent of what I was handed. I thought about how that could work and then I thought of the idea of a website where they torture people online. I started doing a lot of research and thinking about the idea of tying a whole bunch of computers together and the possibility that there could be something that would be greater than the sum of the parts. It could be either a supercomputer or a pathway for spiritual haunting. That’s really where the premise came from.”
FWH: How did you come to be a part of the television series FREDDY’S NIGHTMARES?
WM: “I think I directed three of those. I made SCARED TO DEATH which did reasonably well, given that it only cost $74,000 to make. It was like a home movie that we went out and shot. Then, a producer called me and said he wanted to do an alien movie. After that, nobody was knocking on my door. At that point, I took a self inventory. One of the things I decided that I needed to work on was working with actors. I enrolled in a class in film direction at UCLA. While I was there, there was a guy in my class named Bill Froehlich who became a producer on FREDDY’S NIGHTMARES. He got in touch with me and asked me to direct some episodes. It was great, because the executive producers didn’t care about the show, at all. Bill cared, but the executive producers didn’t. It was a great opportunity to do what you wanted to do. It was like film school, in a lot of ways. A lot of the wacky things I did later I had tried out on FREDDY’S NIGHTMARES. I was doing shots that I probably needed a Technocrane for, but I didn’t even know what a Technocrane was, at the time. We worked long hours. It was an hour-long show shot in five days. It was very grueling.”
FWH: What was your experience like directing Robert Englund?
WM: “Oddly, he was never in any of my episodes. I did direct him though, because he was in the interstitials, the wraparounds. I wound up directing a number of those. He was great. He’s a real gentleman. He was very enthusiastic when it was hard to be enthusiastic because the hours were so long. I would set up a shot on one stage and then have to run to another set to go shoot his wraparounds. In the middle of that I would have to run back to the other set. It was crazy. He was really good about it, though. He is somebody that I would work with any time.”
FWH: How did you become a part of MASTERS OF HORROR?
WM: “Well, actually, Mick (Garris) and I started that. Mick put it together. It was actually my idea. Mick was in my living room one day and I said we don’t know any horror directors. Directors never know other directors. You don’t work with other directors. So, I said why don’t we get together a group of horror people and sit around and talk horror. He said yeah, that’s a great idea. He went out and organized the first dinner which was at a restaurant here in theSan Fernando Valley. At the first one, Mick was able to get John Carpenter, Guillermo del Toro, and Tobe Hooper. Once we had those guys, it sort of snowballed from there. Mick had the idea to turn that in to a TV series. That’s nothing I would have ever thought of. I’m not that commercially oriented, sadly.”
FWH: That must have been exciting to be a part of, particularly to be on the ground floor of it.
WM: “It turned out to be a really good thing. We still have dinner. We did it two or three weeks ago. It’s great to see all of those people. I think one thing that people don’t realize, is that most horror directors are in the business because they love the genre. Back in the ‘70s there were only a handful of people who directed horror because they actually loved it. John Carpenter was one of them. Tobe Hooper was another. There may have been a couple of other guys, but that was it. Nowadays, pretty much anybody who is doing horror really loves the genre or they wouldn’t be doing it.”
FWH: It definitely doesn’t seem to be the fastest way to become the richest or the most famous in the business. It seems like you must have a love and a passion for what you do to work in horror. I think that fans really appreciate that. You have a reputation for being very approachable to fans. Do your fans play in to your creative process, at all?
WM: “I’ve never had anybody come up to me and say you should think about doing this or that. But, certainly the fact that they are very enthusiastic is real motivation to me. I really love the fans. I love them for the same reasons I love the movies. They are a special breed of people who really love these films. They really understand them. I’ve always thought that a great horror film is better than any drama that wins an Academy Award, because it’s really hard to pull off a really good one. I appreciate that when I somebody who does a great job on a horror film. The hardest genre to pull off is comedy. There is nothing worse than a comedy that is not funny. The second hardest is a horror film. A lot of movies that win Academy Awards have a good script, a good cast, and they are good to go. If you can’t make a good movie with that, you’re an idiot.”
FWH: I think that to get the perfect storm required to make a great horror film requires a lot of different factors to work together. It seems like funding is one of the biggest initial challenges, these days. It seems as though people are not investing in cinema, much less, horror cinema, like they were in years past. It’s really great to see the stars align and something great transpire as a result.
WM: “There are certainly guys out there who love the genre that are trying really hard and they are doing good work. I applaud them. When a horror film is done well, I think it’s fine art. Look at ALIEN. It was some time ago, now. It’s just a perfect film. It’s just beautifully done. Every part of it, including the sound effects, is incredibly done. Every part of that film is wonderful.”
FWH: ALIEN is definitely one of the greats. It comes up in nearly every conversation I have about great horror filmmaking.
WM: “It’s a technically perfect film. There’s not a false step in it.”
FWH: You are a loyal horror and sci-fi fan. When did you first discover your love for horror?
WM: “Well, that was my mom’s fault. I was a little tiny kid. I don’t even know how old I was, but I was really young. She took me to a screening of THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON IN 3D, at the local movie theatre. I think I must have spent most of the screening under the seat. The creature coming out in 3D scared me. I remember going home and thinking wow that was cool.”
FWH: Beyond that, what are some of your favorite horror films that have influenced your career as a director?
WM: “I have to say that THE BLACK CAT is one of my all time favorite films. It’s a Bela Lugosi picture from 1934. I wound up watching it, again last night. It’s so good. It’s just so weird. It’s not a perfect film, as far as plot goes. It’s got aspects to the plot that do not make sense, but it doesn’t matter. You don’t care. It’s just a great movie. It’s so creepy. Karloff and Lugosi are so good in it. I think it’s by far their best performances in anything they did. ALIEN, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, THE HAUNTING (the black and white version), the old HAMMER stuff, I love. As far as influences, I would say all of those have influenced me. A lot of the early German expressionist films have influenced me, the 1931 FRANKENSTEIN, also. People say BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is a better movie, but I don’t think so. To me, the first FRANKENSTEIN film is wonderful.”
FWH: Speaking of THE HAUNTING, that is a great example of a remake that went wrong. To me, that is a film that was much better in its original form.
WM: Yeah, that one just didn’t work. It’s too bad, because that could have been a really cool movie. There are some things that should just be left alone. Nobody ever needs to do a remake of THE BLACK CAT, or THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. I took a meeting for that. I said, you aren’t going to hire me. I said I know what you want. You want me to come in and say that I’m going to re-design the creature and it’s going to be completely different. No. That’s exactly the wrong thing to do. If you’re going to do a remake of THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, you need to make it as close to the original costume as possible. You could make it more lifelike, maybe, but it’s a great costume. It’s like saying that you’re going to remake a Humphrey Bogart movie and get someone else to play Humphrey Bogart.
FWH: Some things just cannot be improved upon. It seems as though people keep trying to improve upon movies that had no flaws, in the first place.
WM: I don’t know if you saw THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, but oh my God. They threw out everything that was good about the original film.
FWH: I agree. Well, that’s all that we have for you. Thank you so much for talking with me.
WM: I appreciate your interest in horror and in my career. I wish you all the best.
FWH: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure.
WM: Thank you. Take care.