Although he has been directing films for nearly thirty years, William Malone has only released a handful of movies during that time. His most popular work would be the 1999 remake of the William Castle classic House on Haunted Hill.
An expert special effects artist, Malone spent his twenties doing work for the Don Post Studio making masks and was responsible for the look of the mask horror icon Michael Myers would wear for John Carpenter’s 1978 film Halloween.
For many years, he’s gained a reputation for acquiring one of the most extensive collections of movie memorabilia and props, particularly the sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet.
William Malone was just making some final edits to his latest horror film Parasomnia for its debut at the Screamfest film festival in Los Angeles when I sat down to speak with him. The film has been described as a dark fairy tale and centers around a serial killer who is mentally stalking a young woman suffering from a sleep disorder. While I was assured this description was fairly accurate, it still didn’t do the complete plot very much justice.
I had a lot of fun speaking with Mr. Malone, who’s just as willing to discuss other filmmakers’ work, as well as his own, and not surprisingly, his favorite aspect of his movies would be the input and support he receives from his many fans.
Bryan Layne: Are you working on anything new at the moment?
William Malone: There are a number of projects in the works, but nothing that is imminent. I think the film Parasomnia would be the thing to talk about.
BL: What can we expect from Parasomnia?
WM: I think it’s a very unique film. It’s not only a horror film, but it’s also a romance, which is kind of an unusual twist. It’s really is a difficult film to categorize, but I think the fans and yourself will find it to be pretty cool.
BL: You are continuing your collaboration with actor Jeffrey Combs with Parasomnia, correct?
WM: Yes, that’s right. I love Jeffrey. He’s just a great guy. We actually have a lot of the same interests. I’m sort of a Beatles fanatic and he is as well. Here I am talking about The Beatles (laughing). I first met Jeffrey on a television show called Perversions of Science, which I was handed a list of people that were casting suggestions and his name was on that list. It was for a character that was a weird alien who ultimately becomes Adolf Hitler. I told them I had to have Jeffrey Combs and we sort of became good friends after that. I’ve used him in several things I’ve been involved with. Of course, he has a major role in Parasomnia, but he was also in FeardotCom and The House on Haunted Hill. I consider Jeffrey to be my lucky charm.
BL: Speaking of The Beatles, you had a chance to portray Beatle guitarist George Harrison for a film. How did that all come together?
WM: I did play George Harrison in Bob Zemeckis’ very first film called I Wanna Hold Your Hand and that was a great hoot for me because I had a band in High School. I woke up one morning, went to the set, it was 1964 and here I was performing on The Ed Sullivan Show. It was kind of odd because later on, I would direct a couple of the Tales From the Crypt episodes and Bob was one of the executive producers on that show. I reminded him that I worked on his first picture and I even brought in photos for us to look over. That film was a great experience for Bob and we had a blast chatting about that moment in time. It all came about for me because they were having a very hard time finding somebody who looked like a Beatle and was capable of playing their songs. I just happened to know all of those tunes.
BL: What comes to mind when I mention the early work you did for Don Post Studios?
WM: Well, naturally it was a lot of fun. We were very young and goofy. We spent a lot of time just clowning around, I’m afraid. I worked with a guy named Bob Short in the paint department. Eventually, I wound up in charge of that lab with Bob. He was a real character. He spent a lot of his time designing weird little creatures. I would walk into the lab on certain mornings and there would be all of these bizarre characters hanging around the place. He wound up receiving the Academy Award for doing the effects on the film Beetlejuice and when I saw that movie I went, “Yeah, that’s pure Bob Short.” All that crazy stuff you see in Beetlejuice is exactly what Bob is best at doing.
BL: Do you continue to contribute to the special effects of your own films?
WM: I haven’t in a very long time. I have done a few little bits and pieces. Like on one of my Tales From the Crypt episodes, I sculpted the mask for the main character. I did an episode called Only Skin Deep where this girl wears a mask and I did sculpt that. I also sculpted some of the make up for FeardotCom. House on Haunted Hill was such a big project that I didn’t really have time, and generally I’m so involved with directing that I have to devote all of my time into that. For Parasomnia, I did a number of the characters up as sculptures. I usually do that because it’s just too hard to explain what I’m looking for or what I want, so I just go off and create it myself.
BL: Do you feel that your film FeardotCom was handled poorly in the end?
WM: Well, with FeardotCom I realize a lot of people hate that movie and that’s okay. That film was a project that was brought to me and I thought it could be fun to do, but I really felt we needed a lot more time with the screenplay. During that time, there was a pending actors strike, so we got rushed into production. I actually came very close to quitting before we started shooting, but I just couldn’t bring myself to put all those people out of work. So, I went ahead and made the film, which was probably not a very good career move, but it was something I felt like I had to do. That said, I think there’s a lot of good things in FeardotCom. My approach to it really was like a poem. It’s a film that’s not really designed to have a very tight plot. It’s more about the tone, the mood and the feel of the piece. It’s one of those films that are similar to giving birth to an ugly child– you still love them (laughing).
BL: Did you catch the straight-to-video release of Return to House on Haunted Hill and were you involved with that title?
WM: I wasn’t involved with it, but I have seen that film. It seemed to be by the numbers and I think the director did as good a job as he could. For myself, I’m not a big fan of it because I think it was a huge mistake to film it in Europe. The original one I did was shot here and I think they could have made use of the materials that were already available in America. The house they used in the sequel never really seemed like the same house. To me, the house was just as much a character than anything else in the original. It would have been nice to see some of the original characters reoccur in the sequel, also.
BL: You knew The Night Stalker creator Dan Curtis. How did that come about?
WM: I was a make up artist for his television movie The Norliss Tapes and I knew Dan fairly well back in the day, like somewhere around ’70 or ’72. One of the first things I ever did… I got a bunch of friends together and we did a thing called Night Turkey, which was a take-off on The Night Stalker. It was all about a guy called Carl Cornchak, who has to track down a weird turkey that attacks people outside a zoo (laughing). It was pretty funny. I got to know Dan and I’m a big fan of The Night Stalker, particularly the original made for T.V. movie. It’s funny, I used to love that T.V. show, and I went back recently and re-watched it again. I thought to myself that it was easy to see why the show got canceled (laughing). It seemed that every week was exactly the same episode, over and over again.
BL: For me, Darren McGavin was ninety-five percent of the reason I highly regard the show.
WM: Oh yes, without question. That show always seemed impossible to remake. I know they tried to update a television series and it just doesn’t work because Darren McGavin was Carl Kolchak. He was the entire show.
BL: Has there been a modern horror film you’ve seen recently that impressed you?
WM: The last movie I saw that I felt was excellent was Neil Marshall’s The Descent. I thought they really did a great job with that one. It was very creepy and scary. It was also a new spin on something and that’s really what I look for, something that is fresh. The problem is, I get handed a lot of screenplays from people wanting me to direct things and it’s always the same kind of stuff, like teenagers stranded here, or teenagers trapped there. I just have to say no way to projects like that (laughing). Also, it’s always got to be teenagers. You know, when I was a kid I can remember seeing a lot of horror films that were about adults and that never stopped me from wanting to see the movie. I don’t know why they seem to be hung-up on this thing where every horror movie has to star teenagers. There’s nothing wrong with teenagers, mind you (laughing), but lets have a variety of characters.
BL: Were you a fan of William Castle’s original House on Haunted Hill?
WM: I liked it a lot, actually. I remember seeing it as a kid in the theaters. It was the one in “Emergo” with the doll that appears to come out of the screen. I remember that film very fondly and when I was offered the chance to direct the remake, I thought it was a great opportunity. Not to mention, I had wanted to do a ghost movie for a very long time because there hadn’t been a ghost or haunted house movie released for quite a while. If you think about it, House on Haunted Hill is the first of the modern ghost films. It sort of kicked off that whole explosion of movies about ghosts.
BL: How far away is Parasomnia from completion?
WM: Well, we’re nearly done, now it’s simply the matter of cleaning up little bits and pieces. It’s a film that I’ve been working on for a long time now. It’s been around two and a half years and eight months of that was spent on writing the screenplay. The rest of that time was spent on shooting and post-production. We have a lot of visual effects in the film and so forth. Also, we didn’t have a lot of money, so the visual effects take longer to do because you only have a handful of people, instead of a whole army doing them. It’s very close to being completed and I’m very excited about it. We screened it recently and it went really, really well. We are going to be premiering it at Screamfest in Los Angeles on October 17th. The one thing I can say about Parasomnia is that it’s not like any other film and that’s kind of a double-edged sword because it’s difficult for people to figure out how to sell it, but at the same time I feel like that’s somewhere that you want to be. You want to be making something that doesn’t look or play-out like everybody else’s movie.
BL: How was your experience with the Masters of Horror series?
WM: That was great and it was probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had directing. That was mainly because the premise of that show was that they allowed you to do whatever you wanted to do, as long as you came out on time and on budget. They also gave you final cut, which almost never happens. I’ve had films that got botched-up by people later on after wrapping. It’s just kind of nice being able to do it the way you see it, and the way you always intended. I was given a script and I was able to make some adjustments to the story. I mean, I had a great script to begin with; Matt Greenberg did an amazing job with the screenplay. I like all of the shows in that series. The thing I really like about them is that they are all different because directors are putting their own spin on it.
BL: Is it tough for a filmmaker to get out of the horror genre if he has a little bit of success with it?
WM: I think that it is pretty much impossible. It does happen occasionally, I think Bernard Rose—who directed Candyman— went on to direct Immortal Beloved. So, it does happen, but I think those are decisions you make when you first get into the business. You know that if you start out directing horror pictures, then that’s the way people are going to think of you, but I don’t have a problem with that. My problem has always been that I see horror in a different way than the studios see it. I see horror as a possibility of applying a lot of art to it and making it as good a film as possible. I think a lot of the executives that I have come across view horror as akin to pornography and that’s just not what it is. I feel that the best horror films are as good as any movies ever made.
BL: How tough would you say the film business is?
WM: It’s twice as tough as anything you’ve ever heard. It’s just a brutal business. I think it only moderately qualifies as a business because a business is usually something where you can have a business plan, or you can do certain things and expect certain results. The movie business has none of that going for them. With a business you can also expect to work and get paid (laughing). Where in the movie business you can work for years and never see a dime. You kind of have to be obsessed to be in the movie business.
BL: Who would be some of your influences with your approach to filmmaking?
WM: There are a lot of people who I admire. My biggest influence is probably F.W. Murnau. As far as modern directors go, Ridley Scott is one of my favorites. The first Alien film is high art. I think it’s one of the most brilliantly made films of all time. I was actually able to spend some time with him when he was doing a film called Someone To Watch Over Me and it was a great learning experience for me just to sit in with him as he was directing that film. I picked up a lot of things from him. I’ve had a lot of influences from the art world as well. Artists like, H.R. Giger, Zdzislaw Beksinski and a number of others.
BL: Your early films have been compared to Ridley Scott.
WM: I’d like to see those comparisons (laughing). I haven’t heard that, but it is nice to know.
BL: I think your first few films, like Creature, were always compared to Ridley Scott’s films.
WM: Oh, okay. I think those were Ridley Scott rip-offs (laughing).
BL: Well, I wasn’t ballsy enough to suggest that to you (laughing).
WM: I’ll say it for you. I was a great fan of Alien, as you can tell and it was very influential. The first couple of movies that I did were a lot like film school for me. I had no idea what I was doing. Most people go to film school and get all of that stuff out of them, but in my case I had to actually go make these movies. I personally feel like my film career didn’t start until my first Tales From the Crypt episode in 1994. The stuff I did before that was just a matter of learning where to put the camera, or learning how to talk to the actors so they wouldn’t want to beat me up.
BL: You’ve worked with director John Landis?
WM: Yes, I have. John was the executive producer on a couple of television shows I directed for him. Dream On and the television version of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids; those were fun shows to do. It’s nice to go and do something different for a while. John was one of the few people who knew I could direct comedy. I’ve always felt that horror and comedy is the same thing. It’s just the opposite sides of the same coin and you have the same problems. It’s the same set-ups and pay-offs. They both are all about how you set things up and when I’m directing horror, I always find myself thinking, “You know, this could be very funny. If I just did something a little odd here, it could turn this into something that is hilarious.” I’ve probably done that and didn’t even realize it, too.
BL: Is there anything you’d like to touch upon that I might have neglected to bring up?
WM: I don’t think so, but I would like to thank all of the people who have supported me all this time—all of the fans. It really means a lot to me. Also, if you’re out on the street and you see a Stuart Gordon, or a John Landis, or another filmmaker like that, don’t be afraid to go up to them and tell them you like their films. I feel that the public believes these people get a lot of praise, but they really don’t because there are a lot of people out there that are ready to slag them. So, if you like what they are doing, just tell them that you enjoy their films.
Stop by www.parasomniamovie.com for a full synopsis and trailers on William Malone’s latest horror release Parasomnia.