Some directors are highly well known in the horror world. If I say Wes Craven, John Carpenter, or Stuart Gordon, images of Kruger, Myers, and The Re-animator likely fill your head. It’s easy to regard them as masters of the genre. Their work is immediately known and their credentials are vast. A lifetime in horror means a lot of ups and downs. Mention William Malone and people may only think of him for the House on Haunted Hill remake or Feardotcom, both movies similarly divisive among viewers and critics.
I’ve spent the last week acquainting myself with Malone’s lesser-known works and early movie filmography. I’ve scoured the internet for old episodes of Freddy’s Nightmares. I found an old tv movie W.E.I.R.D. World. Then I found Tales from the Crypt spin-off Perversions of Science, a show I never knew existed. All to make the case for why William Malone deserves his status in our Horror Icons list. Which if I’m honest shouldn’t be hard to do. He is the man that gave Michael Myers his face after all.
Don Post Studios
Malone had been crafting masks for his friends to wear since he was a teenager. When he turned 19, he moved to Los Angeles from Lansing, Michigan, with the dream of making it big…in Rock N Roll. Malone and his bandmates in The Plagues had created their own record label and released several singles. It wasn’t until he was working at the legendary Don Post Studios as an artist of masks, makeup, and costumes he decided to pursue a career in film.
In 1975, Don Post Studios was making masks for whoever wanted them. Designing for the studios but also selling them retail. Plagued with an overabundance of Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Spock masks. The famous studio was ordered to maintain its stock as part of a licensing agreement with Paramount. The alien creatures the crew would encounter sold well, but any child dressing up as their favorite space heroes would usually go trick or treating without a mask. When he found the rarely used William Shatner mold, he crafted the look of the infamous slasher. Don Post Studios would finally be able to sell their Shatner masks.
That would not be the only iconic horror staple Malone would create at Don Post Studios. H.R. Giger was using the studio to craft different pieces while on the set of Alien. Malone would end up helping him create the movie’s facehugger. Giger and Malone became good friends and would meet again for future projects.
It was around now that Malone began taking classes at UCLA and taking a stab at his first TV pilot for a show called Holmes and Walston. A comedy about a Robot named Roddy and his owner Walston that Roddy keeps confusing for Watson and thereby thinking himself to be Sherlock Holmes. With this picture, Malone was able to infuse his love for Forbidden Planet with themes surrounding artificial intelligence. Themes he would continue to use throughout his career. Also, if a copy of this still exists, please let me know. It sounds bonkers and I’d love to see it.
Scared to Death and Creature
A few years later in 1979 Malone set his sights on writing and directing his first theatrical feature. In 1980 Malone released Scared to Death on the world. In the film a Syngenor (SYNthesized GENetic ORganism) stalks its victims, looking to reproduce by drinking their spinal fluid causing an ex-detective to help the police stop it. Malone bet the house on this picture, mortgaging his house to extend his budget. He also took it upon himself to create the creature in the movie, learning how to design a monster himself from his time at Don Post Studios.
Scared to Death may be seldom known to the genre these days, but echoes of the film can be seen in other films. The opening scene shows a leaf in the gutter heading toward a drainpipe, a shot Tommy Lee Wallace mimics later in the IT miniseries. The final creature scene, where he gets squashed in a factory machine, is eerily similar to the ending of Terminator. A movie that wouldn’t go into production for another few years.
Speaking of Mimic, it’s hard not to notice a similarity here to Guillermo del Toro’s film as well. A new species of bug is introduced into the sewer system to eradicate a plague-carrying cockroach before mutating and attacking man. Between some of the larvae designs and the sewer lurking monsters, it’s hard not to think there may have been some inspiration here.
Scared to Death was a low budget film at $74,000 but made its money back when it was sold to Lone Star Pictures for $90,000. The film also generated enough of a following that Malone was asked to direct a sequel, turning it down to write and direct his next film Creature. Syngenor, the sequel to Scared to Death, still got help from Malone who designed the monster costumes for that film as well.
Creature, or Titan Find as it was originally titled, was a huge production upgrade for Malone. Clearly William Malone was a fan of the Ridley Scott’s Alien. This movie finds an American mining crew responding to the distress call of a rival German crew while ordered to investigate the disappearance of its own crew on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. As the crew explores the facility, they find the bodies of the missing crew along with the thing that killed them.
As far as B-films go, I really enjoyed Creature. It is a bit campy with some outrageous bits in it, but it’s fun and the set work is quite good. Plus you get Klaus Kinski in a monster movie. A lot of the crew from this production would go on to work on James Cameron’s Aliens the following year. Malone however would begin planning his next projects with Alien set designer, H.R. Giger.
Dead Star and The Mirror
Giger was a Swedish artist whose surrealist gothic concepts were used primarily by heavy metal and punk musicians for album covers before his Necronom IV design earned him the attention of Ridley Scott and Dan O’Bannon. Subsequently, Giger won an Oscar for his work on Alien. After Giger published his Necronomicon, Malone developed his own concept for a deep space film.
Imagine you could travel to hell. That place is out there among the stars and alien life has left us the clues to find it. Dead Star was going to be Malone’s space ride to hell. Malone says the plot was based off the Sam Neill film Dead Calm, which he then infused with Hellraiser. Giger envisioned Satan as a multi-faced being with huge horns, draped in a cloak of living souls. The film was considered untouchable by most studios.
So, Malone and Giger developed another idea. Something Malone calls “Alice Through the Looking Glass meets H.P. Lovecraft.”
The Mirror (aka Deadly Images) would be the duo’s next attempt at making a film together. The plot was that a man on an archeological dig falls through an ancient mirror only to return moments later as a cyborg. His new directive: bring a female back to repopulate an ancient dimension of machines with organic life. When the mirror ends up in an antique store it chooses a female, and the world of H.R. Giger would be brought to life as she traversed the dimension.
Orion had initially backed the project, but the studio went under before it could enter production. “Movies get made for reasons that elude me,” Malone muses on the Best Movies Never Made podcast, “90% of my career has been In Development.” Malone says he still owns the rights to the projects. Including one more, Phoenix Dust, said to be a futuristic Barbarella.
Though Dead Star never got made the way Malone intended, his story was used as a concept for 2000’s Supernova. Though it was hardly even the same idea and more closely resembles his film Creature if Kinski’s character became the main focus, it would be more adept to say this concept was implemented by Paul W.S. Anderson in 1997’s Event Horizon. A film starring Dead Calm actor Sam Neill.
Malone spent most of his time after Creature in television while trying to get traction on Dead Star and The Mirror. He would make a few episodes of Freddy’s Nightmares, Dark Justice, HBO’s Dream On, and a strange pilot that would become a Fox TV Movie W.E.I.R.D. World. The abandoned pilot starred Dana Ashbrook, Ed O’Neill and a slew of hip young actors that can now be easily recognized as genius scientists working in an underground bunker.
In 1994, Malone directed an episode of Tales from the Crypt titled “Only Skin Deep” and received glowing accolades from the very well-known producers. They include Robert Zemeckis, Richard Donner, Walter Hill, and Joel Silver. Malone would return to direct another Crypt episode in ’96 and an episode of Perversions of Science for the same group. Walter Hill would be brought in to direct the Dead Star inspired Supernova after the first director exited. Robert Zemeckis would ask Malone if he wanted to direct a remake of House on Haunted Hill for Warner Brothers.
Before moving into the House on Haunted Hill, Malone unleashed The Fair Haired Child on the world. Part of Showtime’s Masters of Horror series, The Fair Haired Child is about a woman who gets abducted by grieving parents trying to resurrect their son. The price being that the girl must be sacrificed to a monstrous evil. It’s actually one of my favorite episodes of the series and features a fantastic looking monster.
House on Haunted Hill
I remember all my high school friends raving about how scared they were seeing House on Haunted Hill in 1999. I was 15 at the time so I had to wait and sneak a copy on DVD when it released the next year. Here was this amazing cast of Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, Bridgette Wilson, Famke Jannsen, Chris Kattan, Peter Gallagher, and Academy Award Winner Geoffrey Rush. The movie might have been a runaway success among my friends, but financially it barely made its money back.
The film’s about an eccentric amusement park owner who attempts to have some fun while embarrassing his cold-hearted wife on her birthday. He offers a million dollars to anyone who can spend the night in the eerie old asylum. Malone was reunited with writer Dick Beebe who had written Malone’s acclaimed episode of Tales from the Crypt a handful of years prior. Also reunited with Malone was horror icon Jeffery Combs who was also becoming a staple in Malone’s work. Malone was also able to incorporate Giger’s idea of the devil with a body made of souls as the film’s ghost monster.
Though the film only broke even, a direct to video sequel was made in 2007. Combs would be the only real connection between the two. Malone geared up for his next project, the post-Y2K horror Feardotcom. The film that tried to sink him.
Feardotcom holds a 3% on Rotten Tomatoes and an excruciatingly low 3.4 user score on IMDB. It brought home multiple awards for Worst Movie with a general consensus of being a really incoherent film. I think its slightly misunderstood.
If you look at it one-dimensionally, it’s a tech-noir tied up in a Ringu ghost story with poor pacing and not enough character exposition. But maybe Feardotcom is more of a warning than we previously gave credence to. It’s weird living in a time when you can get just as much good information from the internet as you can find misinformation or conspiracy, something that was just as rampant pre-Y2K as it is mid-pandemic 2020. Malone may have been trying to say that the internet can be just as much a tool as it can be used against you as a weapon.
There’s a lot of good insights the movie has as to the way technology would operate as it got better. Sites like the Feardotcom site pop up all the time, usually to promote things (Director Darren Lynn Bousman just did one for a project he’s working on now). Most notably is how the film tries to frighten us by saying the name of the person at the computer, something in 2020 that various sites and emails do automatically.
We are not truly anonymous on the internet anymore and if you think you are, you’re really not paying attention. Feardotcom treats anonymity as a perversion, giving the guilty 48 hours before they’re punished. Anybody can upload videos to YouTube or live stream now. They can track followers and their viewing statistics as well, but the anonymous murderer gets his reckoning from the ghost in the machine that fights back.
Yes, it is similar to The Ring. Sure, the plot is muddy as hell, but I think it is judged too harshly and deserves a second look with new eyes. Especially given the strange times we live in now.
2003 to now
While working on Masters of Horror shortly before House on Haunted Hill, Malone wrote Parasomnia. Inspired by the works of artist Zdzislaw Beksiński, the movie was shot on the same set as House on Haunted Hill. Malone financed the film himself with the help of his friends. The movie didn’t release until 2008 and it’s Malone’s last credit to date.
In Parasomnia, in art student meets a beautiful girl in a coma (cue The Smiths track). While visiting his friend, Danny believes he’s had a connection with the bedridden Laura when she comes out of her coma. Turns out, she wakes up every once in a while only to fall back to sleep. Convinced, he abducts her from her room and keeps her in his. The story gets stranger when it’s revealed her hospital neighbor, notorious serial killer and hypnotist Byron Volpe, has been keeping Laura asleep and using her dreams against her in an attempt to make her love him.
I was happy to see a new William Malone movie pop up on Shudder last year. It isn’t a movie without its problems. It is, however, a fun dreamy fairytale fantasy with one hell of a final act, full of creepy masks and costumes. He also resurrected his band The Plagues’ highest-charting single “Through this World” and used it in the movie.
In 2015, Malone attempted to crowdfund his next film Thallium’s Box. A movie about a curious collector and a boy that works for a strange company named Luminous Processes. His attempts yielded no resolve and unfortunately, the film has stayed in production limbo. And it’s too bad, being a backer of the film myself, I would have really liked to have seen the project.
Malone is one of those directors I’ve never been able to get a grip on. That is something I find exceptionally intriguing about his work. It’s always fresh, different, and bursting with creative things that haven’t been tried before. I hope he’s trying hard to get something new going. I hope some producer reads this and gives him a call. Where the hell are you, William Malone? It’d be great to have you back.