One of the most common circumstances in the horror industry is for technicians from one aspect of the genre to cross over to the directing chair, bringing their unique expertise and expanding their influence on the final product. Cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld worked with brilliant filmmakers like The Coen Brothers and Rob Reiner before directing the “Men In Black” and “Addam’s Family” films. Sometimes, skilled technicians are able to turn their previous skills into invaluable services that make their directorial works greater than would be expected from a previously untrained director. Such is the case with William Malone.
Malone’s career began as a mask-maker at Don Post studios, producing work for films and for retail sales. After many years honing his craft, Malone decided to use his skills in costume and mask design to make his own film. He created the alien/slasher film “Scared to Death,” which was made on an incredibly low budget but had an amazing central creature figure.
This work got him larger gigs, such as the sci-fi epic “Creature” and a lucrative television career that included “Freddy’s Nightmares,” “Perversions of Science,” and “Tales From the Crypt.” The working relationship with producer Robert Zemeckis and the excellent output he created for the “Tales From the Crypt” series brought him the opportunity to direct the big-budget remake of “House On Haunted Hill.”
Malone followed up the success of “House On Haunted Hill” with another ghost story that was uniquely modern with “Feardotcom.” His script work on the troubled production of “Supernova” and an entry in the “Universal Soldier” franchise unfortunately went largely unnoticed. His most recent film, a horror-romance called “Parasomnia,” is a fascinating character study and fantasy, with an excellent supporting performance from longtime Malone collaborator Jeffrey Combs.
Malone’s work, known for its excellent effects, deserves to be revisited with an eye towards the concept beyond the visual, from the loving homages to horror’s past and the effective suspense to the surprising sense of optimism found even in the darkest of his work.
Malone himself would admit that “Creatur” was assembled in the wake of Ridley Scott’s “Alien” in the hopes that producers could manufacture another success of similar size. However, the film surprisingly takes on a depth and complexity that defies its financially-driven origins. The story of two ships on a race to planet Titan, seeking technological advances, only to find something far more dangerous, plays like an inverted version of “Alien,” with the crazed scientist role by Werner Herzog alumnus Klaus Kinski a particular standout. As is always the case with Malone’s films, the complexity of the effects belies the meager budget with which it was produced.
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A bigger budget remake of the classic William Castle film, Malone directed the film which was produced by Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis. Delivering on the ghosts in a way that the original only teased about, Malone stayed otherwise true to the spirit of the original, including a loving homage to Castle himself in the form of the lead character Price, a carnival huckster who loves a gimmick. With excellent performances all around (with the exception of a nervy and distracting Chris Kattan), and visual effects that put to shame the remake of “The Haunting” (made in the same year by Dreamworks with a budget four times as high), the film stands as a surprising high-water mark in the modern haunted house genre.
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A film that desperately needs a re-evaluation from horror audiences, “Feardotcom” is a flawed but fascinating piece of work that spends much of its screen time cautioning the viewer about their complicity in the violence on-screen. Much like “Funny Games,” the film was derided for showing violence while commenting on the negative effects on violence. While there may be some credence to the complaint, the film itself is a visual tone poem, shifting from saturated color to sepia-toned nightmare, and wrapping up with a tour-de-force combination of frightening imagery, brilliant cinematography, and mood-enhancing music. The film, much like “Dark City,” was a film not of its time and place, and hopefully future audiences can get past a couple of questionable performances to reach what is a keen and insightful comment on the idea of an audience’s personal responsibility in terms of violent images.
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