Haunted Hollywood Host David Del Valle Scares Up More Movie Madness
Horror film expert David Del Valle gets deeper into the dark tales behind cult classic movie series Haunted Hollywood.
“The police don’t believe in monsters,” we learned in Ed Woods’ 1955 B-movie horror favorite Bride of the Monster. But Full Moon Features does, and they know where to find them. On Friday, July 31, the channel and app dropped seven cult classics to their new 20-film series Haunted Hollywood. Every Friday for 13 weeks, they will add a new scary flick. Some of these films are frightening in their content, others for the stories behind the film. For some of these movies, the most horrifying thing is they ever got made in the first place.
Real life and Hollywood history blend in macabre ways, and no one blends these stories better than David Del Valle. The film historian and agent to the stars hosts Haunted Hollywood, opening each showing with a personal story. Del Valle hosted a series of television interviews entitled “Sinister Image,” speaking with moviemakers as varied as Cameron Mitchell to Russ Meyer. He also produced and was the on-camera host of the only interview Vincent Price ever gave about his horror film career.
For the film Flesh Eaters, a guilty pleasure for horror purists where particles eat their way out of victims’ bodies, Del Valle opens with the story of the mad scientist who spiked their drinks. Martin Kosleck spent his career playing onscreen Nazi villains and perverts, Del Valle got to witness the actor’s debauchery first hand. For Horror Express, he tells the story of the stages of grief Peter Cushing passed through after the death of his wife. For Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster, he talks about the delusional world of the man who played Kelton the Cop.
David Del Valle spilled deeper stories all over Den of Geek in a terrifying talk about Haunted Hollywood.
Den of Geek: What cemented you as a horror aficionado rather than any other genre?
David Del Valle: I started going to the movies when I was four, or five, or six years old. So the first movies I saw were the Universal horror films, with Lon Chaney Jr. as the Mummy, and Bela Lugosi as Dracula. And then I started watching the films of Vincent Price, especially at the drive-in, when I was in high school, because that’s what they showed, nothing but triple-feature horror movies. So as a kid, that was what I watched, as an escape from school and all that kind of thing. And I’m sure my story resonates with a lot of people, because you start out with that genre when you’re a little boy. That’s the way that works.
What’s the criteria for the films you choose for Haunted Hollywood?
I was given a list of films, and those were what we chose. They tried to find Vincent Price titles for me, because I’m rather well-known for having done one of the only on-camera interviews with Vincent Price on his entire career, called Vincent Price: The Sinister Image. And if you ever buy from Screen Factory, the Vincent Price Collection has my hour-long interview with him. So the first one I taped was House on Haunted Hill.
We dropped with Horror Express with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. That’s what they call Euro-horror, because it was shot in Spain, and it’s very good. It’s a great movie. It’s called Panic on the Trans-Europa Express, that’s what it was called in Europe. They changed the title for American audiences to something a little more lurid, Horror Express. The cool thing about it, like The Thing, the John Carpenter film, or earlier, the Howard Hawks film, is that the creature absorbs the knowledge of everyone it kills. So by the end of the movie, he’s absorbed dozens of people, so he knows as much as anyone could know about being an alien. That’s a really good movie with a strong narrative, and it’s one of the better pairings of Cushing and Lee, I think.
You tell an interesting story about the death of Peter Cushing’s wife.
When Peter’s wife died, the light just went right out of him, and the only thing he had was work. And if you noticed, and Christopher Lee told me this as well, he lost so much weight, that he weighed like 90 pounds. It was really scary, because his health was at stake. And Christopher would say all he had for lunch is an apple and a slice of cheese. Christopher and his wife, Gitte, invited him for meals, and I think they shot it during the winter, so Cushing spent Christmas with the Christopher Lees.
I knew Christopher when he lived in Los Angeles, so I would call him up, and he was kind of lonely, because his wife traveled a great deal, and he wasn’t making a lot of films here. He made an Airport movie here. He actually made a film for Charles Band, I believe, called End of the World. I think it’s part of the Full Moon Features.
Vincent Price was dubbed the heir apparent to Boris Karloff after the film Diary of a Madman. Why that film rather than Haunted Hill or The Fly or House of Wax?
Vincent really didn’t become a horror star until he started working for Roger Corman. House of Usher was the film that really put him over, and then he made six more, then he had a contract with American International, and he made a number of horror pictures that really made him a hero amongst the youth culture of that time. Remember, that was the ’60s, so you had drugs, rock and roll, a lot of rebellion. The world was changing, and Vincent Price was like the rock and roll monster. He wound up doing rock videos with Alice Cooper and Michael Jackson, so he had a very different life.
House of Wax would’ve been a turning point, but that was shot in 1953, and he would go back to just being a character for a number of years. And in The Fly, he’s a supporting character. David Hedison is the fly. But House on Haunted Hill is an important picture, because he did that and The Tingler for William Castle. Vincent, he didn’t take a salary, he took a percentage, and House on Haunted Hill made him a millionaire. And then two years later, he did The House of Usher.
Both Karloff and Price appeared in Tower of London. Do you have any interesting stories from that?
Vincent Price was under contract to Universal, and that was the second or third picture he did. He was still very new. He had been a Broadway star. Karloff had already been an established movie star. Vincent’s recollections of Karloff, they became very, very good friends, he said that the first time he was on the set of Tower of London, Karloff was in his makeup as Mord the executioner, with his head shaved, and a hump on his back, and his elevator shoes, and he had an ax. He was the executioner for Richard the Third. And so, he goes up to Vincent, and he goes, “I just want you to know that I’m not as evil as I appear.”
Vincent was just so bowled away by what a cultured, wonderful guy he was. And like Peter Cushing, you will never hear a negative about Boris Karloff. He was beloved by everyone that knew him, as was Vincent Price later on. All these guys of that period were very cultured, very sophisticated men. They were all grateful that they had this niche in which they could work, because they all made other kinds of movies. Vincent Price worked in every genre, and so did all the rest of them, except perhaps for Bela Lugosi. They all did Westerns and costume pictures and film noir and musicals.
One of my favorite Karloff movies is actually a gangster movie, Smart Money. And in Bride of the Monster, Billie Benedict from the Bowery Boys appears just a few scenes from where Kelton the Cop is called a “junior G-man.” Was Ed Wood that clever?
Oh, I’m sure not. I don’t think people were making references and homages in those days. I knew Paul Marco quite well, who played Kelton the Cop, and he was a real character, that guy. I mean, he lived that part. He was one of what you call in Hollywood a “delusional actor.” But those pictures were shot in five or six days.
Smart Money was made in the early ’30s. I think the year that Karloff did Frankenstein. The Criminal Code and Scarface are the movies that Karloff made at the time, because of course, he didn’t realize that that was going to change his life, until the movie came out. He’d been a working actor in Hollywood for 10 years before Frankenstein was made.
You did the last major interview with Vincent Price. Did you learn anything you didn’t expect?
I did my interview with Vincent Price when he had finished a movie called The Whales of August, which was practically his last picture. I worked on one of his last pictures, From a Whisper to a Scream, with Jeff Burr, who’s a great director and needs to come back and make more movies. Vincent, after Witchfinder General, was not really all that comfortable with the violence and the way movies were changing. Edward Scissorhands was really his swan song. I think that’s a beautiful way to go out. Tim Burton just worshiped him. Christopher Lee also made some of his last onscreen appearances for Tim Burton.
Do you think we will see a resurgence of Giallo films like Mario Bava’s?
The era of the killer with the black glove and the white telephone, you’re talking about period films. I did admire The Witch, that’s of course, a period film. And I thought it was very well done, very well-written, very well-acted. Giallo, I love those movies too. But if you compare the two Suspirias, the remake is really a movie on its own. I mean, it really has nothing to do with Suspiria. But the people who didn’t like the remake of Suspiria, didn’t like the aspects of it that weren’t like the old Suspiria, which you can’t remake. You just can’t go back in time and recreate the elements that made those movies work. Mario Bava was a very unique filmmaker, because he was also a cameraman, he was also an art director. He was a renaissance director. Who do you think is interesting of the new directors today?
I’m liking Del Toro a lot.
Yes, Del Toro is a big horror fan. But for me, the best of the Del Toro movies are the ones he made when he was still in Spain. Pan’s Labyrinth and Chronos, I like those a great deal. Richard Stanley is the most intelligent and the most quirky horror director working today. I like The Color Out of Space a great deal, and I’m very anxious to see what he does with The Dunwich Horror.
What about the social horrors of Us and Get Out?
Yeah, I’m not a big fan of those, to be honest with you. But I mean, it’s also, we’re going through a very difficult time now. I don’t enjoy them. They’re not pleasant to sit through, which is why I don’t like the torture porn films that much, like the Saw series. We’re just going through so much now. I would never revisit those pictures, but that’s just me.
Alan Parker died on July31. My personal favorite horror movie is Angel Heart.
I love Angel Heart. I think it’s got one of De Niro’s best. I love Mickey Rourke. I love movies that are set in New Orleans. I love voodoo and hoodoo and aboriginal horror, all of these weird religious things are very quirky. I love The Skeleton Key, which talks about Hoodoo. I like The Believers that talked about Santeria.
Alan Parker, I liked his films. It’s interesting, because Fame doesn’t age well. It’s got some moments in it. The end of it, I Sing the Body Electric is interesting. But for me, the best thing Alan Parker did was Angel Heart. That’s just my favorite of his pictures. He was a very nice man, Sir Alan Parker.
Do you think that the New Orleans voodoo movies might ever steal back the zombie genre from the reanimated corpse?
That is exactly where it needs to go. You absolutely hit it on the head. I said this to Paul Schrader when Cat People came out. That was another one set in New Orleans. Angel Heart is set in New Orleans. The Skeleton Key is set in New Orleans. Yes. And when Dan Curtis was revamping Dark Shadows, I was working for him, and I said, “Dan, if you’re going to remake Dark Shadows, get David Bowie’s wife, Iman, to play Angelique. Don’t get a blonde, blue-eyed woman.” He said, “What are you crazy?” But you couldn’t change Dan’s mind at all.
I wanted to set Dark Shadows in Haiti, and start with Angelique’s curse on Barnabas, but all Dan wanted to do every time you would talk about Dark Shadows, he said, “Forget it. Here’s how it starts. ‘My name is Victoria Winters. I’m on the train to Colinwood.'” Blah, blah, blah. And you couldn’t convince him otherwise. Great lady, by the way, Lara Parker, but Angelique should have been a kind of sorceress. You know what I mean?
I always thought that Angelique was more important than Barnabas. She created him, she created Barnabas.
I think so, I think so. Of course, my favorite character on Dark Shadows was Grayson Hall as Dr. Hoffman. She was a scream, that woman. In fact, if you ever seen a TV movie of the week called Gargoyle’s, Grayson Hall is hanging upside down a telephone, with her hair in curlers, holding a cocktail. She was a hoot, that woman, and she and Jonathan Frid, what a couple. Very sexually ambiguous, shall we say. That was really the fun of Dark Shadows.
But getting back to your original question, I do hope that if zombies are going to be around for a bit longer instead of them just shambling along, eating brains, it would be nice to set it back into the history of voodoo, and to really use New Orleans, which is a marvelous, photogenic place. Isn’t it? I mean, yeah, I’d love to see more of that.
Will there be any White Zombie or those films in Haunted Hollywood?
You know what? I believe White Zombie is. I would love to do a whole series on the Monogram movies that Lugosi and Karloff made, although the Mr. Wong’s are kind of a snooze-fest, so I don’t know if anyone would want to sit through those. They just put out a Karloff movie called The Ape. It’s probably one of the most boring movies ever made, but it’s out on Blu-ray, so go figure. But I would love to do more Lugosi. I’d love to do the Monogram’s Invisible Ghost, and especially Voodoo Man. These were all shot in nine days, with a very low budget, but they were fun. It’s funny, White Zombie was made right after Dracula, and a lot of people admire it more, because once again, a movie like Dracula didn’t age that well. It has an incredible performance by Lugosi, but as far as Todd Browning, it’s one of the worst things Tod Browning ever directed. At that point, he was battling alcoholism, and I don’t think he was very on set with that picture. Dracula, it’s all Karl Freund, who was the cameraman, and then became a director.
Karl Freund directed The Mummy with Karloff, which is basically Dracula set in Egypt, so those pictures are very similar. The plots are almost identical. It’s just, one’s a vampire, and one’s a mummy, but they both have this obsession with one woman, blah, blah, blah. That kind of thing.
I’d like to see some Val Lewton.
My favorite Val Lewtons are I Walked with a Zombie, The Seventh Victim, Body Snatcher, The Leopard Man, Curse of the Cat People. I even like Ghost Ship. It’s the first appearance of Lawrence Tierney from Reservoir Dogs. Ghost Ship is really good. Larry gets killed by having chains wrapped around him at the end of it, if you haven’t seen that one.
What is it that you most want to bring out about these films or these stories?
I think the important thing with Hollywood in general, is the movies that we’re talking about in this series, everyone who made them was very passionate about them. Everybody made them with a great deal of love. I mean, on one hand, I’ll say, it’s a job. What are you going to do? It’s a job. But not really. I mean, Val Lewton, and Bela Lugosi, and Boris Karloff, and Vincent Price, and Todd Browning, and Roger Corman, they all loved what they were doing. And that is what I think we respond to when we watch these pictures, is that everybody had something invested in them. And it makes us love them all the more, I think. Don’t you feel that way about the ones that you’ve seen more than once? What do you keep going back to?
I watch Angel Heart at least once a year, Phantom of the Paradise.
Yes, yes, I love Phantom of the Paradise. We had a big screening at the Cinerama Dome for the Phantom of the Paradise that was sponsored by a store that’s closed now, called Creature Features, and he got everybody, except of course, the late William Finley, to show up. In fact, I was going to post a picture of me with Paul Williams today, who played Swan. And of course, Jessica Harper. Jessica Harper, man, has been in the weirdest movies. She’s in Suspiria, she’s in a Woody Allen. She’s in Phantom of the Paradise, and she’s good in it. And I love the songs in it. What a clever way to reimagine The Phantom of the Opera. I love that movie. I love a lot of De Palma’s pictures too, of course.
I saw Hi, Mom and Greetings in an art-house in New York, years ago, and I loved the work he did with De Niro back then. It was so improvisational.
People don’t realize that Robert De Niro really started his career with Brian De Palma. For a man that’s known for gangster films, De Niro did his share of genre movies too, didn’t he?
Lara Parker also was in Brian De Palma’s early films.
Yeah. And Lara’s in a great little movie, called Race with the Devil. Peter Fonda’s in it, and Warren Oates is terrific.
In some of the stories you tell, it seems like the players are as haunted by Hollywood as the films. Is that often the case?
Oh, definitely, definitely. The Ed Wood group were kind of on the periphery of show business. They weren’t really well-established. The one thing, as is shown in the Tim Burton movie, Ed Wood attached himself to Bela Lugosi because he was a name, but also, because he really admired him and grew up with his pictures. But what Ed couldn’t understand, as the movie points out, Lugosi was in decline. He wasn’t really getting work anymore. And so, having his name attached to something, didn’t really get you very far, whereas Karloff was a far better businessman.
Vincent Price used to say to me that Hollywood could be one of the most evil places to work, because you’re only as good as your last picture, or you’re only admired because you’re good-looking, or you’re young. And if you’re not good-looking and young, then you have to already been established, and then your name is used because you’re established. So these things, I don’t think necessarily change with time. It’s just that in today’s world, there are no horror stars anymore. I think the closest thing you get to a celebrity in the horror genre are the directors.
Roger Corman, of course, is the most respected and the most famous of all the directors, and he goes to every genre. Roger’s a very unique figure in show business. Next you get someone like John Carpenter. John Carpenter is a horror star director. George Romero had that same thing. People like Brian De Palma are established world-class directors. Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, people like that. But I don’t think there are any horror stars anymore.
I mean, yes, there’s Robert Englund, but Robert Englund is known for one character, playing in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, and he made a number of other horror pictures. But aside from Robert Englund, I can’t think of anyone that’s known for horror pictures.
Are there any more recent films which you think would make a list of Haunted Hollywood?
Well, that, I couldn’t really say, because you have the independent horror films. I don’t know. I think the future of horror film, really, is in television and cable. The Walking Dead, it’s a phenomenally successful series, it’s known all around the world, as is Game of Thrones. I thought Penny Dreadful was terrific. I love True Blood.
The real acting, the real great writing is all on cable. And now that we’re in this kind of new world with the pandemic, everything’s going to be online. We’re going to be watching all this out of our homes. I’m kind of pleased with the resurgence of the drive-in. Because when I was a kid, when I was in high school, the drive-in, man, that’s where you saw all the horror films, triple-features. And that’s coming back, because I don’t see movie theaters coming back for a long time now. I think people are getting accustomed to watching movies at home.
Could there be a “Haunted Burbank?”
It’s very hard to tell. I’m not Nostradamus. The future of the business is not something I can see. I just can tell you that based on how we’ve been living the last six months, it’s all going to be on television. It’s all going to be streaming. That’s the future, and you might as well get used to it.
The 20-film series Haunted Hollywood will premiere a new cult classic every Friday for 13 weeks starting July 31 on the Full Moon Features channel and app.