Top

arts

Stories

 

Real Horror: Local Filmmaker Brings the Horrific Crimes of Dean Corll to the Silver Screen

Homosexual rape, torture and a graveyard of dead boys. A filmmaker decides to step away from fiction and delve into Houston's infamous Dean Corll rape-torture-murder case.

"I knew that there was a worthwhile story to tell buried under the gruesome details of that case, and I wanted to be the one to tell it," Vargas says.

"I didn't want to hurt anybody. Meeting Wayne Henley is one thing. Meeting people that lost someone to Wayne Henley is totally different. If you're going to do a film like this, then that's my advice. Talk to the victims first.

"If you're going to put out a film like this, then it's going to hurt people. So do it for a reason other than to just make people sick. Make it have a historical meaning. Make people learn something. After I'd had every question answered by Wayne, after I'd read all the transcripts, after the culmination of all the research, I knew how it had to be."
_____________________

Grisaffi prepares to simulate a rape, torture and murder for the film, one of at least 28 that Dean Corll committed in Houston. Click 
here to view a trailer for In a Madman's World.
Grisaffi prepares to simulate a rape, torture and murder for the film, one of at least 28 that Dean Corll committed in Houston. Click here to view a trailer for In a Madman's World.
Vargas directs a bonding scene between Binum as Henley and Haworth as Brooks in the Conroe woods. The two accomplices grew emotionally dependent on each other after their experiences with Corll's activities.
Courtesy of Josh Vargas
Vargas directs a bonding scene between Binum as Henley and Haworth as Brooks in the Conroe woods. The two accomplices grew emotionally dependent on each other after their experiences with Corll's activities.

In a Madman's World isn't Vargas's first full-length attempt, but it is the first one with a budget. It's the result of a three-year journey that included hundreds of hours of interviews with Henley himself as he sits serving six consecutive life sentences at the Mark W. Michael Unit in Anderson County.

Vargas also personally rummaged through an abandoned bus on the Henley family's Mount Pleasant property in which relatives had stashed all Henley's belongings following his trial, a trove of artifacts hoarded in stasis and unlooked at for almost four decades.

The movie was filmed on location in Houston — Washington Avenue is prominent — and Pasadena, where Corll buried many of his bodies.

Vargas lives across the street from NASA, his home for now covered in the artwork of serial killers along with horror-film posters. The recorder he used for the interviews sat on Henley's coffee table.

"My generation came from the whole 'If you didn't have $3 million, you weren't ever going to make a film' idea," Vargas said when asked about how he got started making films almost a decade ago. "It was always something I wanted to do but never seriously entertained."

Instead he got interested in monster makeup and began working at local haunted houses. Then one day a friend of his asked for a little help making a short film about zombies. Intrigued, Vargas took the job and realized that technology had reached the point where an independent filmmaker could actually get the equipment to shoot and edit a film.

He started with a horror short called Cradle, then moved on to local music videos and other shorts, anything to help him gain some experience behind the camera. Finally, after running the gauntlet on a full-length flick called Sway about a kidnapping gone horribly wrong, he was ready to try for something more real, but he needed a story. Enter Dean Corll.

Vargas had never heard of Corll, having been born ten years after Corll was shot to death by Henley. Nor was he alone in his ignorance of the crime. Despite the fact that Corll and Henley rank fourth on the list of American serial killers by number of confirmed victims, they are rarely spoken of in the same breath as Jeffrey Dahmer or Charles Manson. When the facts came to light in 1973 about Corll's actions as he plucked boy after boy from the streets, it was the largest serial murder spree in the country. Corll even sported a sinister nickname, the Candy Man, generated by his association with his family's candy company.

Even that colorful moniker is distorted and confusing, Corll sharing it with Deer Park's Ronald Clark O'Bryan, who was sentenced to death after he poisoned his own son with a cyanide-laden Pixy Stix and blamed it on a supposed murderous homeowner who had handed out deadly candy on Halloween. O'Bryan's crime started the still-strong urban legend of malicious poisoners on the holiday just a year after Corll's spree ended.

Vargas became obsessed with the Dean Corll story, spending evenings looking through court records and newspaper clippings and watching footage on YouTube from when Henley and fellow accomplice David Brooks led the authorities to the bodies. A plan to explore the subject in film started to form, but he knew that to do the project justice, he would have to dig much, much deeper than the public record.

It turned out that Corll's almost-victim Rhonda Williams, who stays in contact with Henley to this day and visits him several times a year, has a Facebook account.

"I doubt anyone has ever realized how I managed to talk Wayne into saving me and killing Dean," she said on the social media site.

"I saw that Rhonda Williams was on Facebook, and I messaged her saying, 'Look...I don't know how I'm supposed to come at you with this, but this is who I am and this is what I'm thinking about doing,'" said Vargas. "'If you want to talk, here's my number.' Wasn't 30 minutes later my phone rang.

"She was very against the film at that time, but after talking with me for a bit, she saw the approach I was taking and started helping me out with it. She pointed out a film called Collectors that I might want to watch that had Wayne in it, and that's how I learned about Rick Staton."

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
24 comments
genegregorits
genegregorits

The filmmakers appear to be categorical imbeciles. "That's a Clive Barker movie, dude." 

Yeah...I don't think I'll be expecting much from these hipster fuckheads. 

amalfisolice
amalfisolice

There is no way on earth that the victims' families and friends appreciate this movie!  There are better ways to remember those who have been lost or to remind people that this even happened without making a graphic display of it.  All of the folks that I know that lived in Houston during this time and were close to this case are not very excited about this.  Then again, these guys aren't trying to help anyone here.  They are just trying to make a few bucks and get some recognition by taking a real life tragedy and exploiting it.  There is one unidentified victim left.  This movie is not going to help anyone identify him.  

Danny Cantu
Danny Cantu

yeah happens in mexico on the reg...just sayin..

fratdawgg23
fratdawgg23

Look forward to seeing the movie. Not an easy subject to tackle, but glad they did.

blindelation
blindelation

This guy wasn't Candy Man. You're thinking of the Deer Park man who gave his children pixie sticks laced with poison.

Disceaux
Disceaux

I understand.  I work close to your offices on Milam if you ever want to talk.  It's doubtful that Rick has many rich friends.  It was a very, very small budget, indie go-go thing.  Fortuntately, friends like myself who are hard working had a few spare bucks to throw at a terrible story.  A story that has been continually reverted to dust bins here in Houston when it sorely needs to be in the limelight until all the victims are identified.  After 50 years, that's a huge crime in itself!  The only other investor I met was a family member of his who's in the military.  Good luck with that lighter story, sex and crime sell.  Try writing one about the beginnings of the movie poster collecting business and see how much interest is generated!

Disceaux
Disceaux

Thanks Jef, I know he was willing, sometimes it's logistics and those nasty deadlines.  I was co-owner of a newspaper back in the 80's prior to my moving to Houston in 1984 so I understand how those things go.  The only Houston person involved with the film that I've met is Bobby Haworth.  He was surprised that Rick had a close friend living in Houston for the past 30 years.  btw, Rick was born in Houston but grew up in rural Louisiana.  We're both the same age and had the same interest's as the victims so like most things in life, it's a fine line.  I commend the Press for doing a respectable job of a weekly rag in a huge city and a dying industry (print media).

Disceaux
Disceaux

Interesting choices for words to describe Rick Staton....let's see, creepy, horrifying, ghoulish, opportunistic, evil...I realize that's words others use to describe him.  Others who know absolutely nothing about him.  He's interested in the warped, demented minds of these seriously sick fucks!  That doesn't make him a sick fuck like the serial murderers.  Primarily, it's about collecting for Rick.  Odd interest but when I met him 38 years ago in Hammond LA, the collecting was vinyl records, then movie posters and murderabilia.  (He was instrumental in creating the market for movie posters and one sheets (that doesn't get mentioned because it just isn't sensational enough).  Probably the most even keeled, well adjusted human I've ever met on the planet and I should know, he's been one of my closest friends since 1975.  Of all the folks involved in this movie that you interviewed, all live in Houston and were more readily accessible to you.  Rick doesn't live in Houston and therefore is less accessible.  He personally told me he wanted to be interviewed for this article and was disappointed that didn't happen.

susanterrywilhelm
susanterrywilhelm

Perhaps Mr. Vargas should have spoken with the real victims, the families of those boys that were tortured and murdered.  He may have thought twice about making this film in the first place.  And to say Henley doesn't want to be paroled is a bald faced lie.  He actually thought he had a chance last year when he was up.  Had it not been for the hard work of the victims' famlies, he may have, but they will never allow that to happen!  Its bad enough that he and Brooks took the lives of their sons and brothers, but now they must put continue to fight every 3 years to keep these killers where they belong -- IN JAIL.  They can never find peace. 

Schitt.C.Rumpney
Schitt.C.Rumpney

Its also very interesting that the home still stands today and occupied, when most homes with serial massacres as this are bulldozed of all memories and references to a monster that resided therein.

http://goo.gl/maps/MeIM9

Schitt.C.Rumpney
Schitt.C.Rumpney

I agree with @RebeccaS   This article is well done Jeff! It reads like a Documentary Investigation Discovery channel episode all in itself!  I too, look forward to this movie.   I lived in a different part of the country when this occurred a thousand miles away, and the events going on here , had parents in my hometown afraid to let us go out after dark , we even had to go to school in groups or not at all.  This impacted many places than is realized!

RebeccaS
RebeccaS

Well done, Jef and HP. I hate to say I enjoyed this article, but I did. I was a youngster when this was all uncovered -- not much younger than EWH -- and was shielded from most of the news. I look forward to the movie.

JefWithOneF
JefWithOneF topcommenter

@blindelation They were both The Candy Man. From page 2...

"Even that colorful moniker is distorted and confusing, Corll sharing it with Deer Park's Ronald Clark O'Bryan, who was sentenced to death after he poisoned his own son with a cyanide-laden Pixy Stix and blamed it on a supposed murderous homeowner who had handed out deadly candy on Halloween. O'Bryan's crime started the still-strong urban legend of malicious poisoners on the holiday just a year after Corll's spree ended."

JefWithOneF
JefWithOneF topcommenter

@Disceaux My first feature, so I appreciate the compliment. That said, I think I'll do something a little less dark next time. 

Disceaux
Disceaux

If you really cared or knew much about these horrific crimes, a better avenue for any outrage would be the Houston Police Department, THEN AND NOW.  They were never very interested in the original search for victims, weren't very interested when Brooks and Henley told them there were more victims and have other things that keep them too busy to be more helpful in identifying the remaining unidentified victims 50 years later.

By the way, that's Rick's son kneeling with his back to the camera in the Josh Vargas credited picture taken in the woods.  He plays the victim's rolled up in carpet in the film.  Having his portrait painted (from a photograph) by Gacy didn't cause him any harm, did it?

j_vargas217
j_vargas217

Lady, if you read the article, which you clearly didn't, you would see that I talked to Henley's victims FIRST, before I ever spoke with him.

And just because someone is up for parole, doesn't mean they're trying to get out. It means they were u p for parole, which is mandatory with his sentence. He doesn't attend his parole hearings and I know this for a fact. Read before you speak.

TXKathy
TXKathy

I love how people who have no idea what they're talking about can't help but chime in and open their big mouths. You're clearly an expert on how prison, parole, and the criminal justice system work. Please tell us all about it. Oh, and even more impressive, apparently you can tell us what other people are thinking and feeling. Don't keep that gift to yourself. You should share it with the world!

JefWithOneF
JefWithOneF topcommenter

@Schitt.C.Rumpney I know the boatshed was razed. Vargas told me he filmed in an identical one build and owned by the same guy who built Corll's that was just across the street. 

JefWithOneF
JefWithOneF topcommenter

@Disceaux I was specifically instructed to interview Rick after the first draft, and asked Vargas the best way to contact him. Vargas said Facebook, so I dropped him a line. I didn't hear back from anything until after it had gone to layout and it was too late. As such, much of my information on Rick came from Vargas, and from online sources like the quoted Post article

Schitt.C.Rumpney
Schitt.C.Rumpney

@JefWithOneF 

Thanks Jef (with 1 F) LOL that remind me of my best friend who moved to Arizona   :(  , his name spelled with 1 f and he always said the same , "hi I'm Jef with one f"

I work downtown and have traveled through the Heights on my way home where I have often pictured in my mind,  the neighborhood lawns, sidewalks and streets full of kids back in that era and get chills thinking of all that had happened.  I am heavy into Documentaries and Forencic Files type shows and this entire project and event hits home !

Again thank you for a great article.  I am glad to have subscribed online to Houston Press! LOVE this 'paper'

 
Houston Concert Tickets
Loading...