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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.

He had no idea that Binum would also undertake a journey into the mind of Wayne Henley, one that in many ways topped even that of his director.

"I was blown away that it was a true story and jumped at the chance. I did clean-cut, jock-looking kind of guy stuff before that. I was typecast. Yeah, this is something I can use to break the mold, I thought."

Binum won the role with a spirited reading and by showing up with much longer hair and the ability to mimic the movements of Henley in news footage. Rhonda Williams was part of the selection process, helping Vargas early in the film's pre-production, and endorsed Binum for the role. Vargas took a chance, handed Binum a stack of letters from Henley and told him to get ready.

Producer Rick Staton, director Josh Vargas and associate producer Chance Allen survey Dean Corll's custom-made torture board in order to re-create it accurately for In a Madman's World.
Producer Rick Staton, director Josh Vargas and associate producer Chance Allen survey Dean Corll's custom-made torture board in order to re-create it accurately for In a Madman's World.
The board as originally booked into evidence in 1974.
AP Photo
The board as originally booked into evidence in 1974.

Knowing that he would be wearing the killer's actual clothes (some of which still bear bloodstains), Binum lost 20 pounds to fit into the shorter man's duds. He pored over the words Henley had written from prison as he tried to understand the life he would be adapting on the big screen.

"Wayne Henley...to a certain degree I understand," said Binum. "I've never experienced anything like that in my personal life. I grew up watching my mom try to take care of me and two younger brothers. You know, he felt like he had to take care of his family. You kind of sympathize with him, but not the murders."

Sympathetic or not, Binum crawled into Henley's head. He wore Henley's clothes everywhere every day. Periodically, he would drink an entire bottle of vodka as Henley would do when he was trying to forget the life he'd found himself in. Binum would then have his girlfriend drop him off in the Heights at 3 a.m., just wandering the darkness that used to be Corll's hunting ground for victims.

He also began to stalk people. He'd notice someone on the street that he thought Dean Corll might like and would start following that person. He took care to see if the person sensed what he was doing and made adjustments to appear normal and not like some shaggy, dangerous-looking dude. He never took the stalking a moment further, but he did begin to wrap his head around the mind-set that would soon be necessary for Wayne Henley to live in Dean Corll's world.

"He did enjoy it...it was a mental gymnastic he did with himself to deal with it," said Vargas. "He told himself these were all dope fiends, people nobody would miss or go looking for. He enjoyed having the power over life and death, and he enjoyed knowing that if anyone fucked with him, he could put them in the ground. When he noticed that about himself, he began to get really disgusted."
_____________________

When David brings Wayne to meet Dean Corll in In a Madman's World, it's almost laughably absurd and a little sad.

It's laughable because the man who would take on the mantle of Houston's most notorious bogeyman is Joe Grisaffi. With film credits like Pirates of the Caribbean and Austin Powers under his belt (playing unnamed guards and Marines), he's arguably the biggest name in the film, on top of being a longtime veteran of the local horror-movie scene. He just finished a low-budget, ­Roger Corman-esque movie about killer Siamese twins called Conjoined.

While that may make him sound like the perfect person to cast as a killer, Grisaffi is actually one of the most harmlessly affable men in the city. His main hobby is raising and rescuing baby turtles. He collects and writes about vintage video games. He collaborates with a local developer to make Atari 2600 adaptations of his own films. This is not the profile of a man you would ever believe to be evil incarnate.

Which is exactly what made him perfect, of course.

Dean Corll was well-liked and well-regarded in the community. No one ever suspected the other side of him. Because of the yearlong nature of the shoot, Grisaffi found himself having to spend extensive stretches of time not being Dean Corll and then donning a killer's persona. In the interim, he practiced normalcy, as did his subject. Never arouse suspicion, never look anything but genial and never show that at some point in the near future, he would be standing over the body of someone he was thankfully just pretending to do unspeakable things to.

"He was a closeted homosexual in the '70s," said Vargas. "His mother was very homophobic and always talked about how disgusting gay people were. At that time it took a lot of balls to come out, and he didn't have those balls. I don't know why Dean went the way he did, but that had something to do with it."

When Corll meets Henley and Brooks in an empty apartment, the scene starts with a joke that we'll not repeat but that involves various sauces you should apply to your finger before engaging in digital sex with a woman. Even if you had absolutely no knowledge of Corll's activities, this scene would be painful to watch since he is so desperately trying to be perceived as a charming man of the world, and all that's coming out is the utterly empty boasting of someone who's very weak.

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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'

 
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