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

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That's when he meets a strange kid named David Brooks, with whom he forms a weird but easy friendship over a mutual love of pot and rock. Bobby Haworth presents a solid counterpoint to the energetic and slightly twitchy Binum, portraying Brooks as a distant and cold but not unlikable guy. Henley notices that Brooks always seems to have money but never has a job. He wants in on that, but Brooks tries in every way he can to insist that what he does is not something Wayne wants to get involved with.

The path of Wayne Henley as chronicled by Vargas is not an inevitable descent into carnage. It's more a series of choices and chances that lead deeper and deeper into a labyrinth from which he cannot escape.

Like the character he plays, Chris Binum was looking for something new when his agent told him about In a Madman's World. The director initially threw Binum's head shot and résumé in the garbage when he received it. The smiling, bright-eyed young man who stared out at him was the acme of peppy hope and more fitted for a love interest on Glee as far as Vargas was concerned.

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.

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."
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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.

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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner