Tag Archives: Blacula interviews

William Crain Interview

3773_1166487279471_5740591_nInevitably, any discussion of the career of director William Crain will link the man with 1970’s Blaxploitation. Understandably so, seeing how his most famous film, Blacula, also carries one of the most infamous, and some say completely ridiculous, titles to have ever come out of exploitation cinema. As a title alone, Blacula not only at once seems to parody and mock, it does so with an ultimate, sleazy, cash-grab in-your-face finesse.

Closer to the truth is that William Crain might actually be one of the more sincere, thoughtful and honest directors to have emerged from a time when the politics of racial identity, divisiveness and anger were raging at peak conditions.

Born June 20, 1949 in Columbus, Ohio, Crain attended UCLA’s prestigious School of Theater, Film and Television, a major university that was well known for some of its famous alumni including the “Birth of The Doors” a.k.a. Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison (who studied Comparative Literature, made two films and gained his undergraduate degree in Theater) as well as Morrison’s friend Francis Ford Coppola, who was working on his post graduate degree there.

Students at the school had mixed pursuits, with some concentrating on the experimental end of cinema via their abstract expressionist works, and some students such as Charles Burnett (Killer Sheep) who were making very personal and often poetic works that delved into the background struggles and issues relating to growing up with their African American heritage. These students would help one another with their films and were among the first to really contribute to what would be a new Black American independent film movement. Many years later as many of their films were discovered and taken out of obscurity, the work of these filmmakers collectively became known as the L.A. Rebellion. On the other end of the film spectrum were others like Crain, focusing more on a professional career in film and television and trying to break into mainstream Hollywood. Some of these students would borrow equipment from UCLA to use for outside professional freelance jobs.

While it is easy to call this direction selling out, in truth is that it was more like a Martin Luther King Jr. inspired revolutionary move of non-violent, passive resistance. Here was William Crain, an African American reaching beyond previous racial barriers, seeking work as a legitimate professional who would make his family and friends proud by earning a living in an industry that for the most part had been off limits to minorities.

In 1971 Crain was entrusted to direct an episode called “The Comeback” for the television series, The Mod Squad. Crain is credited as William Crain III. The Mod Squad, which ran a total of five seasons on ABC, was never the huge hit it was envisioned to be, but still quite popular. Based on the real life stories of creator Bud Ruskin’s life as an undercover narcotics detective, The Mod Squad starred Michael Cole (Pete Cochran), Peggy Lipton (Julie Barnes) and Clarence Williams III (Linc Hayes) as a multiracial group of young detectives led by Tige Andrews in the role of Captain Adam Greer. Considered quite hip and with a serious understanding of the problems surrounding the counterculture and youth movements of the time (unlike the heavier conservatism preached by Jack Webb’s character Joe Friday in his Dragnet ’66 – ’70) it was more in line with shows such as the classroom drama/comedy Room 222 as it basically showed that not all the young were juvenile delinquent hippies or acidheads and that “The Man” was not always oppressively as bad as kids thought.

Crain’s episode, which focuses primarily a bit more on Linc, is a boxing aficionado’s dream, as it stars actual boxing great Sugar Ray Robinson as “Candy Joe Collins” a wealthy former middleweight champ who comes out of retirement after an 11 year hiatus. His former boxing nemesis, now his trainer and best friend, is played by the legendary boxing champ Rocky Graziano (whom Robinson knocked out in three rounds in 1952) and other actual boxing and sports personalities are peppered throughout the episode. Candy’s son Robbie, who attends a prep school, becomes involved with gangster heavies looking for insider information regarding his father’s big fight so they might have a sure thing when they bet large sums on it. The emphasis here is on sports gambling, and the relationships between a father and his troubled son.

Within minutes of viewing the episode, there are odd moments that were not usually used on the show— strange freeze-frame close-up zooms, occurring before flashbacks, that most definitely show a William Crain directorial touch and a sign of things to come in his later efforts.

Having Pete and Julie appear in smaller roles with a focus more on Linc and his friends, “The Comeback” works as an especially strong and different episode than most of The Mod Squad. An attention to details and a realistic approach are certainly hallmarks that Crain specialized in and make this episode often considered by fans of the show, one of the very best of The Mod Squad’s entire run.

In 1972, Crain directed what would be the film for which he will forever be associated with…Blacula. This feature film came about primarily from Crain’s previous association with television directing, and this extended to the casting as well, with most of the talent having acted in various television series.

William H. Marshall, known for theater roles and appearances on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Mannix, portrays the African Prince Mamuwalde who is cursed to an eternity of vampirism by the original (and racist) Count Dracula in the 18th century who had designs on Mamuwalde’s wife, Luva (Vonetta McGee) and gives Mamuwalde the name of Blacula after Mamuwalde refuses to give her to the Count.

He is awakened in 1972 and now seeks to rejoin Luva via Tina (also Vonetta McGee) who he thinks is the reincarnated Luva. Of course, his bloodlust begins an escalation and spider web of victims, who now also become vampires. All the while an investigator, Dr. Gordan Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala), a police detective, Lieutenant Peters, and Thomas’ girlfriend Michelle (Denise Nicolas of Room 222) learn Mauwalde’s secret and attempt to pursue him.

American International’s Blacula, is historically important, not only for Marshall’s portrayal in the title role making him the very first African American vampire, but as the first African American/Blaxploitation horror film.

To call the film Blaxploitation, for all its later connotations and (wink! wink!) formulaic characteristics, is both truthful and yet, doubtlessly not the intention of Crain when he set out to make this film. The mainstream acceptance of still photographer turned director Gordon Park’s 1971 action film Shaft, had brought stardom to Richard Roundtree and made him an action hero palpable to mainstream audiences. With Blacula, Crain sought to direct a genre film, utilize a multiracial cast, still bring to light some African American issues and find his way into the Hollywood system.

Though at times, head-shakingly absurd, using wildly inappropriate dialogue and featuring a low budget aesthetic, the film stands as a successful cult classic. Special mention goes to the outstanding animated titles, which probably used much of the budget, a couple of performances by The Hues Corporation (what’s up with their backing band?) and the non-horror funky soundtrack.

Blacula was promoted by A.I.P. to Black audiences (pushing the slavery angle) as well as horror audiences and did well, becoming one of the higher grossing films for 1972 and kicking off the Black Horror genre. Reviews, while mixed were still overall positive and encouraging, so audiences flocked to see the film. Now there was this new breed of Black Horror film with actual African American leads instead of the marginalized stereotypes that had been used before in movies of the past (exception could go to Night Of The Living Dead (1968), although George Romero has stated that his lead actor was a black man unintentionally, and only because the actor gave the best audition).

Some of the films that would become Blaxploitation Horror classics include: Ganja And Hess (1973), Blackenstein (1973), Abby (1974), Sugar Hill (1974), House On Skull Mountain (1974), J.D.’s Revenge (1976), and Rudy Ray Moore’s Petey Wheatstraw – The Devil’s Son-In-Law (1977)

Over the next three years, as well as making a short entitled Greenhouse (1973), Crain returned to his prolific career directing for television. Under his direction were two episodes for the hit show Starsky And Hutch: “Death Notice” and “The Fix” (both 1975), an episode of S.W.A.T. called “Murder By Fire” (1975), three episodes for The Rookies: “A Test Of Courage” (1974), “Lamb To The Slaughter” and “Eye For An Eye” (both 1975).

 In 1976, Crain finally went back to what would be his last attempt to date at the Blaxploitation horror genre with the film Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde, in an attempt to revisit the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tale. Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde plays out a bit more as a made for T.V. movie rather than having the cinematic quality of Blacula. In fact it almost makes Blacula seem somewhat slick by comparison, still it was tailor made for drive-in double bills and once again, there are underlying racial and social issues tackled beneath the surface plot.

This is not to say the film did not have some gloss and superb talent surrounding it (as well as great poster art). The soundtrack was composed and conducted by a familiar Blaxploitation name: Johnny Pate (who also scored 7 episodes of the Shaft T.V. Series (1973-1974), Shaft In Africa (1973), Brother On The Run (1973) and Bucktown (1975).

Most notable is cinematographer Tak Fujimoto, one of the best known and award winning cinematographers in Hollywood. Among his huge list of credits are 2nd Unit camera for Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope (1976), Switchblade Sisters (1974), Badlands (1973), Caged Heat (1974), Death Race 2000 (1975), Pretty In Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1985), Something Wild (1986), Married to the Mob (1987), The Silence Of The Lambs (1989), Gladiator (1991) and The Sixth Sense (1998). His work on any film, be it exploitation or huge spectacle, always makes for a worthwhile viewing.

The film features Bernie Casey (Cleopatra Jones, Hit Man, Brian’s Song, The Man Who Fell to Earth) as an African American, award winning scientist/free clinic Doctor named Dr. Pride, who develops a cell-regeneration serum in hopes of curing diseased livers. His partner is Dr. Billie Worth, played by the always wonderful Rosalind Cash (Omega Man). Dr. Pride first tests the serum on an elderly woman patient, with alarming results, then after falling for one of the patients that he has treated for hepatitis, a local prostitute named Linda (Marie O’Henry), he reveals some of his troubled past to her and asks her to volunteer for an injection of the serum. She agrees but asks him to inject himself first. Pride turns into a white crazed maniac that attacks her then some of her low life associates throughout the city.

With an ending that is an homage to King Kong, Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde is once again not played for laughs but tension, terror and thrills with a few well intentioned scares. Crain’s direction again has a similar feel to that of his television work, sincere and thoughtful, dealing with the serious issues he always seemed to come back to, albeit this time around with Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde, Crain probably was more aware of its placement as an exploitation film.

From this point, William Crain continued to work sporadically on shorts such as Joy Ride: An Auto Theft (1976), episodes for television series such as The Dukes Of Hazzard, Matt Houston and Designing Women, the epic television mini-series Roots, local theater productions, and a few more independent features of varying genres: The Kid From Not-So-Big (1978), Lifetime Contract (1986) culminating in his last feature to date, Midnight Fear (1990).

Midnight Fear, which was filmed for cable, stars David Carradine as a down and out alcoholic sheriff investigating a grisly killing in which a women has been skinned. A few tricky curveballs later, the film is both a taunt whodunit, another William Crain signature film, and a showcase for Carradine—so much so that Director Quentin Tarantino has stated that this is one of his favorite David Carradine roles and helped in selecting Carradine for his own Kill Bill films.

While at first mention of the title, Blacula (as well as Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde) seems like an intended joke to most, the film is really more serious in tone and should have allowed Crain a long and successful career as a director of even more successful commercial films.

Ultimately William Crain’s legacy will rest with that of Blacula’s legacy—as the first Black horror film—but also with that of Crain as the first black filmmaker from out of a serious film school to have mainstream commercial success. He gave us the first black vampire in William Marshall and a solid body of interesting television work that often rises above average. Crain’s is an interesting career from an equally interesting, and also enigmatic man.

BOZUNG: So how does William Crain start out in Columbus, Ohio and become interested in directing films for a career?

CRAIN: Well, that was sure a long time ago. When I was a kid I had a Brownie Hawkeye Kodak camera. It was one of the first film cameras Kodak put out for public use. It had twelve exposures. I used to use it to take pictures, and I became interested from that point on.

Also, we went to see all sorts of movies in Columbus. I became a fan right way of the films of Alfred Hitchcock as well as the films of King Vidor. Plus, the old serial westerns. The ones that starred Tom Mix and Lash LaRue. Not to mention, the Warner Brothers cartoon as well. I loved those.

We used to sell newspapers and cut lawns during the day and then we’d all go to the movies on Saturdays. We’d sit there the entire day taking all of it in. We’d watch them over and over again. Even though I became interested in movies, I never ever thought that I’d end up becoming a director, I had never even thought about it until years later.

BOZUNG: So how long did it take for you to leave Columbus, Ohio for California?

 CRAIN: My parents had split up very early on in my life. So my father had already moved out there, leaving my mother and I in Ohio. All her family was from Ohio originally. But my mother decided that she’d like to seek her own fortune in California as well. So my mother and I jumped on a super train and headed out west.

Eventually, my mother opened her own beauty salon on Central Avenue in Los Angeles. Let me just tell you how great Central Avenue was back then. It was the place for all the Los Angeles jazz musicians of the time. So I’m sure you can imagine how wonderful that was.

BOZUNG: So how did you end up at UCLA?

 CRAIN: By the time I came of age, I was interested in college of course. But before I enrolled I decided to have a go at a job to make sure it was something I really wanted to do. I worked as a marketing analyst for the Shell Oil Company and after doing that for a while I decided that it just wasn’t for me. It was the whole suit and tie thing that I couldn’t deal with. Plus the people…What can I say? I want to use the correct term here and not call them bigoted, but they were kind of racist.

So I knew that no matter how hard I would have worked, I wasn’t going to go far. I was the only black fellow in the room most times. It was during this time that I got into a little local theater that was doing small one-act plays. This was a small theatre and I would hit the stage in the evenings after work.

Eventually, I got the opportunity to be in a Frank Silvera [Killer’s Kiss] directed play. The play did really well, and Silvera offered me a role in the Broadway run. After that was over, I ended up back out in Los Angeles acting in a play called In The Corner. We ran that for two years.

Not long after that, I was offered some theater work in Toronto, Canada. So I jumped in my car and drove across the country and entered into Canada via the Detroit tunnel. When I got to Canada I started to introduce myself around, and I was lucky enough to land a job as a stunt man on a couple of television series on the CBC. I wasn’t really qualified, but because I was coming out of California I managed to convince them that I was a professional California stuntman with a bunch of credits, but it really wasn’t true.

Working on one of those shows I met a wonderful women named, Matty. I told her that I was looking for an acting job. She was nice enough to hire me as a regular on the CBC series Hatch’s Mill. I grabbed a few other jobs after that was over. Just small stuff on other CBC series. I stayed around Canada for the better part of eight years. Finally I realized that I just wasn’t gonna make it as an actor. So I went back to Los Angeles and enrolled at UCLA. Plus, my mother was getting older. So I decided it was for the best.

BOZUNG: So how long did it take you after UCLA to get your first job directing episodes of The Mod Squad?

CRAIN: When I was in Canada, I met this director named, George McCowan. He was a very nice guy, and he took me under his wing. He was my mentor I’d say. In fact, we’re still in touch all these years later.

It was McCowan who originally introduced me to Aaron Spelling. McCowan was directing some episodes of another Spelling series, and he invited me to come and hang around.

So we’re down in Long Beach at 3 O’clock in the morning. Their shooting the lead actor in a telephone booth ready to make a phone call. The dialogue in the script called for him to say out loud the number he was about to dial. All of a sudden, everyone on the set realized that the production didn’t have the approval to use this number. Everyone was standing around. Everyone was looking at each other wondering what they were going to do. Aaron Spelling was right there too. So I just spoke up. I just blurted out…”start the number with 555.” Everyone just went silent. It was a week after this, that Spelling gave me my assignment for The Mod Squad.

I think I was at the right place at the right time. It was just one of those deals that really worked out. I guess Spelling thought I was a pretty good director, cause he continued to hire me again and again afterwards.

BOZUNG: So going into The Mod Squad you’re a newbie director. Did you get any sort of flak or hassle for being somewhat unexperienced?

CRAIN: Oh yeah. All kinds, man. I got so much flak you wouldn’t believe it. Working in television there are all kinds of guys that think their directors or they have it in their heads that they already are a director. Everybody wants to direct. So being what was looked at as being unexperienced I got hit with a lot of resentment.

I ran into trouble with Assistant Directors that didn’t like me. Once I had a couple crew members stop me behind the sound stage and tell me that they were gonna fight me for my job. Another told me I was trying too hard and it was making them look bad.

I just tried to be really efficient. I remember once on Starsky & Hutch, I had finished this particular episode in six days. It was supposed to be a seven day shoot. I found out that this wasn’t really the thing to do, because people were being paid by the week. So maybe it was my efficiency. Maybe that’s why people were always giving me flak…laughing

BOZUNG: I know there’s a lot of preparation that goes into a weekly television series. Are you a storyboard director when you’re shooting on such a tight schedule?

CRAIN: Not really. Well, I would occasionally — now that you have me thinking about it. Basically it depended on what we were shooting on a particular day. If it’s something like a chase sequence, then of course.

BOZUNG: Moving onto Blacula… How did you become involved with the film?

CRAIN: At the time I was courting a job with Screen Gems. The head of production over there at that time was this gentleman named, Leonard Goldberg. I was talking to him about getting a job directing on Bewitched. He told me that this producer Sam Arkoff was looking for a good director. A director that could deliver something on time and on budget. So Arkoff called me up a couple days later, and invited me over to take a look at this screenplay.

So I went over to AIP and met with Arkoff. I remember it, cause Jack Nicholson was there in his office when I got there. Arkoff and I talked for a few minutes, and he offered me Blacula.

BOZUNG: Did you have to sell yourself to Arkoff?

CRAIN: I don’t know. I guess I just convinced him. Or maybe, I didn’t. Maybe he gave the film to me cause I worked for cheap…laughing

BOZUNG: So reading that Blacula script for the first time what were your initial thoughts on the concept? Did you instantly have an idea of how you wanted to see it turn out on screen?

CRAIN: You know, at first I wasn’t too sure. I was being asked to direct a film that I didn’t write. I think AIP had their own particular vision for the concept. I went to my mother and talked to her about it. I said, “Look, I can go and do this movie. This isn’t my script and this will be my first movie so maybe I’ll just skate through it and it will lead to another opportunity.” My mom looked at me and said, “No, No, No. This is your first movie. So go on, and do the best you can, make this your movie.”

These words still ring in my ear all these years later. So I went and made the movie. I don’t think my vision for the film was the same as Arkoff’s. I loved how the film turned out, but in retrospect, they didn’t hire me for the sequel, did they?

BOZUNG: So what if they had asked you to the do the sequel what would you have done with it?

CRAIN: I don’t know. I don’t think I would’ve done it anyhow.  

BOZUNG: So what did AIP try to impose on you for the film?

 CRAIN: They originally wanted to call Blacula, “Count Brown’s In Town”. So you can see the mentality they had back then. They were just starting to churn out these Blaxploitation movies. By the time Blacula came around, they were not making as much money on these types of films that they would eventually make a few years later. But Blacula changed that. Blacula made AIP a lot of money and it kick started the genre.

In terms of AIP’s influence. They tried to impose who should be cast in the Dracula role. There were some names kick around, but I didn’t think any of them fit very well. Harry Belafonte’s name was even mentioned. They tried to dictate Blacula’s costume as well. They wanted Blacula’s cape to be blood red. I had to put my foot down. I said, “No, it’s going to look better if we use a steel gray color.” It just looks better on film. Grey’s look great on film. Or maybe it was just me and my love for the old black and white films…laughing

BOZUNG: So what was behind your decision to cast William Marshall?

 CRAIN: It was what we were looking for. I had seen him on The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. But he wasn’t on my mind initially. We auditioned a lot of actors for that, but couldn’t find the right guy. Finally after looking for months, we came to William Marshall. He was perfect. He’s got that voice, and he’s a consummate actor’s actor. He is Blacula.

BOZUNG: And you had final say on the rest of the cast as well?

 CRAIN: Oh, absolutely! I cast the whole thing. Joe Naar was our producer. I knew Gordon Pinsent from Toronto who was the Lieutenant in the film. Thalmus Rasulala and I had done local theater together. I wanted him for Doctor Van Helsing.

I worked with Denise Nicholas on Room 222 prior I worked on that series as a dialogue coach, so I knew she was great. Then Vonetta McGee, she was the darling of Hollywood at that time. I thought she’d be just perfect.

BOZUNG: Can we talk about the scene that everyone remembers from the film?  

CRAIN: The hallway scene?  

BOZUNG: Right. Can you tell me about that sequence. Was it written in the script the way we see it in the final film?

 CRAIN: No, It was written simply. It was like “he’s in the office on the phone, she wakes up, thaws out, and walks down the hallway.” Or something like that.

We shot that scene on the third day of shooting. I looked at the scene, and it just popped into my head. I need a high speed camera. Now, here is another example of where AIP decided to fight me. When I asked for the high speed camera they said, “No, Mr. Arkoff says that we’re not going to give you that.”

But you know, I think they must have seen some of the dailies and realized that they had something good, because that next day when I came in grumbling to myself there was my camera. Plus there was a special crew waiting for me.

Also, I had to think of a way to “thaw her out”. So I had the make up guy sprinkle glycerine on her. We did a test through the camera and I decided it needed something else. So I had the make-up guy sprinkle even more glycerine around her temples and around her bosoms. I don’t know if it made any sense, but it was supposed to look like ice melting off of her.

BOZUNG: It’s sort of become the iconic scene from the film, don’t you think?

 CRAIN: It turned out good. The duration of the her run was only fifteen feet, but it looks much longer in the film. After I yelled cut, I asked my camera operator how it looked and he just smiled at me, blinked and shook his head…laughing

BOZUNG: You weren’t using video assistance?  

CRAIN: Nope. We did that whole movie right through the lenses.  

BOZUNG: That’s such a impressive use of a wide angle lenses.  

CRAIN: Exactly. We had to crank it right up!

BOZUNG:  So given that you’re a director for hire on Blacula, do you ever get the opportunity to take a crack at a re-write of the script prior to shooting?

CRAIN: I didn’t do what I would call a re-write. I added my own things here and there. Sometimes you’ll get a script and the writer will add, “the camera goes from inside to outside of the house and then the camera turns left..” This is the just the worst thing in the world to read. When I read a script I don’t even pay attention to that kind of direction.

There’s an saying. You can take the same script and have one hundred different directors make it, and you’ll get one hundred different movies. With Blacula I didn’t change much. I didn’t even change the dialogue unless an actor came to me and said “I think this will work better.” But then, it becomes a collaboration, right?

I don’t think I could ever sit down and re-write someone’s script to be honest. I think the stuff I changed was like a nuance, a look, a certain hesitation, a certain pause. Once you see the scene in front of you, and it’s on it’s feet, then it begins to take on a life of it’s own.

Of course, we’d play around with the script in rehearsals. Since I had a theater background and an acting background, I could go along with what any of my actor’s wanted to try. That’s the only type of “re-writing” I’m comfortable with.

BOZUNG: One thing that has always stuck out for me in regards to Blacula, and I think it’s very evident in your episode of The Mod Squad as well, is the style you bring to the work. Do you set out to set yourself apart on that level?

CRAIN: Thanks! That’s quite the complement. I think you have to when you’re doing episodic television, if you want to continue working.

 BOZUNG: True, but what about Blacula? There’s some great style there. Shot selection, interesting angles. Just the colors in the film in general make it really a standout, no?

CRAIN: Thanks for that. I think when I’m working I’m always remembering those old black and white movies that I grew up with. You could always see all the different shades of grey. Then you can’t forget your art director. If you have a good art director they’ll be able to put a different shade of blue on someone than the next, and the same for the other colors in the spectrum. You need to know your color spectrum and now how those colors are going to look on film. You know what I mean?

BOZUNG: Another standout scene in the film is the club sequence with The Hues Corporation. What was a fun night of shooting?

CRAIN: Oh, it was great. That’s another scene where I wanted to use big colors. Shooting that night, was one of those moments in my life, where I’m sitting in a chair next to the camera, and I’m looking around at the crew, the actors, the background action, The Hues Corporation on stage and I was thinking to myself “My God. I can’t believe this.” It just gave me chills.

BOZUNG: Before we leave Blacula, I wanted to ask you how long you shot for?  

CRAIN: Twenty-eight days, and all practical locations.

BOZUNG: So around the time you finished Blacula, you’ve sort of become part of this “Big Three”.  You had peers like Melvin Van Peebles and Gordon Parks.  When people mention the success of Blacula in the press there tends to be a mention that you’re African American.  Is it offensive to you that you’re being labeled as an African American director, instead of just a director?

CRAIN: No, cause there is truth behind it. Gordon Parks was another mentor for me. It was his signature along with Marlon Brando and George McGowan that got me into the Director’s Guild Of America.

We’re in the United States. If I’m gonna be labeled a African American director, I guess that is what I am. I was the first African American director to do full episodic television. I’ve had a good stroke and I hit it pretty hard. I did good and it is what it is.

BOZUNG: So how did you come to meet and get Brando to sign for your D.G.A card?

CRAIN: I knew him through Frank Silvera. At that time Silvera had this theater group called, Theatre of Being.

You would not believe the actors that came through there from time to time. Silvera had big friends. Eva Marie Saint. Eli Wallach. Marlon Brando. Sidney Portier would come by and we would talk. We would act out scenes, and these “guests” would criticize our work and give us pointers. To have Marlon Brando sign for me with the Director’s Guild — it was a huge feather in my cap.

BOZUNG: So working in what was the pinnacle of the Blaxploitation era were you offered more of these types of genre films?

CRAIN: Yes I was, but I turned them down. The projects I was offered at the time just didn’t make any sense to me.

BOZUNG: Do you mind if I ask what you were offered?

 CRAIN: Well….I’d rather not say. But one was something that Rudy Ray Moore was already cast in. Looking back now, maybe I shouldn’t have turned them down. I think I thought that I was going to be a big shot director after Blacula. But there’s been a lot of space between projects hasn’t there?

BOZUNG: Did you ever get approached with anything by Roger Corman?

 CRAIN: You know I didn’t. I should have gone to see Corman though. I really admired him and what he was doing back then. I should have gone to see William Castle too. I should’ve pressed a little harder in terms of my career I think. But I didn’t.

BOZUNG: So how did you come to direct Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde?

 CRAIN: I was shooting Starsky & Hutch at the time. There was a second assistant director {Charles Walker} that I had worked with previously, and he was producing Dr. Black. We ran into each other, and he started to tell me about the the problems he was having getting the film off the ground. He asked me to take a look at the script. So I read it, and thought it would be fun. Charles Walker told me, “I have everything ready to go on this. The locations are locked, the actor’s are locked.” He told me that they just needed a director. So we shook hands on it, even though what he had told me wasn’t one hundred percent truth I’d find out.

After I finished up on Starsky & Hutch and prepared to start Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde, their lead actor dropped out. They started to look around for a new lead and Bernie Casey’s name came up. I really liked the idea of casting Bernie because he and I grew up together back in Columbus, OH.

When they went to Bernie Casey with the project he told Charles Walker that he would do the film as long as I was attached to direct it. I’ll never forget that.

BOZUNG: One very cool aspect about Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde is that you got to work with the great Director of Photography Tak Fujimoto. What was that relationship like for you?

CRAIN: Tak Fujimoto was great. We got along very well. I couldn’t believe how smooth his act was. I’d call for a shot and he would line it up. Then we’d talk it out for a little while. What a charming guy Tak Fujimoto is. I would love to be able to work with him again someday. I also worked with Stan Winston on the film as well, did you know that?

BOZUNG: That was my next question actually…

 CRAIN: Right. Stan Winston was a great guy. The script for the film called for Dr. Black to be translucent. It really reminded me of the Claude Rains film, The Invisible Man. I thought about it, and I went to the producers and told them, “we’re just not going to be able to do that, so we need to find a another way.” So I hired Stan Winston to try to do some sort of workable make-up for the character.

BOZUNG: Did you always plan to end the film at the Watts Tower with that homage to King Kong (1933)?

CRAIN: Oh good. I’m glad you caught that. Did I steal that or what? I wanted to include the Watts Tower in there so I could do the King Kong homage.

I’ll never forget the stress I caused Charles Walker when I told him I needed a helicopter so we could shoot that sequence at the Watts Tower. It was just like my experience all over again shooting Blacula. Charles Walker said, “What? What? You don’t need a helicopter for Watts, just use a crane.”

A couple days later I look up into the sky cause I think I hear a helicopter near by. Then I see it, and it comes down and lands in the middle of Watts…laughing

BOZUNG: Was it your decision to cast Rosalind Cash in the film?

 CRAIN: No, that was all Charles Walker. As a matter of fact, they were a couple at the time. But that didn’t matter, cause Rosalind is first class and she did a hell of a job in the film. One interesting fact on Dr. Black. There’s that scene with the two children. Those two children that discover that dead body while they’re playing. The African American little girl was played by Shawn Chapman Holly. Today she is Lindsey Lohan’s attorney…laughing

BOZUNG: I can’t believe you didn’t get any flax with the film. Did you get any overly zealous critics that maybe read into the fact that Bernie Casey is a strong African American man who through science basically turns himself into a white guy?

CRAIN: Well, no one ever said or accused me of trying to make him white. Ultimately, that concept was the best available for the transformation that was in the script. We had to change him into Hyde somehow. Stan Winston and I talked about it, and Stan had a couple ideas. Eventually we just decided on the make-up. I’ve always thought about it as we made him into Lon Chaney in London After Midnight.

BOZUNG: Then what about Midnight Fear? How did that film come about?

CRAIN: Oh geez…I don’t know. I’m just always writing, and that whole idea just sort of came out. We did that film with David Carradine. He was such a sweet guy.  

BOZUNG: So why haven’t we seen another film from William Crain since then?

 CRAIN: That’s a good question. I’d say…my mother passed away and that really just shattered me. People go through a grieving period, and I guess mine was a little longer than others. Plus I have a seven year old son that I spent a lot of time with. I don’t know. I guess I just got tired of beating the bushes. After Midnight Fear, I had went out and met with Universal and just couldn’t seem to get anything going. I think that wore me out. Then I decided to take off for a while too, and I tried to be Ernest Hemingway.

I did a bunch of traveling. I went over to Spain for a little while. I ended up going to Guatemala to hang out for a while. Then Argentina. I traveled south to Tierra del Fuego and I rode cattle with the gauchos. I spent some time writing, and I actually did some fishing too. We’ll call it my homage to Hemingway. Over the years, I’ve done a lot of writing and I’ve submitted a script here or there and never heard back on it. I don’t know what to say. Maybe it’s time I come back. I have an idea on how to wrap up my horror trilogy. You know, first I did Blacula. Then I did Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde. What if I come back with a werewolf movie? I think people would really be knocked out. What do you think?

Feature portion of this interview with William Crain was written by Robert Jaz.  Interview portion was done by Justin Bozung.   Re-printed with permission of Mondo Film, LLC.  All rights reserved.