The Tom Weaver Sardonicus Interview
Q: Your newest Scripts from the Crypt book, #11, is Mr. Sardonicus. Is it safe to assume that you’re a fan of the movie, and that’s why you’ve made it part of your series?
Tom Weaver: I’m a sucker for MOST of the old William Castle horror movies, and Mr. Sardonicus stands out from the pack because, in my opinion, it resembles an episode of TV’s THRILLER – another favorite of mine! A good, ghoulish story, with a period setting, a castle that might as well be in Transylvania – it grabbed me as a kid. And I have to plead guilty to be unable to shake my fondness for most of the horror pictures I especially liked at a young age.
Q: You were even able to include Ray Russell’s novelette “Sardonicus,” the basis of the movie.
Weaver: And Ray Russell also adapted his own story, he wrote the screenplay – and made some improvements! I discovered to my surprise that a long-time email pen pal, Marc Russell, was the son of Ray Russell. I told him about my Scripts from the Crypt series and said I’d love to do a Sardonicus edition, covering his dad’s story AND his dad AND the movie – and, of course, also branching off in a dozen different directions, as all the Scripts from the Crypt books do, so that I could include lots of material on William Castle and the stars of Mr. Sardonicus; David Schecter again tackled a chapter on the music of the movie, and on and on. As you’ll read on the back cover, the book is “armed to the teeth” with the usual blizzard of extras.
Q: The novelette and the movie are only 60 years old. That’s practically a new movie, for you!
Weaver: New enough that the leading lady, Audrey Dalton, is still around, and she had the fun challenge of writing an intro for the book. The first Scripts from the Crypt book was on The Hideous Sun Demon and that had an intro by its producer; I think this is only the second Scripts from the Crypt book where the movie is “new” (to use your word) enough to have one of the moviemakers do some of the writing.
Q: There’s also a career article on Audrey Dalton in the book, and I assume she contributed to that also.
Weaver: Yes, some anecdotes, and also photos. That was written by Laura Wagner, the top writer for the magazines Classic Images and Films of the Golden Age. She also tackled a career article on Guy Rolfe for the book, and contacted Rolfe’s niece, who not only provided information but also some photos. Even a shot of a young Guy Rolfe from his days as a policeman! Laura’s the type who binge-watches all the available movies of whoever she writes about, so she put a lot of time into her Guy Rolfe and Audrey Dalton chapters and, with the help of Audrey and Guy’s niece, tried to make sure she got everything right, from their personal details to the plots of their movies.
Q: Do you foresee future Scripts from the Crypt books on other Ray Russell movies?
Weaver: So many movies, so little time. There are perhaps a dozen Scripts from the Crypt books in the works. For some of ’em, only a few pages have been written so far; others are heading for the homestretch. And 100 titles buzz around in my head. I won’t live long enough to do all the books I’d like to do – and I don’t know how much longer the interest in these old movies will last. I’ve noticed that a lot of people today turn up their noses at the idea of watching any “old movies” – and to them, a movie that’s two or three years old is “old”! If down the line I was able to do another Scripts from the Crypt book on a movie scripted by Ray Russell, it’d be X—The Man with the X-Ray Eyes.
Q: Were you able to write about X at all in the Sardonicus book? I know you love to go off on tangents.
Weaver: I included a whole chapter, “Ray Russell’s Other Horrors,” so that I could have some fun writing a few pages each on X, The Premature Burial and the 1966 Chamber of Horrors. While I was at it, I even included Zotz! and The Horror of It All.
Q: Part of the fun of some of the Scripts from the Crypt books are the rare photos you and your co-authors come up with.
Weaver: That’s getting harder only because my brain is starting to turn mushy, and oftentimes I no longer know which photos I’ve seen before and which ones I haven’t. THAT makes things difficult! But this book does have quite a number of pictures of William Castle on the sets of various movies, Castle with the Mr. Sardonicus camera crew, some ads that Columbia took out in various trade papers for The Tingler, Homicidal, Mr. Sardonicus, Zotz! Even a neat behind-the-scenes shot of Ray Milland and Don Rickles on the set of X.
Q: Did you put Sardonicus-style skull teeth on the BearManor panda? I’ve noticed that your BearManor books always screw with the panda.
Weaver: I’m afraid our imagination let us down this time, we couldn’t figure out what to do with the panda. The teeth … too obvious. Giving him a mask … that didn’t seem like it would work. We thought of having him doing a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, spoofing Mr. Sardonicus’ “gimmick,” but then I tried to picture in my mind a panda’s paw with one claw pointing down and I realized it’d look stupid. So in the back cover photo of Sardonicus’ castle, we just stashed the panda in the fog, peeking out from behind a bush. The panda was disappointed, but we explained to it, “Comedy is hard, and this time, it was TOO hard.”
Q: When will you announce Scripts from the Crypt #12?
Weaver: When I’m sure what it’s gonna BE. Some of these books come together quickly, others take forever, for various reasons. Sardonicus took forever, partly because of the China virus closing all the various archives, and partly because every time I finished doing a Blu-ray audio commentary, I got assigned two MORE. But I think I know what #12 will be, and I’ll tell you this much: It won’t be a new movie like Mr. Sardonicus, which had its 60th anniversary this year. Scripts from the Crypt #12 will probably be devoted to a movie that’s more like 80.