chats with Hanns Manship - Casey from HOUSE OF DEATH (1982)]
Q: Can you tell me how you got involved with the film?
I was an actor living in Hollywood at the time (early 80’s). I heard of the project from some actor friends and had gotten to know the writer, Paul Elliott — a great guy who turned out to become a good friend. I learned David Nelson (from Ozzie And Harriett fame) was set to direct. Since it was to be filmed on location in Shelby, NC, at Earl Owensby’s EO Studios (where I heard some of the Titanic underwater scenes were later shot), I wanted to be involved, having been born in NC and still having family there. I would eventually end up being in several EO Studios productions including Day Of Judgment, Lady Grey, and Dare To Be Great.
They were casting many of the roles regionally from Atlanta, but also a few from Los Angeles. Being a low budget film, I made it known I would cover my travel costs to NC if that would be some incentive for hiring me. Over my acting/directing career, I had learned that all the little things I could do to make me stand out among the hundreds of other actors helped. 75% of the roles I ended up playing in my career were from “going the extra mile” and not just from having my agent submit my picture, go on an audition, etc, etc.
I was originally in line to play the role of Diddle, but later learned that Elliott had written the role of Casey, the brain-damaged kid, with me in mind (I know, I know, type casting, my friends would say). But I had never played such a role before. It was a better, more challenging role for me and I worked hard to fill the demands.
Q: What was the shooting title for the film (it was released as both House Of Death and Death Screams), and do you remember what year photography took place and how long it took?
The working title, as I remember, was Death Screams. But then I heard Night Screams being thrown around the set, and eventually they settled on House Of Death. I’m thinking it was shot in 1981 and took about a month of actual location shooting, not counting all the pre and post production. It seemed to take a long time to get released — not sure if editing or budget restrictions slowed the process down or not.
Q: Any amusing anecdotes about the cast and crew or even production?
Director David Nelson created a comfortable atmosphere on the set, and I never heard a cross word spoken — all in all a very pleasant experience. Susan Kiger (Lily) had appeared more than once in Playboy magazine and was a beautiful gal. She was maybe a little shy, and seemed somewhat removed from most of the cast, so many of us didn’t get to know her like we did others. I had worked with William Hicks (Sheriff Avery — who was also my father in the film) before in Day Of Judgment, and knew him to be a professional and likable guy.
We learned one day that the director, David Nelson, had accidentally fractured his foot on the set but kept working all that day and didn’t go to the hospital until shooting was over that night — pretty admirable, huh? Jennifer Chase (Ramona) was a fun and friendly girl — very down to earth and likable. We stayed in touch for a while after the film.
After filming was completed, Nelson (who, sadly, just died on Jan 12, 2011) shot some fun footage of the cast goofing off (to be shown during the credits) but it never made it in the final edit. It would have added that sense of fun we all enjoyed in making such a gory slasher film. I privately rehearsed my main scene with Mary Fran Lyman who played my mother. When Nelson first saw the scene, he called the cast together to watch the rehearsal. That was certainly encouraging to me! Nelson seemed to like me and later called me for other roles he was directing. He said I had a certain quality that reminded him of his old horror actor friend, Peter Lorre, (Casablanca) who he had worked with in Big Circus where Nelson played a flying trapeze catcher (which he later continued professionally for a bit - he must have really liked it). The two producers were nice guys and would show up now and again during shooting. Everyone seemed to enjoy the project.
Q: Do you keep in touch with anyone from the film?
Unfortunately, I have gotten out of touch. I stayed in contact with Jennifer Chase and the writer, Paul Elliot, for a little while (having been in another TV project he wrote, Romance Theater, with Louis Jordan), but eventually, as I left the film end of the media and went into radio in the late-80’s, I completely lost touch.
Q: This is more of a fan-based question: it is revealed Coach Neil Marshall, played by Martin Tucker, is the killer, but many fans of the film remain confused about this; the sheriff stumbles upon what appears to be YOUR body in Neil's house, but many assume it was Neil and that YOU were the killer. Do you remember if your death scene was filmed and cut, or was there extended footage making it a little less vague?
I was the prime suspect until it is revealed near the end that Coach Neil was the killer all along. I was killed in the garage (up in the attic area). The Sheriff climbed up a ladder and then my body fell down on the car hood. Some of that footage may have been cut but the final edit was pretty vague for the audience.
Here’s the problem with much of the confusion, as I understood it. David Nelson was not very involved in the final editing of the film and told me later he was disappointed that the film had been edited and put together without him. His disappointment only makes sense. The director and creative mind that filmed House Of Death knew how the pieces were designed to be put together. Without his involvement, it became a guessing game. The film ended up with a lot of confusing cuts, continuity problems, and thus created many questions for the audience. Director Nelson’s lack of involvement may have been a matter of budget restraints, I don’t really know. We were all just glad it eventually made it to the screen.
Q: Do you have anyone (aside from myself) tracking you down and inquiring about the film?
No. It’s been a lot of years and I was surprised and delighted to hear from you. Joseph, you are doing a good thing by helping fans understand the “behind the scenes” of film making. I have always loved movies and do enjoy the details of how the process comes together. I think most fans do, too! I have been fortunate to have worked with some of the greats: Charlton Heston, Kirk Douglas, Anthony Hopkins, Lee Grant, and directors like Robert Wise and Brian De Palma. It’s a fun and crazy business. I was privileged to have experienced a small part of it.
Q: What are you doing with yourself these days (if you aren't acting)?
I have been on the other side of the camera/microphone in the administrative side of radio for years now. I presently am involved with a Christian ministry that works in third world countries, helping meet the needs of some of the hardest hit people in the poorest countries. It’s very rewarding to be involved in something bigger than I am. It’s a good feeling.
Q: Do you know if there are ANY plans for a DVD release of the film in the future?
No I don’t. Not being in touch with the producers, I have not heard of any plans for a DVD release.
Thanks for the opportunity to reminisce a little. And yes, do let me know when you put the podcast episode together. I’d love to hear it.
PS: My films are listed under IMDb. There are a few other horror films I was involved in, Day Of Judgment, Audrey Rose w/ Sir Anthony Hopkins, directed by Robert Wise of The Day The Earth Stood Still, The Fury w/ Kirk Douglas, directed by Brian De Palma. If I can ever give any insight to others that fit your criteria, do let me know.
Take care! Blessings to you, Joseph, and much success in all your endeavors.
review of HOUSE OF DEATH.
Listen to an audio interview with Hanns Manship with Joseph of The Bodycount Continues.