Ask fans of horror movies, and they may list any number of entries as the greatest in the genre. Nosferatu (1922). Frankenstein (1931). Psycho (1960). One film appears over and over again on best of lists over the years: the 1971 technicolor classic Trip to Spooky Mansion. The story of producing this seminal classic—to say nothing of the nine sequels it spawned—has been largely a mystery outside of those involved with the production. Fortunately, iconoclastic producer Roger K. Dunwhistle has recently donated his papers to the Charles Barkley Library at the College of The Federated States of Micronesia - Yap. His correspondence with author P.G. Wafflenut (of which a selection follows) sheds light on the early creative process, begins to shed light on the notoriously reclusive Wafflenut, and adds to the already exhaustive amount of material about Dunwhistle, a man as powerful on the Hollywood scene today as he was over 50 years ago when the novel The Many Hauntings of Esther O’Rourke was first published.
June 4th, 1968
Dunwhistle International Pictures
Los Angeles, California
Allow me to present myself: My name is Roger K. Dunwhistle. I am in the Motion Picture business, specifically the spooky ones. I’ve just read your book and I think it’s absolutely dynamite, and would make one hell of a picture.
I especially like the part where the gargoyles surrounding the mansion come to life and flap their concrete wings and confuse the heroine. I can see that in the Coming Attractions now!
Do you have representation in Hollywood? I’m sure we can come to some kind of a deal.
Roger K. Dunwhistle
July 10th, 1968
The Gilded Armitage
Suva, Viti Levu, Rewa Province, Fiji
Dear Mr. Dunwhistle,
Acknowledging your very interesting letter of 14 March, and my apologies for the delayed response. I have been working on another novel, and tend to have my blinders on during the rougher patches. I believe I saw your latest release, the one about the blonde woman impregnated by the devil. Unsettling, if not actually frightening. One hopes you are not distressed by honest criticism.
The idea of becoming involved in the Motion Picture industry gives me dyspepsia. Thus, I have no representation aside from my literary agent, Mr. Whard Dinkle of Samson, Samson, and Underbite.
Furthermore, my latest novel features no gargoyles, nor have I ever published a story featuring such architectural features. Is it possible you have me confused with someone else?
July 14th, 1969
No, you’re my guy, Wafflenut! Those pesky gargoyles aren’t in your opus, but imagine if they were in the movie! Chills.
I’ve already contacted Dinkle. Real cooperative guy. Offered me rights to the book and any sequels for $17.50. Mighty agreeable of you! This is going to be the biggest picture since I had Whale shoot Bride of Frankenstein! And imagine, your name’s gonna be somewhere in there.
I always consult with the authors of my source material. With Dracula, it was a bit difficult to tune the Quija board to get messages from Stoker. At any rate, I hope I can reach you here! Big things are happening! Great being in business with you!
Production began in earnest the next year at the famed Chipperwhiff studios. Whispers about troubles on the set have become legendary, but details about the difficulties have only come to light with this correspondence. “Correspondence” may be a bit of an exaggeration, as Dunwhistle continued to write letters to Wafflenut, but after the draconian terms of their deal, no record exists of Wafflenut’s response until after the film’s release.
February 22nd, 1970
Chipperwhiff Studios, England
You’re a creative sort of guy, into solving problems and the like, let me run this one by you:
I have no idea how to end this picture. Edgar leaves the mansion before the last reel, but I have no idea how to get him back in the house before the big finale.
In the book, you had Esther go back to save her children, but that just isn’t going to work here. Do you happen to have anything that’s a little more peppy? You know, the kind of stuff that will blow their hair back on opening weekend. I have faith in you! You’re my guy!
July 19th, 1970
Chipperwhiff Studios, England
The postal service here in jolly-old England is terrible. I’m sure you rushed along an answer to my previous question, but sadly, it is probably lost to the ages.
Never fear! We worked it out with some creative editing. As it turns out, Edgar didn’t need a reason to return to the house! We just cut to the final reel, and there he is. Funny how these films work out sometimes. Every once in a while, you worry that the whole thing will fall apart, but then you realize that nothing really matters. People just want to see a decent looking fella conquer evil.
It’s truly a great business we are in, isn’t it, Wafflenut?
They exchanged letters once more after the film opened to hostile (and some say short-sighted) critical notices, and overwhelming box office receipts.
April 15th, 1971
Do you have any conception of how embarrassing all of this is to me?
May 1st, 1971
Don’t you understand that—with these receipts—you’re living the first line of your obituary? All I can say is that you should try to enjoy it.
P.S.: To show that there’s no hard feelings, feel free to send me any other books you might have in the pipeline. I’m always looking for the story for my next big release!