I’m fascinated with lost and obscure films, with trying to track down movies that are unusual, rarely seen, or that might not exist at all.
In the age of the Internet, when every movie is instantly saved, copied and disseminated (sometimes before they’re even released), it’s easy to forget that in the olden days, works of art could be lost forever. Film reels caught fire, deteriorated through neglect, or were destroyed outright because they were deemed not worthy of the space they were taking up. But some survived, and are still out there waiting to be rediscovered.
While there are a ton of interesting lost movies, the films below are my personal most-wanted list of lost horror films and lost parts of horror films.
Spanning nearly the entirety of film history, these seven movies have one thing in common: You can’t see them anywhere… until someone finds a dusty unmarked film reel in a forgotten archive somewhere.
THE MONKEY’S PAW
Based on W.W. Jacobs’ “be careful what you wish for” short story of the same name, THE MONKEY’S PAW was released by RKO in 1933. The original short story is less than 10 pages long, so the film adaptation required extensive padding. Apparently, the film opens with a subplot detailing the origin of the haunted monkey paw in India, and it finishes with a twist ending not from the book.
Although it screened nationwide as a B-movie, no one knows what happened to the original negative or any prints of RKO’s THE MONKEY’S PAW. All that survives of this film are some stills, some posters, and curiously, a single review posted on IMDB. User Dick-42 says he saw the movie when he was 9, and it was “so scary that the memory has stuck with me for some 71 years.”
Sadly, Dick-42 didn’t want to reveal too much of the plot because “it would be a forbidden spoiler in case the film should ever turn up on the cable or elsewhere.” We should be so lucky.
LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET — The “CUCKOO CLOCKS OF HELL” Cut
They just don’t make them like this anymore. Released in 1977, LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET tells the story of a Charlie Manson style ex-con hippy who kidnaps four people and films their torture and murder. Despite its below-B grade look, the movie has an unsettling power. Mostly told through voice-overs and disconnected art-school visuals, DEAD END STREET is a self-referential exploitation flick that works as both a bleak autopsy of the drug generation and a balls-out, grimy-as-possible 42 Street gutter-dweller, packed with blood, guts, sex, and death.
The names in the credits are pseudonyms — director-producer-star Roger Watkins (who died in 2007) didn’t take credit for the movie until 2000 — and the film itself is so unsettling, it was bound to spawn rumors (and a cult following). Some say it depicts actual murders; that the Mexican mafia commissioned the movie as the first real snuff film.
It is also said that a three-hour cut of the movie, entitled THE CUCKOO CLOCKS OF HELL, incited riots when it was shown in New York and inspired a crowd to burn down the theater where it was shown in Chicago. Supposedly, the film’s distributors cut down the original film, excising scenes that were too shocking even for the grindhouse and drive-in crowds of the mid-1970s.
No one knows what those missing 90 minutes of LAST HOUSE contain, but supposedly the longer cut of the film sits forgotten on a shelf in a New York archive, waiting for rediscovery.
MR. SARDONICUS — The “Merciful” Ending
Schlockmaster William Castle was better known for the gimmicks he used to promote his movies than the movies themselves. The gimmick for MR. SARDONICUS (a sort of poor man’s THE MAN WHO LAUGHS) was called the “punishment poll.” Audiences were given a thumbs-up or thumbs-down card that they would flash at the appointed time, right before the end of the movie. Depending upon the results of the poll, the title character would either receive more punishment for his onscreen sins or be given mercy. Audiences, it seems, always chose “punishment” over “mercy,” so the alternate ending was never actually screened.
Some say that no mercy ending was ever shot, but Castle himself says he did shoot the nice ending, but no one ever wanted to see it. Either way, there is no known copy of this scene at this time.
Santo Gold’s BLOOD CIRCUS
In the mid-1980s, in a few media markets in the Northeast, a loudmouthed pitchman bought up huge chunks of late night television time to hawk his product: Santo Gold — cheap, gold-plated bracelets and chains you could buy by the foot. These early infomercials would run for hours in the middle of the night, and were effective enough to make mastermind Santo Rigatuso very wealthy.
Not content to hawk cheap gold, Rigatuso really wanted to direct. His vision: BLOOD CIRCUS, a horror/comedy/science fiction film starring professional wrestlers battling murderous space aliens. For some reason, Santo Gold’s BLOOD CIRCUS never found a distributor, but it was shown at at least one theater in Baltimore.
Santo ended up in serious legal trouble for credit card fraud (who could have guessed?) and his film was largely forgotten… until a few years ago. Santo Gold’s official, deliriously batshit website reported that they had located a 35mm print of BLOOD CIRCUS, and that “Limited License Rights are now available for Executive Producers.” You can apparently buy the full rights to BLOOD CIRCUS for the low, low price of only $21,000,000.
Until someone ponies up that ransom, all we can see of the film are some infomercials on YouTube, like the one shown above.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA — 1916 Version
The first film adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel is a true mystery. All that is known about it is that it was directed by Ernst Matray in 1915 and released in 1916. It starred Nils Olaf Chrisander as the Phantom, Aud Egede-Nissen as Christine, and the director himself played Raul. No stills, posters, photographs, reviews or descriptions of the film have ever surfaced.
X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES — The “Lost Ending”
Roger Corman’s excellent X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES was plenty scary, but there are rumors of an ending that was deemed too frightening for audiences at the time.
Ray Milland plays Dr. Xavier, a genius who invents eye-drops that improve vision. He tries them on himself, and soon begins to see better. Much better. 20/20 vision gives way to X-Ray vision, but soon, Xavier begins to see to the center of the Universe itself… and something terrible looks back at him.
Darkness and even closing his eyes offer no respite as he no longer needs light and can see right through his own eyelids. Tortured to near madness by the clarity of his vision, Xavier heeds the advice of a preacher and rips his own eyes out. It freezes on that last image before the credits roll. But supposedly, Corman shot an extended ending in which the anguished Xavier rips out his eyeballs, then pauses for a moment before shouting: “I can still see!”
No version of this scene has turned up, but director Corman has publicly said he filmed it, so you never know.
CRY BABY LANE
This TV movie was “lost” for over a decade, and then found. Sadly, the idea of the movie proved much better than the film itself. CRY BABY LANE was produced by Nickolodeon and aired near Halloween night in 2000. After its first showing, it never surfaced again. No foreign language dub was made. No re-airing was ever done. This was supposedly due to widespread parental complaints to Nick that the film was too dark, too violent, and too disturbing for children.
The inability to re-watch a childhood movie led to speculation on the Internet that the film was so scary it was legitimately psychologically damaging to children. It led to Creepypastas about its production, and many reports of a half-remembered film featuring conjoined twins separated with a hacksaw, a pack of killer dogs, and the burial of a child at a crossroads who is later raised from the dead at a séance. All very scary stuff… until someone found the actual movie.
Reddit user kotooni located the flick on an old VHS tape and uploaded it for all to see. In the cold light of day, CRY BABY LANE is pretty disappointing: A slightly-scarier-than-GOOSEBUMPS-style kiddie horror movie of no special note. Some films should probably stay lost.
Don’t take my word for it, though. Here’s the whole film on YouTube.