The history of so-called “lost” movies is a long and storied one. There is, of course, Jerry Lewis’s famous 1972 Holocaust film The Day the Clown Cried, which will almost certainly never be released as long as he lives, and probably not for a good while after that.
But even today, movies are stuck on shelves or disappear completely from release schedules all the time. Some eventually pop back up. Some enter a purgatory of legal issues and creative wrangling. Some just… vanish. Cue up “Runaway Train”, because these kids have been missing for a long time…
10. Black Water Transit
This 2009 film was meant to be Tony Kaye’s follow-up to his debut, 1998’s American History X. And while that film was a little sappy, it was still really enjoyable, with fantastic performances (though it’s difficult to tell how much Kaye was actually responsible for, since he claimed the studio and Edward Norton took over the film and ousted him). Nearly a decade later, in 2007, Black Water Transit, a noir-style crime drama set in post-Katrina New Orleans, began filming.
With big names like Laurence Fishburne, Karl Urban, Aisha Tyler, Stephen Dorff and Beverly D’Angelo in the cast, you’d think someone in Hollywood would want to release this film. But you’d be wrong. What happened to it?
Lawsuits, of course. The film is finished (though in 2012, Tony Kaye said he was still editing it), but it’s only ever been screened in Cannes in 2009. Last year, the rights were taken over by financier David Bergstein, but if he plans to do anything with it, he hasn’t said so.
Let’s take a look at a small handful of horror films that still haven’t made it to the public. First, there’s 7500, a supernatural thriller set on a plane. It sounds sort of like Red Eye meets Devil, and while that may not sound like the most fascinating bit of horror in recent years, it has some decent pedigree behind it.
The film was directed by Takashi Shimizu, the creator of Ju-On and its American counterpart, The Grudge. Those films got tedious after a while, but the dude’s got a pretty good idea of what’s creepy, which can be seen in some of his other Japanese films: Marebito, Reincarnation and Tormented. It was written by Craig Rosenberg, who also wrote The Uninvited and The Quiet Ones. It’s got some pretty decent B-movie star power, too. Ryan Kwanten (who will forever be Jason Stackhouse to the world), Amy Smart and Taylor Scout-Compton are probably the biggest of the bunch.
7500 was originally supposed to be released for the 2012 Halloween season, then slipped to 2013, and in 2014 it finally had a set in stone release date… for which it never appeared. Maybe 2015 will finally be the year that it happens.
8. All American Massacre
Texas Chainsaw prequels got old before they even started making them. Hell, any of them after the original is hilarious late-night movie marathon fodder at best. But there is one possible story left to tell in the Texas Chainsaw saga that would be worth hearing.
For years, William Hooper, son of Tobe, has been trying to release All American Massacre — a prequel that tells the origins of “Chop Top” Sawyer, Leatherface’s also-murderous brother, and the rest of the Sawyer clan. Originally featured as a secondary antagonist in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Chop Top was played by none other than Bill Moseley, who returned for All American Massacre.
Reportedly, the film is set in a psychiatric hospital where Chop Top is a patient/prisoner. The story is centered on a tabloid documentary crew who interviews the man-eater, wherein he tells the story of how the Sawyers became cannibalistic weirdos. Look, it’s not high cinema, but it sounds ridiculous and fun. Like the one with Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger, but maybe not quite so ludicrous.
What originally began as a 15-minute short film was apparently eventually turned into a feature-length film, but after about a decade it’s still not seen the light of day. If you want an idea of how long it’s been in the making, check out this old archived website from back when people still watched movie trailers in QuickTime.
7. The Poughkeepsie Tapes
I very nearly included The Poughkeepsie Tapes on my list of found footage movies that don’t suck, but I didn’t for reasons that I don’t rightly remember. Maybe because it’s never been officially released and the only way to watch it is a bootlegged version that may or may not be a workprint. (According to rumors, if the film ever does get officially released, it will be a different, more polished edit.)
But the film most certainly does not suck. I have actually seen it and thought it damn decent. Some of the performances are a little wooden, but the atmosphere is fantastic. It is, essentially, a documentary of a fake serial killer who defied the authorities for years and put almost everything he did on tape.
It’s written and directed by the Dowdle Brothers, who also brought us Quarantine, the not-as-good American remake of [REC], and As Above, So Below. And while I didn’t care for either one of those two, I will stand up for The Poughkeepsie Tapes. Yeah, it’s rough, but it’s a good kind of rough. The kind that makes it feel like a student documentary of real events. It adds another layer to the film’s mythos.
The film’s been on the shelf since 2007, and it looked like it might finally get an official release in 2014, when it was ever so briefly available on DirecTV’s VOD service. It was quickly pulled, however, and hasn’t been seen since. According to John Dowdle’s Twitter, MGM owns the rights to the film and has been considering finally giving it a (probably limited) theatrical release. Here’s hoping they do.
6. Area 51
Oren Peli had a hell of a time getting Paranormal Activity released. It sat on the shelf for about five years, becoming a bit of a legend among horror fans for being so scary that festival audiences walked out on it. Finally, it got released via a weird consumer demand model, where audiences would vote for where the film would open. Once it did, though, it was a huge hit, and while it wasn’t quite as terrifying as was originally reported, it was a solid film that turned into a pretty dull franchise, as good horror films tend to do.
And while Peli now has a successful producing career, helping with films like Insidious and Lords of Salem, he has yet to release a follow up to his original movie. He did announce one, a sci-fi horror flick called Area 51, back in 2009. The brief synopsis indicate that the movie would be another found footage horror film about some friends who break into the eponymous Area and find something creepy. That’s all we know.
Since then, there’s been little said about the movie. Jason Blum, the producer (who has, himself, become a huge name in horror since Paranormal Activity), has said that Peli is still working on it, but that’s it. It seems like we’re more likely to find out what’s going on with the real Area 51 these days.
5. Unlawful Killing
Unlawful Killing, a 2011 British documentary, isn’t likely to get released in either its home country or most of the rest of the world anytime soon.
The reason why? It’s a film about the death of Princess Diana, but it also alleges that the Royal Family of Britain was directly involved in her death and covered up various aspects of it because they were uncomfortable with Diana dating a Muslim man ‐ fellow crash victim Dodi Fayed.
Now, to be clear, the film isn’t exactly unbiased. It was financed by Mohammed Al-Fayed, Dodi’s father, who has held these beliefs, and espoused them loudly, since the deaths occurred. As a result, the film doesn’t really mince words. It specifically accuses the Royal Family of organizing Diana’s and Dodi’s deaths and then enacting a conspiracy to cover their tracks.
Naturally, the film was not released in England (though it apparently could have been with significant edits). Director Keith Allen instead decided to try to release the film in the U.S. (because we all think the Royal Family is weird and creepy anyway), but he actually couldn’t obtain insurance to help protect the film from lawsuits, so he ditched the idea. And now you’ve learned that getting insured against lawsuits when you’re a filmmaker is apparently a thing.
4. Hippie Hippie Shake
If there was ever a prime time in our recent cultural history to finally release Hippie Hippie Shake, it was when Mad Men was at the height of its popularity. After all, it’s a memoir film about the 1960s counterculture movement in England. We were eating that stuff up for a while. But now that Don Draper’s adventures are winding down, who knows what’s going to happen with the long-lost movie?
Hippie Hippie Shake is the story of Richard Neville, an Australian magazine editor who brought his underground magazine “Oz” to England in the heart of the hippie movement. He met a girl, got smacked with an obscenity lawsuit, and listened to a ton of music/did a bunch of drugs. Sounds like fun, right? But it’s been nearly a decade since initial shooting, and in 2011, the production company indicated that they had no intention of releasing it.
Since then, there’s been zilch on the subject. Test screenings and industry reviews were positive, especially praising the performances of Cillian Murphy and Sienna Miller as Richard Neville and Louise Ferrier, his girlfriend. Other actors in the film have gone on to become big names themselves. Chris O’Dowd (The IT Crowd), Max Minghella (The Social Network), and Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey). You’d think someone can turn that into a marketing spiel and get this movie released, but it seems that isn’t the case.
3. Don’s Plum
It’s been 20 years since Don’s Plum was filmed, and there’s no sign of a release in sight. A low-budget black and white film student drama, Don’s Plum mostly takes place in an L.A. diner where the characters sit around and crack lewd jokes.
No wonder it hasn’t been released, you’re probably thinking. It sounds like a piece of shit. And hey, it probably is. But you’ll never see it to find out, because its stars have agreed to never release it. And why should you care? Because the stars are Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire. (Fun fact: The film’s director is R.D. Robb, who is most famous for playing Ralphie’s friend Schwartz in A Christmas Story.)
Why did they decide not to release it? No one really knows. It’s apparently not actually a piece of shit (except in that way that black and white art films are all kind of pieces of shit), but just sort of dumb. It’s been screened in Germany, but beyond that, DiCaprio and Maguire have actually gone to court to stop the film from being released anywhere else.
2. Dark Blood
Dark Blood is famous among hardcore film nerds for River Phoenix’s final performance ‐ an eerie-sounding role where he played a man named Boy who kidnaps a married couple on their second honeymoon ‐ before his death in 1993. Reportedly, the film was approximately 80–90% finished when Phoenix died, but the studio decided that there were enough scenes featuring his character that remained to be filmed that they shelved the project.
But director George Sluizer had other plans. He kept the completed footage from the film and hung on to it for 20 years. He re-edited it, tinkered with it, and even toyed with the idea of having Joaquin Phoenix dub some of his late brother’s lines. He was firmly turned down on that last one.
Instead, Sluizer simply created a cut of the film where he narrated the missing scenes. And weirdly, by all accounts, it worked pretty well. This version of the film was played for a few festival audiences in 2012, again in 2013, and once more in 2014. Unfortunately, George Sluizer also passed away in 2014. To date, there’s been no further news on an official release for Dark Blood.
1. Nothing Lasts Forever
Imagine it’s 30 years ago. The early 80’s. You’ve got a sci-fi comedy film produced by Lorne Michaels. It features Zach Galligan, Lauren Tom, Mort Sahl, Imogene Coca, and two young, promising guys named Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd. And then you never release it. That’s Nothing Lasts Forever.
The film’s plot is reportedly quite bizarre. It features Galligan as a pianist who is faking his abilities using a player piano. He’s caught and flees to Europe. After several weird, unlikely events, he returns to America where he discovers that the world is secretly run by hobos, who then send him to the moon.
Hey, I dunno. It sounds worth a watch, at the very least. But the film has been tied up in some sort of legal difficulties for three decades. No one’s been particularly forthcoming on what those are, but there’s a freaking book about the making of and lack of release of the film called “Nothing Lost Forever,” if you feel like taking a look. If you were lucky, you could have seen a bootleg copy on YouTube a few years ago, but Warner Bros. tramped that down pretty quickly.
And finally, after so many years, it may really be possible to actually see Nothing Lasts Forever. In January of 2015, Turner Classic Movies aired the film one time, in the middle of the damn night. If you missed it, they’re supposed to air it again in May (again, in the dead of night), provided nothing changes between now and then. Happy watching (maybe)!