Lost and Found (Modern) Movies
(NOTE: I am not really speaking here of the famous ‘lost’ movies of the silent era and early years of cinema. I think for the purposes of this writing, I am speaking of movies from the home video era - from the late ’70s/early ’80s or so up to the present - that’s what I consider ‘modern’ cinema I guess)
Have you ever heard that a movie exists, only to find that it is impossible for you to watch it? Have you exhausted every avenue imaginable? Doesn’t it suck? Is it on par with learning that a book was written, but that there are no surviving copies? Or a television show that aired only briefly and has never been seen since and no one seems to have recorded it?
Lost art is frustrating. For myself, personally, I find lost movies to be the most frustrating. I feel like we should have known better. I imagine that there may even be situations where it is more frustrating to find a poor quality version of the movie you’re searching for than to just not find it at all. That’s the not the case for me, though. If there is a movie that I want or need to see, I will see that movie any which way that I can. IF I can.
When I hear about a movie that I want to see, the first place that I check for it is on Netflix. If it’s not on Netflix, I will usually check the video library at my work. There is also a local video store near my home where I can sometimes find out of print movies. If these avenues are exhausted, I will then look into purchasing a copy from the internet or local used media stores (like Rasputin or Amoeba in Berkeley). Sometimes I will look for a torrent, but it is extremely rare for me to torrent anything. I also usually check Amazon and iTunes - sometimes a movie that’s out of print or unavailable on Netflix will end up on Amazon and you can rent it for a few bucks. There are movies, though, that require full price purchasing in order to be seen.
If I’m reduced to purchasing a copy of the movie online, I usually look first to see if a DVD exists. If it does not, I will usually then look for someone selling a VHS-rip DVD - I remember back before THE MONSTER SQUAD was released to DVD, I bought a VHS-ripped DVD of it on the internet. I still have VHS-rip DVDs of NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE and WORLD GONE WILD, both are incredible movies in their own ways and, in my opinion, absolutely deserving of a legitimate release, but given their relative obscurity, I’m not surprised that they haven’t seen a wider/more recent release. But I’d rather watch my crappy DVDs of these movies than never have seen the movies at all. (I actually have seen NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE from a 35mm print, which I consider a true once in a lifetime experience)
My most recent challenge, though, almost did me in. I’ve been a fan of horror author Richard Laymon (RIP) for years and had always accepted as an assumption that no movies had ever been made of his books. But I recently finished reading his book In The Dark only to find out that a movie had been made of this book. Get in your time machine and take a trip back to the late 1990s. I’m talking like 1999. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT has yet to take the world by storm and revolutionize the movie industry. Two brothers around Chicago have been adapting Richard Laymon novels into screenplays and are able to secure Dick’s artistic approval and financing to shoot one of those scripts. For about $10,000 they create a movie of IN THE DARK. It’s primarily a black and white movie, with a few artsy scenes shown in color, shot on video. Richard Laymon approves of it. A lengthy and bittersweetly optimistic interview is posted to Laymon’s official website. The movie is shown at some small festivals and horror conventions.
… and disappears from the face of the earth.
Come back with me to the present day - it’s the fourth month of the year 2013 and here I sit in The Future™, finding out that this movie exists. This movie was never released to theaters, never released on VHS, DVD, LaserDisc, Netflix - Netflix wasn’t even a wet dream when this movie disappeared. But I know that there are Richard Laymon fans all over the world and there MUST be someone out there who has a copy of this movie.
I begin my Google assault. First, I uncovered an old thread on the Richard Laymon message boards. This post is dated from 2009 and contains two things: a link to MegaUpload.com where one can download the movie (MegaUpload is no longer with us and the link of course is dead), and the email address of the person in Australia posting the link. I send an email to the address and continue my search, because that’s probably a dead end.
Next I find a post from last fall (2012) on an unrelated horror fansite asking if anyone has managed to track down a short film based on Laymon’s short story The Tub. The poster mentions that she was able to track down a copy of IN THE DARK. I join the message board for the sole purpose of contacting this person about the movie. Not only does she respond, but we became rather fast friends - something that doesn’t happen to me very often on the internet. This kind of fast internet friendship seemed to come easily back in 2003, but is rather rare for me today. My new friend tells me that her physical copy of the movie on DVD is missing in action and her digital copy is on a computer with a broken screen, but she’s given copies to a few friends and she will check with them.
The next week, one of these friends comes through and BOOM. I have downloaded IN THE DARK onto my work laptop (which is totally fine with my company, but not the ideal viewing screen for me). I copy the file, which is just under a gig and a half in size, onto a DVD and take it home. That night, I cue it up in my bedroom (to play on a computer) and sit down to experience the only movie ever made of a Richard Laymon novel.
You guys, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. The acting is almost on par with CLERKS for the most part - it’s not that bad, really, and pretty impressive given the overall production value of the movie. Some actors are notably awful, but the lead playing Jane is better than I had hoped. The movie follows the book extremely well, though it rearranges the order of many of the adventures (the resulting order of escalation in the story works very well for the movie I think). The movie ends differently than the book, but I felt that the ending chosen for the movie was much more cinematic and was well done, but would not have worked in a book.
It’s magical, bordering on mystical, that this movie exists. Because if one were to adapt a Laymon novel today, one would face a huge choice - set it in the 80s or 90s before the day of cell phones and iPods or update the story and see what parts will still work. This movie was made back in the ’90s, when Richard Laymon was still alive. Remember please that he passed away in 2001 - before the iPod boom, before the smartphone craze, before the internet was quite the centrifugal force of the first world that it is today.
I would watch the movie again, but I doubt it will ever become a favorite. There are quality issues - it’s often difficult to see details in the shots, the sound quality is spotty. Honestly, I don’t think that this movie would appeal to anyone who hasn’t read the book or who isn’t familiar with Laymon’s cannon. It’s a novelty movie and it’s amazing as such. I have no regrets about tracking it down and I would have worked twice as hard to find it if I’d had to. Some movies aren’t worth the bother of tracking down, but this one definitely was.
So hang in there - there should always be a way to find a movie (mostly, I mean of course there are movies that are properly lost to the world). I thought there was no way I could find a copy of YOUNG HARRY HOUDINI, starring Wil Wheaton and then, within 48 hours a friend of mine pointed me to a torrent and I found a VHS-rip DVD which was super high quality and came with a nice, full color cover and clamshell case. There are websites out there which offer hard to find DVDs (often bootlegged) at reasonable prices. If you want to watch it badly enough, you can probably find anything. Sometimes you have to be willing to reach out blindly and often you have to rely on the kindness of strangers. Sometimes you just have to find a person who was in the right place at the right time.