Netflix and your local DVD store are bursting with more movies than you could watch in your lifetime. But tragically, some of the world's strangest movies will never be available on DVD at all. The TCM database estimates that only 4.8% of all films ever made are currently available to the public. Though the Internet has been invaluable in finding strange and forgotten relics, some films, whether through accident, disaster or perceived disinterest, have been lost or temporarily displaced.
Here are 24 of the craziest movies that you'll never be able to watch for yourself.
The first "found footage" movie and a precursor to King Kong, the film involves a group of explorers encountering an ancient tribe who sacrifice women to gigantic gorillas.
Purporting to be a documentary, the film was a box-office smash at the time of its release, but ran into a whirlwind of legal troubles when an audience member recognized an "African native" who'd come straight from Central Casting. Challenging its authenticity, the MPPDA ordered Congo Pictures, Ltd., Ingagi's distributor, to cease all distribution and exhibition of the film immediately, claiming that much of it was actually shot in Los Angeles. Congo filed a suit against the MPPDA for $3,365,000 in retaliation.
By September of 1930, Photoplay Magazine uncovered that one of the film's actors had sued the producers over his salary, claiming he had been offered $6.50 per day, but was later promoted to "the gorilla division". By October, a private detective in employ of the MPPDA convinced Hollywood make-up artist Charles Gemora, known publically as "King of the Gorilla Men", to sign an affidavit swearing he played the film's lead gorilla. The detective was also able to uncover that all scenes featuring gorillas were filmed on sets built by William Selig at the Los Angeles Zoo, and that much of the African footage had been stolen from earlier films, including Lady Grace Mackenzie's 1915 documentary "Heart of Africa" — prompting another lawsuit from Mackenzie's son, Byron.
To make matters worse, the American Society of Mammalologists protested the film, taking special umbrage at a species of venomous reptile seen within called the "Tortadillo", which was later revealed to be a leopard tortoise with wings, scales and tail attached. The group demanded Sir Hubert Winstead, Ingagi's chief explorer, have his credentials checked, leading to an investigation from the Better Business Bureau which discovered no such man existed. By 1933, the Federal Trade Commission issued a cease and desist order against Ingagi, demanding the film no longer portray itself as a factual record, and in consequence resigning it to obscurity. King Kong would be released later that year.
The film's controversy proved to be a financial boon, earning Ingagi an astonishing $4,000,000 in 1930 alone, though $150,000 would go to Byron Mackenzie in damages. Ten years later, a sequel, Son of Ingagi, was released — the first genre film in history to feature an all-African American cast.
First Men in the Moon (1919)
This was the first screen adaptation of H.G. Wells classic story, in which a scientist and a businessman discover a complex civilization of insect-like beings on the moon.
It's Great to Be Alive (1933)
Essentially a musical version of Y: The Last Man, the film stars Raul Roulien as a pilot who returns home to find every fertile man on Earth stricken by a disease called "masculitis". When attempts to find a cure fail, women are left in charge of every Earthly institution – including the villainous Chicago underworld. It's then up to Roulien to take down the criminals and repopulate the planet, which he does while singing the movie's theme song.
The Strange Case of Captain Ramper (1928)
Marooned on an ice floe, Capt. Ramper (Paul Wagener) mutates into a hairy beast. Eventually rescued by a whaling ship, he is now regarded as a species of polar ape and sold to a sideshow. Treated brutally under his new ownership, Ramper finds kindness in a girl named Tony and a visiting doctor who restores his speech with throat surgery. Once Ramper's true identity is revealed, he receives tremendous financial compensation from the government and leaves the circus, taking Tony with him. Disgusted by modern living, Ramper returns to the Arctic.
Regarded as inordinately long and especially bad, this New York Times review date June, 4th, 1928 described it as, "a film that possesses the virtue of a novel idea, but even discounting the fantastic notion of the theme, it is frightfully artificial and sometimes extraordinarily silly." Less impressed were they with the creature's costume: "His hair has grown over most of his physiognomy and his body is covered like that of a Polar bear. Really, this covering does not look like anything but a fur coat. However, there you are, and there the whaler's men are."
What's especially interesting about the film, though, (one could also note this as a second precursor to King Kong) is that Max Schreck is reported to have played a series of minor roles in the film — including the physical embodiment of cold in the Arctic scenes.
Somewhere between the crossroads of Tree of Life and Begotten lies this allegorical art film from "The Father of Virtual Reality" Mort Heilig (inventor of Sensorama). Christopher Mitchum plays Creation, who engages Destruction (Jim Malinda) in a tug-of-war over the fate of Humanity (Marta) in a dialogue-free epic that was shown at the Cannes Film Festival.
This is a holy grail amongst film collectors, matched only by The Day the Clown Cried… There was no one more qualified to adapt Comte de Lautréamont's infamous novel than director Alberto Cavallone, who made a number of grotesque/erotic art films, which were in vogue at the time. Image via Nocturno.
Cavallone's adaptation was completed, though never publically screened, making the film as impenetrable as its source material. Finding a copy would be , in the words of the Comte himself, as "beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table."
The Beetle (1919)
The sole screen adaptation of Richard Marsh's bizarre and alarming novel in which an Egyptian princess and monstrous beetle have an axe to grind with a British Member of Parliament.
The Wizard (1927)
Ostensibly an adaptation of Gaston Leroux's Balaoo (though bearing very few similarities) this revenge story involves a truly awesome-looking gorilla with a human face grafted upon it, and was billed as "the most fascinating mystery romance ever filmed".
Voodoo Heartbeat (1972)
Upon discovering the U.S. is in possession of a youth serum, Red China kidnaps a group of American scientists in hopes Mao Zedong can stay in power for as long as possible. To keep the drug out of Communist hands, a rogue American scientist named Dr. Blake injects himself with the formula. Unfortunately, the serum metabolizes faster than his body can process it, creating within him an insatiable thirst for blood. Police track the now monstrous Blake, culminating in an explosive speedboat chase which ends up with Blake dead and his body withered to a mummified husk.
Director Charles Nizet had an interesting career. His 1969 film Slaves of Love concerned a group of Amazons who capture and enslave men with a giant magnet, while 1970's The Ravager was one of the first films to handle Vietnam veterans' PTSD (it involved a demolitions expert who blew up lesbians). But Voodoo Heartbeat, often presented under its alternate title, The Sex Serum of Dr. Blake, received the best reviews of his career. The film starred Max Zapata, descendent of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. In an issue of Boxoffice Magazine dated May 15, 1972, Robert Saxton, president of TWI International, the film's distributor, is quoted to say "Mike Zapata will be one of the top stars of the motion picture and television mediums during the next few years, as he has all the attributes of a James Cagney. The response was so great, says Saxton, that he already has entered into negotiations with Ray Molina Productions to make a sequel entitled "Dr. Blake's Revenge."
An actor (Terence Stamp, playing himself) is placed in a series of dangerous situations, while his fear is broadcast to the television audience. Their emotional reactions will determine whether he is sent into the future, or the past. Directed by Jérôme Laperrousaz and co-starring Jeanne Moreau, Hu-Man won the Trieste Festival of Science Fiction Films in 1976, but has strangely fallen into obscurity, and apparently no prints are available.
The debut film of experimental artist/sculptor/director Fredric Hobbs, whose later efforts would include Alabama's Ghost and the original mutant sheep movie, God Monster of Indian Flats, Troika was conceived as a three-act art piece. In the film's final segment (which sounds awesome) an eight-foot high insect wandering a Martian landscape is attacked by blue-skinned aliens (led by NBA All-Star Nate Thurmond) as a cowboy plays Wabash Cannonball.
Though to be the first campy portrayal of Batman, Andy Warhol directed the film without the permission of DC Comics and only showed it at his own exhibitions. Warhol's friend, the appropriately named Gregory Battcock, played Batman, while Baby Jane Holtzer played Catwoman. While the film itself is unavailable, some scenes are shown in the documentary Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis. (And you can watch a snippet here.) Smith played Dracula… At left: Nico and Warhol as Batman and Robin, from a photoshoot around the same time.
A Daughter of the Gods (1916)
This silent film was notorious for the first nude scene by a major star. Swimming champion Annette Kellerman starred as a beautiful young woman at odds with an evil witch. A Sultan agrees to help the witch kill Kellerman, if she will bring his son back to life in return.
Kellerman was born with leg problems, and wore painful metal braces until she overcame her disability by swimming. She won a number of swimming titles and made three unsuccessful attempts to swim the English Channel. Kellerman was also arrested for indecency while wearing a scandalous one-piece bathing suit and is credited with inventing synchronized swimming.
King Kong Appears in Edo (1938)
King Kong attacks Edo (now Tokyo) in one of Japan's first giant monster films. The film's innovative special effects, including the ape suit, were created by Fuminori Ohashi, who would go on to work on Godzilla. The movie was not shown in theaters after its initial release, and was likely destroyed by the bombings of Japan during World War II.
Heartbeat in the Brain (1970)
After shaving her hairline, donning a floral cap and constructing protective eyewear from a pair of sunglasses and medical tape, 27-year-old art student Amanda Feilding injects herself with an anesthetic, peels the skin from her forehead with a scalpel, and begins to drill into her own frontal bone with a foot operated dentist's drill in this documentary/art piece about the "science" of trepanation.
Said Feilding, "Drilling a hole in one's head is really a nerve battle, doing something which obviously every instinct in your body is against. In a sense it's quite satisfying that one can overcome one's nerves to do it." She had tried for years to find a surgeon to operate on her, as she was certain the procedure would improve her brain function as it had for a boyfriend who had drilled himself. When no one would she decided to do it herself, and filmed the process to share with "small invited audiences". A reviewer who saw the film in 1978 reported that when Feilding finally drills through the bone and grins victoriously as blood spurts down her face, several members of the audience fainted, "dropping off their seats one by one like ripe plums."
You can watch parts of the movie in the documentary A Hole in the Head, but the actual film hasn't been seen in years. It is assumed that Feilding has a copy of her own.
Go and Get It (1920)
Wrestling legend Bull Montana plays a murderous gorilla with a human brain transplant who is tracked by a feisty newspaper reporter.
Never the Twain (1974)
Brad Grinter, director of Blood Freak (the legendary monster movie in which marijuana transforms a man into a mutant turkey) and Flesh Feast (where Veronica Lake, in her final role, uses revitalizing facial maggots to zombify the corpse of Adolf Hitler) managed to top himself with his long-lost penultimate film. The premise: After regular guy Richard Webb (Ben Finney from Star Trek's Court Martial) is possessed by the ghost of Mark Twain, the unlikely duo attend the 1974 Miss World Nude Pageant. (Twain was played by Ed Trostle, who also played the author in Mark Twain, American –- another missing film.)
Grinter, a staunch advocate of the nudist lifestyle, appeared in at least one "nudie cutie" himself, 1970's The Sweet Bird of Aquarius, excerpts of which can be seen as a special feature on the DVD release of Blood Freak. We contacted director Frank Henenlotter, whose Something Weird Video distributes Grinter's extant films, and he told us: "Unfortunately, I don't believe the film was ever officially released. It sounds so insane, I would love to."
For Grinter diehards, though, hope springs eternal. In 2009, his long lost final film, Barely Proper, about a schoolteacher put on trial when the town discovers she is also a nudist ,was discovered in an Ebay auction won by David Szulkin of Grindhouse Releasing, so a Never the Twain print may surface yet.
Amanita Pestilens (1963):
A Montreal suburbanite obsessed with his award-winning lawn goes off the deep end after finding it overrun by a strange fungus. When his neighbor identifies the mushrooms as the species of the title ("tainted love") he stops at nothing to eradicate them, leading to a deadly confrontation.
It's strange that a movie with such a unique pedigree could fade into obscurity. It's the first Canadian film to be shot in color, the first to be shot in both English and French versions, while retaining the same cast, and it also features the first screen appearance of actress Genevieve Bujold as the madman's daughter. As for its survival status, the film reportedly aired once in 1998, the first time in over thirty years, on the Canadian TV channel Moviepix, and has been shelved ever since.
Curse of the Moon Child (1972)
Adam West confronts a cult of demonic children in Victorian London performing necromancy and human sacrifice — all of whose members were born under the sign of Cancer.
The film was the pilot for Zodiac, a twelve part series of TV movies from Gold Key Entertainment. Future installments would have included titles as Vengeance Of Virgo, starring Christopher Lee, The Left Hand of Gemini with Ian McShane, Joan Collins in The Aquarian and The Aries Computer, starring Vincent Price, which would have involved a supercomputer conquering an overpopulated Earth. Sadly, the series was cancelled , but story ideas from unproduced episodes were later repurposed for the short-lived 1974 comedy/crime series from Thames Television — also called Zodiac.
Sinews of the Dead (1914)
According to a 1914 issue of Moving Picture World, "A more harrowing conception than the theme of this picture could hardly be dug up. It is illogical, disgusting and not deserving of further comment, except that it is well acted, directed and photographed." Despite boasting one of the most exquisitely lurid titles in horror, very little is known about this film, including its director and performers.
But the film's premise makes it the first of its kind: A manufacturer has his hand crushed, and in order to resume work, a doctor must graft new flesh and muscle upon it. He learns afterward the flesh from his new hand had been taken from a strangler, recently put to death on the scaffold for killing women. The thought preys upon his mind until it eventually ruins him — he's then confined to a mental institution, totally insane. The killer hand genre is thought to have its origins in Maurice Renard's 1920 story, Le Mains Du Orlac, but evidently there was an antecedent: Arthur Cheney Train's novel, Mortmain, about evil hand transplants gone awry, was published as early as 1907, and adapted into its own film in 1915, under the same title (also lost). It's supposed Sinews of the Dead may have garnered inspiration from both. But unless a new contender reveals itself, Sinews of the Dead holds the distinction of filmdom's flagship approach to the "alien hand" genre.
While London Sleeps (1926)
Inspector Burke of Scotland Yard tracks down master criminal London Letter, who commands a monstrous Man-Ape called the Monk and a clever dog named Rinty (Rin Tin Tin). When another dog bests Rinty in a fight, the German Shepherd is rescued by Burke's daughter Dale. Letter has the Monk kidnap Dale, and Rinty fights and kills the monster to save his new owner.
One Glorious Day (1922)
Psychologist Professor Botts (Will Rogers) is chairman of a spiritualist society who claims he can to leave his body and reappear in ghost form. As it happens, "Ek", a violent spirit from Valhalla, enters his body during the ritual, and the two set off to thrash scheming politicians and the scoundrel who has designs on Botts's secret love, Molly. When the spirit leaves, Botts returns to corporeal form, learns Molly's feelings are reciprocal, and is nominated for mayor as direct result of the Ek-inspired exploits.
One Glorious Day was a childhood favorite of monster connoisseur Forrest J. Ackerman, who once claimed it was the first movie he had ever seen (and would later coin the term "science-fiction" as an indirect result). Over the years, he was able to collect a number of promotional images and materials for the film, but unfortunately, never a print itself. The premise, and name "Ek", would also inspire Dave Wood and Sheldon Moldoff with the creation of Batman villain Dr. Simon Ecks, (Doctor Double X) as well as the title creature of an Outer Limits episode, "Behold, Eck!"
A pair of extra-terrestrials played by Zoot Money (Sagittarius) and Jane Bates (Aries), come to Earth to investigate its pop culture, but find themselves obsessed with garage rock instead. Featuring music and appearances from freakbeat bands and Nuggets contributors Dantalion's Chariot (which included Andy Summers, future guitarist for The Police), The Brian Auger Trinity, Blossom Toes and The Idle Race, as well as Brenton Wood, Luiz Bonfa and the entire 1967-68 roster of Giorgio Gomelsky's Marmalade Records, this otherwise silent and largely improvised musical, self-financed by director Fred Marshall, was described by the Monthly Film Bulletin as a "fragmentary and undisciplined pop-culture collage, intermittently lively but consistently over-indulgent" upon its eventual release in 1970 – coincidentally, the year it was set in.
Though intended to be a lighthearted look at swinging London through the eyes of alien visitors, the film itself became an object of obsession for freakbeat enthusiast Peter Prentice, who had taken in a rare arthouse screening as late as 1984. He told Wiped News, "How could a film I saw as late as 1984 have been allowed to go missing? I had always assumed it was safely tucked up with the BFI or some such venerable cinematic organisation. Shows how naive I was!" After an exhaustive search, Prentice was eventually able to locate five-hundred feet of Popdown footage in Hong Kong, but unfortunately, the print had shrunk, and is in dire need of expensive restoration before it can be screened. His search continues.
The Last Moment (1923)
An ape-like monster called The Thing enforces discipline on a ship until Hercules Napoleon Cameron (Henry Hull) stands up to the creature, which he throws from the deck into the sea where it is eaten by a giant abalone.
This is apparently more of a melodrama featuring a love triangle between the incredibly named Hercules Napoleon, actress Doris Kenyon, and the ship's captain, known only as The Finn. The monster itself is kept in the shadows until the bizarre climax. Which we'll never get to watch, sadly.