Where do all the lost films usually go to be discovered? In the heyday of the home cinema (VHS, Beta or Laserdisc), circa mid-1980s, independently owned stores would stock titles that Blockbuster and other chains wouldn’t.
Some would wind up on various television channels late at night or eventually go straight go to DVD, before Youtube and other online services. Many would develop a cult following, prompting a re-release and resurgence, while others may get caught up in legal battles involving the producers, distribution disputes and/or music rights.
The following list is an eclectic mix of films that have fallen off the face of the Earth or just don’t get enough recognition, for better or curse. Some were groundbreaking or thought provoking, controversial or contrived, but forgotten for whatever reason.
A few have been legitimately released, but some can be next to impossible to track down and might turn up as bootlegs. Regardless, they are original and reflect a time when moviemakers weren’t afraid to take risks and didn’t have to worry about any hackers posting their scripts on websites or chat room critics bashing their completed projects.
1. Coonskin (Ralph Bakshi, 1975)
Deep South, a prison break is in the midst. Sampson/Brother Bear (soul singer, Barry White) and Preacher Man/Preacher Fox (award winning playwright, Charles Gordone) are driving the getaway car, while convicts Randy/Brother Rabbit (pre-Miami Vice, Philip Michael Thomas) and Pappy/Old Man Bone (Scatman Crothers) are awaiting their arrival, hidden close to prison gate.
Pappy tells Randy of the two bears and the fox, the animated version of the gang and their story begins. Rising from struggling street hustlers in the South, they battle with vicious pimps, racist, corrupt cops, a perverse religious figure and eventually take on the mob of New York City along with Miss America.
“Coonskin” was one of the first films to merge animation and live action characters, making a social commentary about American history involving racism, politics, bad stereotypes and other elements that still remain heated debates. It’s a dark satire that is meant to raise an awareness and acceptance of those who have been oppressed by brutal forces.
The director, Ralph Bakshi (“Heavy Traffic”) caught a lot of flack, yet the NAACP were supporters, but Reverend Al Sharpton’s Congress Of Racial Equality protested the film without ever even seeing it.
2. The Day Of The Animals (William Girdler, 1977)
A group of city slickers are taken on a hike in the mountainous forest of Northern California, but are unaware of the effect that the depletion of the ozone layer is having on nature’s wild animals and eventually themselves. The intense ultraviolet radiation is causing the common household pets or otherwise tame creatures to attack any humans. Hostile tempers and power struggles within the lost hikers in the mountains cause a split and fight for survival amongst all the elements.
Meant as a precautionary exploitation tale about climate change, “Day Of The Animals” was one of the many in series ecological disaster films. At times over dramatic, but effective in effort to raise awareness that all living creatures would be affected by such drastic changes.
3. Death Game (Peter S. Traynor, 1977)
At a comfortable, suburban home, George, a successful architect is spending his birthday home alone while his family is out of town. One rainy night, two beautiful blonde teenage girls, Agatha (Sondra Locke) and Donna (Colleen Camp), knock at his door, apparently lost on their way to a party. He allows for them to come in and dries their clothes.
Before long, the girls jump into his hot tub and invite him in for a menage a trois. The next day, George feels regretful and is angered that his guests have over extended their stay. However, the girls feel their fun is just beginning as they wreak havoc on the house.
“Death Game” has been remade several times over (see 1980’s “Vicious and Nude” and 2015’s “Knock, Knock”). A short time after this film’s release, Sondra Locke would become Clint Eastwood’s significant other for several years until their bitter break up and the grinding halt of her career. Colleen Camp would star in movies like “Valley Girl”, “Clue” and even the 2015 Eli Roth remake.
4. Scavenger Hunt (Michael Schultz, 1979)
When a rich, elderly game inventor (Vincent Price) dies, many of his estranged, selfish relatives along with a foursome of humble, but oppressed servants and a dimwitted cab driver show up for the reading of the will. However, the deceased has his lawyer instruct the potential beneficiaries that they are all part of a scavenger hunt and whoever wins, inherits his $200 million estate. The five teams set about their chaotic quests to acquire the items and to make the deadline.
In the vein of “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”, director Michael Schultz (“Car Wash”) puts together an ensemble of cast comedic actors such as Richard Benjamin, Cleavon Little, Cloris Leachman and James Coco to musicians like Scatman Crothers and Meat Loaf to the former Mister Universe/Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. While available briefly on VHS (and Beta), “Scavenger Hunt” has yet to be released on DVD, but is an enjoyable farce and well worth the search.
5. Ninth Configuration (William Peter Blatty, 1980)
At a remote castle in the woods is an insane asylum for military men, Colonel Vincent Kane (Stacy Keach) is a Marine Corp Psychiatrist sent in to oversee the unorthodox treatment and aid the soldiers with their recoveries.
One of the patients is a former astronaut (Scott Wilson) who had a mental breakdown and aborted a mission to the moon, is particularly aggressive, paranoid and has many heated debates with Kane about religion and the goodness of man. The rest of the inmates act out various fantasy roles with the hopes of establishing their own cures.
After the success of “The Exorcist”, author William Peter Blatty had developed another novel of his, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Killer Kane” into a screenplay, “The Ninth Configuration”. Unable to get support from any major distributor, Blatty used his own money (along with $2 million from Pepsico) and made one of the most entertaining, unpredictable and philosophical films of the later part of the 20th century. Commercially it didn’t do well, but the feature had won a Golden Globe Award for the Best Screenplay in 1981.
6. Phobia (John Huston, 1980)
Dr. Peter Ross (Paul Michael Glaser) is a psychiatrist who develops an experimental approach to treating five of his patients by projecting their phobias on a big screen in effort to confront and conquer their fears. Unfortunately, his emotionally fragile patients are driven commit violent crimes, followed by their demise in connection to each individual phobia. The police are suspicious of the doctor and question his methods, while keeping a watchful over him.
In an otherwise spotless career, John Huston’s attempt at a psychological horror film comes across more as a soap opera merged with a cop drama. Poorly paced and a predictable script, “Phobia” has never found an audience and faded from sight.
7. S.O.B. (Bake Edwards, 1981)
An aging and once a successful producer Felix Farmer (Richard Mulligan) releases a family oriented musical has flopped severely, the studio executives are angered and his wife (Julie Andrews) wants a divorce.
After several failed attempts at suicide, Felix has an epiphany about what to do with the film: turn it into a soft-core porn film and convincing his wife with a goodie-goodie image to go topless. When it seems that the new version of the film will be highly profitable, the studio executives plan to regain control of the project.
“S.O.B.”, otherwise known as “Standard Operational Bullshit”, was based on many of Blake Edwards’ own experiences with Hollywood in the early 1970s.
Unfortunately, it is often over-looked and wasn’t a commercial success, even though it was nominated as Best Picture and Best Screenplay for the Writers Guild Of American, Golden Globe and the Razzie Awards. The cast consists of plenty recognizable faces from various television shows like “Dallas”, “MASH” and “The Man From UNCLE”, even a young Rosanna Arquette.
8. Get Crazy (Allan Arkush, 1983)
It’s New Year’s Eve at the Saturn Theatre run by an independent business owner, Max Wolfe. His production crew consist an assorted bunch of misfits, anticipating one of the biggest shows of the year and maybe the last.
Max’s health is failing and an evil industry mogul, Colin Beverly (Ed Begley Junior) wants to buy out the lease and erect an oversized auditorium. A conflict arises, but the heads of the theatres’ production team (Daniel Stern and Gail Edwards) are willing to see that show goes on, however, it won’t be easy.
What could have been “Rock & Roll High School Part 2” for Allan Arkush, was thwarted by greedy minded men who sold shares for a Wall Street tax shelter group that were going to make a profit without the film ever having to be released. “Get Crazy” is a significant time capsule in the pre-Just Say No and PMRC era. The drug use and excessive partying is unapologetic and second nature. True music fans will adore the inside jokes and references to popular singers.
9. Suburbia (Penelope Spheeris, 1983)
In a working class suburb of Los Angeles, teenager Evan is driven out of his home because of his abusive, alcoholic mother’s anger. He winds up at a punk rock show, gets drugged and passes outside the club. Jack Diddley, a teenage squatter picks him up and the head to a condemned house inhabited by fellow runaways known as “The Rejected” or “T.R.” as they are branded.
They go on garage raids for food and other resources, in addition to frequenting punk concerts and committing random acts of mischief. However, they are under attack by rival punks, rednecks belonging to the Citizens Against Crime organization and the families who neglected, abused and/or molested them. Despite the odds, the kids in “T.R.” channel their survivalist instincts together to battle against their enemies.
Released in the post-first wave of the punk rock movement, “Suburbia (1983)” captures the LA Punk Scene of the early 1980s with brutal realism with a low budget and DIY method to the madness. Many of the “The Rejected” kids were real punks and features live performances by the bands D.I., The Vandals and TSOL. The director, Penelope Spheeris, is known for the documentaries “Decline Of Western Civilization 1, 2 and 3” and features like “Boys Next Door” and “Dudes”.