The unreleasables

It’s tough making a movie. Think about a movie you’ve seen that you hated. No matter how bad it was, I guarantee it was tough to make. A movie is like a machine—there are lots of moving parts and they all need to be oiled and synchronized. I’m always intrigued when, after all the work that goes into it, a movie just never gets released or gets so radically re-worked that the story behind it becomes more interesting than the movie itself. Here’s a look at a few movies with sordid pasts. Some of them you may have seen, most of them, you probably haven’t.

Inchon (1982)


Never heard of it? I’m not surprised. This rendition of General Douglas MacArthur’s 1950 invasion of Inchon during the Korean War barely escaped into cinemas in September of 1982. Budgeted at a whopping $46 million the film was laughed off screens and barely grossed $5 million at the box office. To this day it’s never been given an official video release. It’s not hard to see where this one went wrong. Reverend Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church financed almost the entire thing, unbeknownst to the cast and crew. Director Terrance Young, a Bond film veteran, claimed the film was turned into a “Korean propaganda film” and Sir Laurence Olivier, who certainly gives one of his worst performances as MacArthur, was open about appearing in the film strictly for his $1 million salary. I’ve actually seen Inchon and while it’s impressively staged, it’s the worst kind of bad: humorless, boring, and lifeless.

The Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)

Exorcist: the BeginningDominion

It’s no shock that the Exorcist franchise has fallen apart since the original film (though “Part III” is not bad) – it’s a tough act to follow. Development on a prequel following Father Merrin’s (Max Von Sydow in the original film) first encounter with the Devil began with veteran director John Frankenheimer (Ronin) in the director’s chair. When he bowed out due to illness, the reigns were handed to Michigan native Paul Schrader who has written a couple films you might know, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. Stellan Skarsgård took over the Father Merrin role and cameras started rolling in late 2002. After Schrader turned in his cut, producers were shocked to find a more “cerebral” film that lacked the gore and shock FX that bring out a teenage audience on opening weekend. In the edit room it was decided that the film the producers wanted did not exist. Thus, Schrader was removed, a new script was written, and Renny Harlin took over the director’s chair. Harlin has done a few films you may know too, like The Adventures of Ford Fairlane and Cutthroat Island. Stellan Skarsgard retained the Father Merrin role and 90% of the film was reshot with a new cast and crew. The resulting film had all the blood and gore the producers could want and they got their opening weekend (it took first place, nabbing $18 million). In 2005, Schrader’s cut was released to video under the title Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. The verdict: They both suck! Harlin’s version is a violent, ugly, and trashy film; it couldn’t be further removed from the original’s sense of dread and terror. Schrader’s version is just plain boring. There’s no atmosphere, no suspense, and no momentum. It’s easy to see why the producers were fearful of turning off audiences. I say shoot the damn thing one more time. Third time’s the charm, right?

Cursed (2004)


Rarely does a film live up to its title like Cursed does. A re-teaming of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson, it was meant to re-capture some of the Scream magic. Epic fail. The film originally told the story of three strangers who find themselves drawn together following a werewolf attack. Skeet Ulrich, Illeana Douglas, Heather Langenkamp, Scott Foley, Omar Epps, Robert Forster, James Brolin, Corey Feldman, and Mandy Moore all had roles which were filmed before the producers (the ubiquitous Weinsteins) decided that the script wasn’t working. Production shut down and ramped up again months later with a new script that re-tooled the plot so completely that every cast member listed above is absent from the finished film. Cursed came out in February 2005 to tepid reviews and box office. The original version of the film has never been released and it’s doubtful it will ever see the light of day. It can’t be any worse than the version of Cursed we have now, which easily sits at the bottom of Wes Craven’s filmography (right below Vampire in Brooklyn).

The Day the Clown Cried (1972)

The Day the Clown Cried

Perhaps the most infamous film on this list. Jerry Lewis starred in and directed this controversial drama (comedy?) about a down-and-out circus clown (named Helmut Doork!) in WW2 who gets imprisoned by the Nazis and finds himself entertaining children at a concentration camp, keeping them occupied as they are led to the gas chamber. Behind-the-scenes legal battles kept the film from being completed, even though principal photography was finished, and nearly 40 years later, the film remains unreleased and unseen by all but a few. Reportedly, Lewis has the only known copy of the film in a vault in his office. Over the years a lucky few have seen it, including Harry Shearer (of This is Spinal Tap fame) who said, ”This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is. ‘Oh My God!’ — that’s all you can say.” Lewis hasn’t spoken about the film in years and, when recently asked about an eventual release, responded curtly, “None of your goddamn business!”

2 Responses to “The unreleasables”
  1. dongtacular says:

    Great list, I haven’t heard of most of these. It’s interesting, as you describe, how the story of how a film struggled to get made trumps the film itself.

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