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You Wish These Films Existed, but They Don't

Investigating the low-budget "ghost movies" of the 70s and 80s.

If you were a cinemagoer from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, there is absolutely no way you would have seen films like Terminator Woman, Silent, But Deadly or the George A. Romero project, Apartment Living (a film about an apartment that enjoyed murdering people). The reason you would never have seen them is that they never got made, although that didn't stop them being advertised in contemporary copies of Variety.

Annoncering

It wasn't that the studios suddenly realised they were shitty ideas, as was the case with Stretch Armstrong: The Movie or Steven Seagal's Genghis Khan vehicle (which would have starred Steve himself as the great Mongol warlord-emperor). It's that the small movie studios operating at the time worked on the basis that quantity was better than quality, and carpet-bombed potential audiences with ideas that were marketed as "Coming Soon", when really they'd rarely have anything beyond a title and the vaguest idea of a plot-line ready. The belief was that if one in five of these ridiculous sounding "Ghost Films" films made money, it was OK. And invariably this chaotic and risky process worked. William S. Wilson is a Virginia resident, Fangoria writer and exploitation, horror and B-movie expert. I asked him what the hell these companies were playing at back in the day. VICE: Hi William. So who was coming up with these insane sounding films that never got made?
William S. Wilson: First and foremost I'd say Charles Band’s two companies, Empire Pictures and Full Moon Entertainment. The ratio was 5:1 in what they advertised versus what actually got made. Charles Band always says their strategy was basically to 'throw a bunch of stuff out there and see what garners interest'. Cannon Films were a close second.

Why did they have to resort to this kind of tactic? I guess they didn't have the internet to draw attention to new projects back then… Does this sort of thing still happen today?
The process definitely still occurs today. I can name countless unmade projects from the last five years. Hollywood producers – both big and small – will always look for a reason not to spend their money and waste a filmmaker's time. What you do see a little bit less of today, are the attempts to advertise something before it is made.

Annoncering

It seems like studios just wanted to get funding for a project and then once they did, they could change a title and do whatever the hell they wanted with it.
Yes, there’s this story about how Cannon went to Cannes with a Charles Bronson film for presale, and all they had was the title 10 To Midnight. No script, just the title and Charles Bronson. In fact, Cannon first billed it as a film about him fighting terrorism, but the final movie was Bronson as a cop taking on a serial killer. You gotta love that.

Apartment Living sounds fucking amazing, though: A George Romero movie about a killer apartment – what more could you ask for? Do you know anything know more about this film?
The story was pretty much that an apartment building needed to keep "feeding" on human blood and flesh to keep itself alive. As far as stars and locations, I don’t think they ever got that far. But since it was late 80s Romero, chances are he probably would have shot it in Pittsburgh. I found a Variety quote from a 1987 issue: "Apartment Living is a science fiction horror movie about an apartment that is actually alive and traps a young couple inside. Romero has done extensive preproduction on the subject and has tested special effects, but actual production has been postponed until October."

I see, the process of getting a film un-made begins. Moving on, is it fair to say that exploitation, low-budget horror and B-movies are closely linked to porn?
Yeah, they are definitely close. I’d argue that back in the day – when porn was shot on film – they were even closer. So was anyone from the low-budget unmade movie era getting involved in porn?
Sure, plenty of people started in porn and have gone on to great mainstream success. Folks like William Lustig, Wes Craven, Sean Cunningham, Roberta Findlay – all got their start in the adult industry. But the ability to transition from that genre to more mainstream fare was easier back then. Cool. Thanks William! Check out William S. Wilson and his co-writer, Thomas T. Simmons' excellent movie blog here.

Follow Charles on Twitter: @CharlesGD