On Tuesday afternoon, someone in Reddit's Movies community put up a post with the very long title: "Fifteen years ago my friend's dad spent a million dollars making a movie starting Adam West. He finished it but never released it because it was terrible—we finally convinced him to upload it to YouTube."
The movie is called Seance (a.k.a. Killer in the Dark), and the guy said to have put up all that money to make the horror movie of his dreams is Rick Vasquez, who, according to the author of the post, based the screenplay on his own experiences with a ghost when he was a kid.
Another Reddior, named griffinilla, claims to work with Vasquez and wrote in the comment thread he's the one who finally convinced Vasquez to let him chop the movie into ten parts and upload it to YouTube. According to griffinilla, there's a sad story behind the movie:
Rick had a very successful Traffic Control business here in LA. The million dollars [that financed the film] came entirely from his own pocket. You wouldn't know it by looking at him but apparently he was once very rich and well connected. Unfortunately, his business went under while he was making this film. Other traffic control companies (including, most notably, one owned by Rick's cousins) stole all his clients while he was away. He was broke for a while. And he never made a dime on the film!
A user on the Seance message board on IMDB who seems bizarrely knowledgeable about the film had an alternate explanation for the movie's non-release in a 2011 post. Vasquez didn't think the film was "terrible," according to user camink_inc, he pushed for a theatrical release that never happened, then a video-on-demand release via an "upstart internet horror network TBA," which also never happened. (The 2011 post claimed there would be a 2011 or 2012 DVD release through Amazon, but that doesn't seem to have happened either.)
Regardless of the film's shaky production and distribution history, it's an undeniably strange cultural artifact. If you don't have time to watch the whole thing, here's what it's like:
It's the story of John (a goateed and spiky-haired Corey Feldman) who had a ghost friend named Michael when he was a kid, but the ghost tried to kill his mom, and he had to have it exorcised. One day, at a party, grown-up John and his friends hold a seance, hoping to contact the murderous ghost using a mystical chant that goes "Michael Miller, come to me!" The group experiences a vision of a murdered pizza man, and magical stab wounds appear on John, but the wounds go away, so the friends all go to sleep.
The next morning, it turns out the pizza man really was murdered. In order to make the ghost they summoned go back to the afterlife, they visit John's grandma, but she gets possessed by the ghost, and threatens them. Then she collapses and tells John, "I'm old and I'm poor. Never despise the poor, mijo."
Soon, the ghost—along with its friend, a creepy dude who also has a goatee—starts killing members of the group. They begin by impaling Laura with a spike just after a sideboob-heavy shower scene.
When John visits the scene of the murder, Adam West's character shows up for the first of a series of single-shot appearances. He plays a mysterious, angelic soothsayer who seems to be really into Jesus. The soothsayer tells John, "Life is short, my friend, and to be treasured."
One of John's friends boots up his computer and uses JazzySearch.com to search the World Wide Web for the killer. They find out that he lives next door. The internet was remarkably helpful even back in 2000.
The ghost and John's next door neighbor keep their killing spree going. They engineer a car crash that puts John's girlfriend in a hospital, then the ghost possesses John and forces him to suffocate her while she's stuck in bed. Later, the ghost possesses a computer, causing a CD-ROM to eject at throat-slitting velocity, killing John's friend, Eric.
There's a (spoiler alert) climactic showdown with the killer, whom John ends up shooting in the head. Then the ghost grows into a full-grown man-ghost. So Adam West appears and banishes the ghost to hell with an energy blast from his hands.
Finally, once everything calms down, we see that all of our heroes are alive again, and it's the night of the party that started this all. Everything was apparently a vision they had during the initial seance.
There were more special effect shots than we could count—definitely more than there would typically be in a $1 million movie—so we reached out to visual effects supervisor Bob Wasson of VFXLab to find out what it was like to work on the set of Seance.
Related: Watch our documentary about remaking Indiana Jones shot-for-shot.
VICE: What was it like working on Seance?
Bob Wasson: I guess overall it was fun. It was a really low-budget project for us, but at the time—this was the early 2000s, and I came from a background of doing physical effects—my best friend was just getting into doing computer effects, so we were experimenting with merging CGI with practical effects. CGI was just starting to become mainstream, and we were experimenting with how to get the most out of the very minimal budget we had.
What did the work consist of?
We're talking about trying to create cinema effects on a Pentium 90 with a two-gig hard drive. My buddy and I were dragging desktop computers to the set and trying to do green-screen compositing on the fly.
What about the rest of the crew?
It was a fairly green crew. I think it was Rick's first and probably only film. He had hired a guy named John Preston to direct the film, and John was more like an industrial or commercial filmmaker. It was kind of new ground for most everyone working on it.
Technical question: What was the format?
It was shot on DV tape. It was right as digital videotape was starting to take off. By today's standards it was pretty low-res. 28 Days Later and a few other films successfully pulled it off, but of course they had much bigger postproduction budgets. Every few years there's a boom where people realize, "Hey, we can get away with this to make a movie." A few years ago it was DSLR cameras.
How was it working with Corey Feldman?
I'd worked with him before on a movie he made when he was a teenager called License to Drive, with Corey Haim. I was close in age to him. It was like "Hey dude, remember me? We worked on that thing together." So there were scenes where I had him covered in blood, and in between takes we were recounting stories of License to Drive.
Did you expect it to find an audience?
In the early 2000s, there wasn't really the market you see now, with on-demand video and stuff like that. But people were trying to get stuff released theatrically, or on home video. I don't think anyone working on this thought it would get a theatrical release, other than maybe the producers, and I think maybe Corey Feldman.
Did you think it would be lost forever?
It wasn't a masterful script, and obviously with the low budget, I'm sure that it doesn't stack up very well against most of the films that are out there, but you see terrible movies all the time. So I couldn't imagine that they wouldn't get any distribution for it, since it had Adam West and Corey Feldman.
Did the script cause problems on set?
There were a lot of revisions being made on the fly, where we said, "OK, this person couldn't be here, or this location went away, so how do we fix this?" I remember having brainstorming sessions, and people tossing out ideas. What ended up onscreen is probably quite a bit different from where they were originally headed, in some ways, probably for the better, and in some ways probably for the worse.
So overall, was this something you were glad you got to do?
It was a fun experiment for me, but it holds a special place in my heart, believe it or not. My buddy who worked on it with me passed away like two years later from cancer. It was like, his final thing that he got a chance to be a part of. He was really pushing the envelope considering the tools we had at our disposal. Regardless of whether the movie is cheesy and the effects are dated, it's one of those moments in my history that stands out as special.