Lost But Not Found: The Plight of Independent Horror Film Distribution

Lost But Not Found: The Plight of Independent Horror Film Distribution

If you want to know how is to benefit from any commercial business venture the old adage holds up quite nicely:  Follow the money … except if your independent horror filmmaker or a horror movie fan. Chances are good that the money didn’t flow directly into your wallet or past your potentially favorite new release, and furthermore you had little say on the money getting their anyway.  With an unprecedented volume of individuals throwing their dark brown fedora into the ring it’s been the status quo to see some films aspire to lofty greatness while other fall apart in pre or post production. Still others make it to the festival circuit and wind up without a distribution deal. Then there is a special class of film; movies that actually have distribution deals, but, due to any number of legitimate or speculative reasons, do not actually receive worldwide distribution. With a great majority of innovative horror pictures coming out of foreign countries (that would be foreign to the United States) we end up chasing films that might never see the light of our DVD player’s infrared laser.

It’s a century old problem. Movies are produced and un-distributed due to financial backing falling through. Sometimes films are just too controversial to be distributed in certain countries and there’s a national censorship that prevent the film loving world from getting a glimpse at the “good stuff”. If a film can’t get the butts in the seats, if a studio can’t find a way to market the film in a favorable light, if the major studio thinks that the distribution of such film is not a smart business decision… to the shelves with that film! But this is not an article about the film that didn’t get made and most have been distributed in some fashion. These films are awaiting the steady hand of a graphic desi
gner alongside a translation into English subtitles and are ready to receive your money via internet distribution. Most of these movies won’t see the light of a Wal-Mart shelf. Independents are rarely afforded that luxury.  The cruel part for the horror fan is that the films in this particular listing actually made it into the homes of many a viewer and into the theatre circuit with limited distribution or festival distro only; just not in the United States.  Does our money purchase cups of coffee any differently than the Euro (aside from the exchange rate and strange ordering instructions)? Do our dollar bills when paired with the ecommerce site, PayPal, take any longer to fill the distro company’s coffers? If you prick us, do we not ask for a ten percent discount on our first order?To understand the whole mess let’s talk about a little movie called The Haunted House of Horror aka The Haunted House of Terror aka Horror House. Here’s a movie that starts off in the hands of media giants. It stars Frankie Avalon and is released 1969 when he was at his peak of popularity. Avalon, no stranger to films, has had many a film distributed with major studio distribution and quite a few of them have made it to our beloved VHS format… only not The Haunted House of Horror.  Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine made it to distribution, and while I adore the theme song and co-star, Vincent Price, it’s probably just as B-grade as any Ed Wood film. So you can find Dr. Goldfoot on VHS. You can find Goldfoot on DVD.  Hell, in a year or two this one will make it to Blu-Ray. You can’t find the Haunted House of Horror on any format. It made it to television but not into your home video collection. As of yet I haven’t discovered a reason, but my guess is your better sticking with Michael Armstrong’s other work, Mark of the Devil. Other films would follow suit in the horror genre:  The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975) and The Karen Carpenter Story (yes, it is horrifying) to name a couple.

The most recent dilemma in popular culture, mass release, priced to own movie distribution has been the plight of the VHS cassette tape. As youngsters we were convinced that we could own any number of movies FOREVER!  The invention of the VCR turned film distro into magnetic tape packaging and then put it, affordably, in your home (and at its best with beautiful box art and excellent marketing materials). While few movies didn’t make the jump to VHS, it was often in the best interest of distribution companies to get as many cheaply produced copies into the public’s hands as possible. In the 80’s some distribution companies were virtually printing their own money. As the boom came to a head, we’ll refer to it as the VHS Bubble, the demand was high for any feature a new  distribution company could make a buck at releasing even movies that barely made it onto magnetic tape forget celluloid altogether. When the bubble burst, many companies changed distribution methods, went belly up or found themselves without an audience. As with early Hollywood the problem was in part due to oversaturation. Only so many dollars can be spent on the pure, unadulterated luxury of the VHS tape and there are only so many companies that can share in the market share. When combined with the evolution of the second cousin to the laser disc, the DVD, and VHS markets soured quickly, fans switched formats and films got as lost as Hansel and Gretel sans bread crumbs. I won’t belabor the rise, fall and reemergence of the VHS tape as there are articles abounding on this, but when it was all said and done some movies still haven’t made it to DVD for any number of financial, contractual or legal reasons: Rocktober Blood, New Year’s Evil, The Mutilator, Blood Beach, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors ( which made its DVD debut in Britain but not in the US… a personal favorite as you might imagine), The Haunting of Julia aka Full Circle, Summer Camp Nightmare… it’s not even a case of unwanted movies; it’s a reality of the flaws in the distribution chain. Fans don’t vote their favorite movies into a format of their choosing; Distribution companies making business decisions that dictate availability.

Enter the modern age of horror film production and distribution.  Economic times are tough. There’s clearly an independent voice in cinema which is a blessing and a curse for the American horror constituency. More horror films means a greater chance for a truly scary, innovative picture to be made but oversaturation of this type of picture means distribution becomes more focused.  Why the deadly blessing? Independent films have an edge on the horror fan who expects clever attacks on their social mores with bathtubs full of violence. The foreign filmmaking subset of the Indy bunch excels at giving audiences more gore and testing the boundaries of taste and norms. It’s a smorgasbord of juicy films. It’s a great time to be a horror fan, ain’t it? Filmmakers can distro their own films for peanuts with Al Gore’s internet bumping out video channel after file sharing network.  DVD-R’s are as cheap as can be. Buy a burner; make a movie… insta-distribution. Or so we all would like to think…

There’s no such thing as a free lunch. VHS distributors knew that when they didn’t release films into an oversaturated market (sorry Frankie Avalon). DVD distributors knew it when they didn’t put every title out on DVD even in face of public demand for many VHS titles (let’s hope that changes). Some contract disputes or distribution models don’t meet the cost benefit analysis for a proper release i.e. the recent effort to have a proper release of Mark Herrier’s Popcorn (wish Kristy Jett well on this labor of love).  With the most recent format jump to Blu-Ray, even with DVD’s as popular as ever, combined with the financial instability caused by the international housing bubble and world debt crisis some movies are bound to be treated as a hot commodity while others will be distributed in limited release, if at all in test marketing scenarios or solely in the country of origin because who would want to see foreign horror movies in the United States, right? That’s why Hollywood made Quarantine rather than pumping [REC] to them in full blown, nationwide theatrical release, right?  This distribution model and economic analysis of for the film industry is leading the charge at seeing every film remade. Even in a studio’s failure a film will make back some money. Everyone remembers the original.

Horror fans are not the ethnocentric, xenophobes that Hollywood and major distribution chains think we are. We’re cultured. We don’t mind subtitles and usually prefer a movie not be dubbed (unless dubbed so poorly that we laugh while being grossed out).  We don’t even mind less than perfect film quality. We’re a group of Herschell Gordon Lewis lovers. We love the B and cult films… so why is it that the Weinsteins saw fit to sell All the Boys Love Mandy Lane to a company whose distribution arm never took off, effectively shelving it? Why do the Brits and the French get to enjoy Djinns while we wait for a knight in shining distribution-spurs to give us a proper DVD release?  It’s the entertainment business, right? It’s a business.  Spend the cash, see the movie. The following movies have not received proper U.S. distribution as of yet and there are no plans to distribute them at this time. Some won’t receive distribution anywhere and others, despite positive public sentiment will not be fully completed and released. That’s not to say that distributors won’t change their mind or, through negotiations, we might not see mass releases of some of these highly anticipated films, you just can’t see them due to legal or business reasons.

Here’s a list of movies that haven’t been distributed in the United States at all, carry Region Free encoding for their release but were not intended for U.S. distribution or simply have not been distributed at all. Take note of your favorites on this list and maybe pay the distribution company a call to release the film of your choosing. Maybe you’ll spur them to action and help save a movie from the vaults.

 

ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE (2006)

Synopsis:

“A group of high-schoolers invite Mandy Lane, a good girl who became quite hot over the summer, to a weekend party on a secluded ranch. While the festivities rage on, the number of revelers begins to drop quite mysteriously.”

Fate:

Of all the movies on this list I dare say this has the best chance to get proper distribution in the United States. When the Weinsteins sold it off, the new distribution company under the media holding company experienced some difficulty that was never resolved. It remains shelved despite actually making a few dollars. It’s on a shelf for pure business; logistical issues that we hope are ironed out soon.

THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES (2007)

Synopsis:

“When hundreds of videotapes showing torture, murder and dismemberment are found in an abandoned house, they reveal a serial killer’s decade-long reign of terror and become the most disturbing collection of evidence homicide detectives have ever seen”

Fate:

This one made it all the way to YouTube, but was promptly removed due to a legal challenge. Copyright infringement be damned. It experienced a limited release and, as of yet, no release in sight. Apparently you can hop over to trusty Netflix and “Save It”. Having experienced the illusion of satisfaction wrought by the “Save” option, I’d recommend the “Don’t Hold Your Breath” option. It’s more realistic. You’ll just keep hoping that the movie was lost and is awaiting a restock, but it’s not.

WORST CASE SCENARIO (2006)

Synopsis:

“When a faux World Cup finale between Germany and the Netherlands doesn’t end to the Germans liking, a revenge zombie invasion is the outcome. We’re not talking about rioting futbal fans. We’re talking the real, garden variety zombie. When a group of friends attempts an escape, they meet the zombies head one. There’s no red card when the living dead are on the field.”

Fate:

Reviewed as the” Best Film Ever Made”, but the word on the website is that the film has been shelved due to financial difficulties. At least the creators came right out and said. Money issues. It’s not uncommon, but with positive reviews and a fun poster and website one wonders what might have become of this one. Maybe an angel investor will come and finish off the project. There was a promo DVD released at some point and it did play the festival circuit. The promo DVD is sold out, but I would vote on distributing the promo DVD on eBay and auction them off to get completion funds. It’s like printing money, right? Who wouldn’t want a copy of the promo DVD of this unreleased gem?

UNDOCUMENTED (2010)

Synopsis:

“A documentary crew accompanies a group of illegal immigrants crossing the Border, but their plans run afoul when they are captured by a gang of sadistic radicals in New Mexico.”

(unable to locate a trailer)

Fate:

You want a film with great reviews? You got it! You want a film so controversial it might as well say banned in the United States on the DVD? You got it.  It hasn’t been distributed at least in part due to the current state of the immigration debate in America.  Whether that’s the only reason one cannot say. Maybe when the dust settles and both sides of the aisle and both the Senate and House of Representatives give compromise a try we’ll get to watch our horror films without being referred to as aliens or illegal. I guess as horror fans, we would prefer the term aliens. It’s in our blood. Hope for the best. It was acquired by IFC Midnight in July, so maybe the time is now.

THE LOVED ONES (2009)

Synopsis:

“When Brent turns down his classmate Lola’s invitation to the prom, she concocts a wildly violent plan for revenge.”


Fate:

Who doesn’t love a nice teen revenge plot? We haven’t seen this on the DVD shelves yet because it flopped in its theatrical release. It did perfectly fine (more than fine) in the theatre circuit. It got stellar reviews but sounds like either a funding issue or a case of the dreaded mis-marketing. The trailer looks at least as good if not better than half the drivel being pumped into the tween brain.  It received distribution in the PAL format. That pretty much means you have to be a semi-savvy tech dork to get this one moving on your home theatre and wasn’t meant for U.S. eyes.  At least it’s available even if PAL is stamped across its image on Amazon.com.  Might as well be a giant, red “A”.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2: TOKYO NIGHT (2010)

Synopsis:

“The project is a direct continuation of the events of Oren Peli and Jason Blum’s original and takes place in Japan as a girl who visited San Diego as an exchange student unwittingly brings the evil that haunted Katie Featherston into her family’s house. The film chronicles the young woman’s videotape recordings in their house and the shocking realization of the supernatural force that her family must defeat.”

Fate:

I was surprised to not find this immediately for U.S. distro. Yes, it’s on YouTube and of course the “I don’t own the rights” statement is going to prevent it from being removed, right? I guess there’s nothing to be worried about here.  The United States has our own Paranormal Activity 2 and a third installment on the way just in time for Halloween (It’s the new Saw in that respect). Whether your taste in faux documentary style horror allows you to enjoy this picture or not at least you have two to choose from. At least in the rest of the world.  I’m sure that PA2 and PA2: TN don’t want to fight it out in a cage match for better faux doc sequel. Now revenues generation, the American release might take the challenge up wholeheartedly.

THE BLACK WATERS OF ECHO’S POND (2009)

Synopsis:

“Nine friends take a holiday at a Victorian home on a private island and uncover a game that when played brings out the worst in each of them. Jealously, greed, hatred, lust, all of the things they keep buried deep inside themselves rise to the surface and come to a boil.”

Fate:

This movie went from the Freak Show Horror Film Festival to limited theatrical release to… NOWHERE! No release as of yet on DVD and no release in sight. It’s got a poster that’s inspired but screams Stuart Gordon  Dagon. That’s not exactly a bad thing. There are some big name horror veterans in this one: Danielle Harris and Robert Patrick… oh and Richard Tyson from Kindergarten Cop. I didn’t realize he’d been in EVERYTHING!

CAGED AKA CAPTIF (2010)

Synopsis:

“Somewhere in Eastern Europe. Carole is a young nurse with a humanitarian aid group that has reached the end of its mission. But just then, the young woman and her two colleagues are kidnapped by strangers for mysterious reasons. Held captive, cared for and kept alive in an oppressive and sinister setting, the three prisoners soon discover with horror what their kidnappers truly have in store for them…”

Fate:

After its film fest debut little has come of this film. It’s not getting much hype and the reviews are less than stellar. It was released and displayed a poor box office showing. Aside from a note from Variety magazine that it isn’t highly original but was at the very least watchable due to a low gore to movie ratio, this hasn’t received much press. From a horror fan’s perspective, Variety just doomed this one. We’ll see what happens.

THE HAUNTED HOUSE PROJECT AKA THE DESERTED HOUSE (2010)

Synopsis:

“Over the past 42 years, six people have gone missing, eight people have died “accidently” and eleven cases of murder have occurred in a deserted house. 3 members of an abandoned house exploring club and 3 staff members of a broadcasting company go into the deserted house. All of them disappear.”

Fate:

With some positive reviews, this South Korean film hasn’t seen much in the way of distribution especially in the United States. The sentiment is that it’s creepy, but I just call it unreleased in the U.S. After seeing the trailer, I’d say you should expect a Blair Witch Project meets [REC] with some Paranormal Activity thrown in for garnish.

DJINNS AKA STRANDED (2010)

Synopsis:

“A platoon of French soldiers on a rescue mission in North Africa confronts invisible evil creatures.”

Fate:

I believe you can call this one The Thing from Another World in the desert. No release date in sight for we, the strangers in the good ol’ U.S. of A. It’s made its way onto the film scene in the United Kingdom and France. I suppose there will always be room from more Djinn films (you call the genies). Hopefully it manages to gets its ass off the festival circuit and makes a trip across the pond so it can see if it can match wits with Robin Williams (Aladdin) or Andrew Divoff (Wishmaster). Genies were sooo the 90’s shtick.

HUMAINS AKA HUMANS (2009)

Synopsis:

“A team of several researchers travel to the Swiss Alps to investigate a scientific discovery on human evolution.”

Fate:

A film released in France and Germany on the festival circuit and the in the United Kingdom on DVD. All reviews point to bad, but I think we’d like to be given the opportunity to make that determination for ourselves. It’s movies like this that make you wonder how many films are produced in the U.S. that don’t receive European or worldwide distribution.

LADY BLOOD (2008)

Synopsis:

“The blood-soaked heroine of Alain Robak’s Baby Blood attempts to rebuild her life by joining the police department, only to find that escaping her past is no simple task when she becomes the unwitting target of a sadistic serial killer. Years after giving birth to a hideous monstrosity, Yanka has married the psychiatrist who helped to heal her psychic wounds and given birth to a happy and healthy little girl. Yanka has also joined the police department, and while the job can be demanding at times it has helped her to focus on the future instead of dwelling on the past. But just as Yanka is becoming confident in her ability to forge a happy future, she begins investigating a series of gruesome murders that shake her to the very core. The killer leaving behind clues that seem to target Yanka directly, a development that ultimately leads her to suspect that the monster she birthed years ago has returned to seek out the only person who could possibly help it reproduce.”

Fate:

This is a sequel to Baby Blood which at least makes me think it should have a fighting chance at distribution in the United States.  After all, you don’t make a sequel unless the movie is either financial successful or the story is worth continuing.  I guess when eighteen years pass all bets are off. You’ve got special effects team that’s trying their damnedest on this one.

SEXYKILLER (2008)

Synopsis:

“A hip fashionista at a trendy design school takes the concept of “fashion victim” soaring to bloody new heights as she embarks on a brutal killing spree, all the while flying comfortably beneath the radar of the clueless homicide detectives frantically searching for clues in all the wrong places. When a collection of corpses are unearthed at the Med School on a large university campus, the authorities scramble to land a lead before the case goes cold. No one suspects design school trendsetter Barbara could be the homicidal maniac behind these vicious slayings, but what better way to rid the world of bad dressers than kill them slowly and bury them in shallow graves?”

Fate:

Let’s start off with that trailer… If you have gone through this list and haven’t watched one trailer this would be the one to watch.  It’s in German. It’s hilarious. It’s a sex comedy that comes off like Scream meets German Sheisse Porn.  I don’t know about the full movie, but I would consider the trailer is pure entertainment.  As for its current distro status, it was released in Region 2 and was picked up for distribution off the festival circuit. Netflix has it… under “Save”; we know what that means. With a Neural Impulse Decoder as part of the plot device you can’t go wrong, especially since the damn thing doesn’t have a spell checker.

THE VILLAGE OF SHADOWS (2010)

Synopsis:

” A group of young people are trapped in an evil village.”

Fate:

This film was released in France and had some minor publicity on the American Horror web. Nothing has come of it in the way of U.S. distribution but overall fan response is positive. It does appear that it played the SIFF (Seattle International Film Festival) just this year so it’s quite possible that it still has a chance to emerge from the festival circuit for its limited theatrical release. Hopefully it gets a DVD release shortly thereafter. Wait and see.

THE INCITE MILL (2010)

Synopsis:

“Ten people who agree to take the same lucrative “job” find themselves locked in an underground complex and forced to play a murder game for seven days.”

Fate:

This one came out as an all Region DVD from Japan. Technically you can watch it. I do not believe it was meant for American eyes, but Canada did get it via film festival. It’s got Tatusya Fujiwara of Battle Royale fame. Worth a shot if you don’t mind that you might not have been the intended audience by the distro/marketing folks.

EVIL THINGS (2009)

Synopsis:

“On January 9th 2009, 5 college students left New York City for a weekend in the country. 48 hours later, all 5 students simply vanished without a trace. There were no leads and no evidence…until now.”

Fate:

And now… last but not least, we have a success story. I wanted to make sure to leave you with a film that actually made the jump to DVD release in the states. No distribution for two years. There was hope and not of foreign origin. I suppose good things are worth waiting for courtesy of Freddy In Space.

FREDDY IN SPACE ANNOUNCES EVIL THINGS OUT ON DVD… FINALLY!!!

 

You can find a few of these through your normal, illegal distro channels  where copyright infringement is king , and that might be the only way some of the less tech savvy folks might ever lay eyes on these if the distribution companies don’t change their mind about U.S. releasing. We won’t even discuss these methods further because they can ultimately hurt filmmakers and prevent further distribution.  VoD (Video on Demand) may ensure that some of these films make it into your mind’s eye but they won’t guarantee that you’ll have a copy in your collection. We are horror folk; we’re one step away from the A&E show Hoarders.  VoD helps, but it’s not a physical media response to our “film in hand” cravings. I hear someone in the back yelling “Netflix!” at the top of their lungs. Yes, Netflix can distribute more independent films; make distro companies and filmmakers a bit of money and get the some notoriety doing it… if you make the cut. It’s not enough to “want” Netflix distribution; Netflix has to want you. Quality control and a rigorous application process ensure that not every YouTube video makes it onto Instant Streaming or DVD by mail. It’s important to remember Atari circa 1983 when third party distributors brought the video game market to a screeching halt do to quality. Remember the game E.T.? Imagine a whole host of movies with applicable quirks distributed by Netflix. You wouldn’t pay a subscription fee for very long.

When you follow the dollar in the entertainment industry and more specifically, the film distribution biz you’ll find that more often than not tough decisions have to be made to keep smaller distribution companies afloat. You may not get to see some of the films listed above, but I hope you do. For horror’s sake and for the sake of independent filmmakers who need your support so they can keep changing popular cinema I hope distributors realize that we are Americans; we will spend our money on anything and everything if you give us half a chance. I often say the words, “It’s good for horror”. That doesn’t mean I like all the things that are “good for horror”; that means that the horror industry needs dollars to thrive, independent filmmakers, triply so.  With films like A Serbian Film and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil getting the U.S. release after some laboring of love, there’s hope for all of the movies on this list to receive distribution worldwide.

Written by Jimmy Terror  who can be found at Dr. Terror’s Blog of Horrors


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Dr. Jimmy Terror, more commonly known as James P. Harris, has been “writing your eyes” shut since 2010 with his horror themed blog Dr. Terror’s Blog of Horrors (whose name is a play on words derived from the Amicus film, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors). In the early 2000’s he fronted the band The Vaudeville Vampires, a short-lived Horrorabilly band which saw the creation of a catalog of horror related songs before disbanding (with only one, six song demo ever being produced and distributed). He has had only one on screen appearance to date in the horror/suspense short, Ocean Parkway, as maniacal, gloved killer with a hair fetish. Having done some un-credited, behind the scenes work in some low budget genre pictures, he is currently working on his first foray into screenwriting with a demonic, retro gore entry that pays homage to Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento as well as other Italian masters of the genre.

4 Responses to “Lost But Not Found: The Plight of Independent Horror Film Distribution”

  1. Awesome article! It’s worth noting though that Worst Case Scenario has evolved into Army of Frankenstein.

    http://www.dreadcentral.com/news/44146/two-new-army-frankenstein-promo-videos-march-their-way-online

  2. this was one of the best articles I’ve read on the site. Really fantastic. You hit the nail on the head with almost everything you said about the distro crisis. Thanks for this one, really exceptional.

    • @Mike, Thank you sir. I truly appreciate the kind words. I don’t think that these distributors realize how word of mouthes of people at say The Blood Sprayer could make distribution worth their wild. There’s got to be a better marketing strategy for these types of movies. No strategy is not an option for the US terroritory (we like to spend money too much to ignore us).

      @Joe, if Army of Frankenstein works out they better take its profits and get WCS to the fans. It’s as good a market strategy as releasing a movie supposedly from the 90’s that has just been discovered. Shoot it on VHS. Make it a period piece. No flash, just William Castle esque hoopla… then fun your next movie with the proceeds. Again, best of luck to ’em.

  3. Great article.
    Having been through the distribution circuit with the film BOOLEY, what I will say is that the distributor is looking for one thing: something you don’t have. Bring him a movie with no stars – it must have stars. Have stars? You didn’t cast the right people. Cast the exact people the distributor says to cast? Well, haven’t done that yet.

    But I assume there would be some glitch if you did so.

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