Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Lost Movie Detective: Dead End (1985)

Director:
Written by:
What if I was to tell you that somewhere out there, bathed in the murky night of bootleg VHS obscurity, there might exist a little-known horror film featuring undead babies, extreme gore, Python-esque surreal slapstick, real on-screen blood (cow, donated by a local slaughterhouse) and vomit (human, due to prolonged exposure to the former), and a satirical narrative that closely mirrors, yet long predates, a certain George A. Romero zombie movie? What if I was to add that said movie was supposedly written and directed by the son of well-loved Star Trek and Twilight Zone screenwriter Jerome Bixby, and is bursting with dozens of movie and TV references, from Rambo to Rocky Horror? Interesting, huh? Well, sorry, because no one on the planet can find the damn thing, despite several online reviews, an IMDB page, widespread word-of-mouth, the efforts of hordes of trash aficionados to find it.

According to the reviews and synopsis posted on IMDB, the plot centers on an independent documentary film-maker, played by writer/director Emerson Bixby, who sets out with crew in tow to investigate what he believes is a UFO crash near a small California town. In fact, the object turns out to be a downed weapons satellite, carrying a payload of deadly biochemical agents which has transformed the local population into ravenous flesh-eating zombies. Desperate to make history at all costs, the director places his crew in incredible danger, attempting to document the horrors he finds, and many of the characters meet with blackly-comic, jaw-droppingly grotesque ends.

The coincidental similarities of the plot to 2007's Diary of the Dead are certainly striking, but more interesting are the numerous cinematic in-jokes alluded to by most sources; the IMDB page lists nearly ninety such "movie connections" for Dead End, mostly in the form of dialogue swipes and complex, surreal sight gags. Given the volume and obscurity of the references, coupled with their apparently manic, off-the-wall, non-sequitur execution in an otherwise ultraviolent, low-budget zombie flick, it seems difficult to make clear sense of the film's tone. Is it Airplane! with misery and evisceration, or Cannibal Holocaust by way of Quentin Tarantino? The apparent conflict of a movie which has, to quote one reviewer, "an unusual 'realism' [...] which is unnerving, and at times I felt like I was watching a snuff film", and yet also features Rocky Horror zombies waiting outside a movie theatre in suspenders and high heels, might testify to a strange and unique film-making style, or it might indicate that not all is as it seems...

I recall some years ago, probably sometime around the early 2000s, performing an Internet Movie Database keyword search for "banned-film" and stumbling upon a 1997 Hong Kong/South Korean co-production by the lurid title of Indian Fetish Cult (aka. Chi fei zhou). Starring Hong Kong Cat III heart-throb Amy Yip, this notoriously violent tale of demonic possession was apparently so brutal and horrific, with near-unwatchable cruelty and disturbing sexual acts, that it had been rejected by more censor boards, in more countries, than almost any other picture. As with Dead End, precious little information was available beyond what was contained in the IMDB listing and repeated around the web by film fans trying (and failing) to secure a copy. This didn't strike me as odd at the time; after all, if it was so widely-banned, it made perfect sense that so few people would have seen it (this was long before I knew anything about the Barbara Streisand effect). So, I filed the title away in the back of my brain under "obscure shit to look out for", and soon forgot all about it. I wouldn't come across it again for several years, but, when I did, it was presented as an example of a hoax film; a fabrication submitted to IMDB by persons unknown, and from there lifted, repeated and propagated across the internet via forum posts, machine-generated film listings, and poorly-researched articles about Amy Yip (many citing the 1997 picture as her last film, when in fact she retired three years prior). Of the multitude of references to IFC, conspicuous by their absence were any reliable news items or official records relating to its banning. As a comparison, try typing 'Serbian Film banned' into any search engine and you will quickly realise why this is so suspicious.

Indian Fetish Cult is not a real movie, and has subsequently been removed from the IMDB, but the idea was convincing and compelling enough to horror fans that it took on a life of its own and become something of a cult item, despite the minor handicap of its complete non-existence.

Could the legend of Dead End fall into the same category? There do seem to be parallels: both films have/had extensively and suspiciously-detailed IMDB entries, in spite of virtually no one claiming to have seen them (so who submitted the data and why haven't they come forward to corroborate it?); both films supposedly feature intriguingly outrageous and/or taboo subject matter; and both IMDB entries make reference to elements that seem deeply implausible for such vanishingly obscure films (a well-known, established star in one; elaborate stunts, explosions, optical effects, a large cast and celebrity lookalikes, etc. in the other). Also, according to archive.org, the "unique" IMDB url for Dead End was, until October 2005 at latest, occupied by a movie called Alien Lust. Six months later it had been changed to Dead End, by which point it already had user reviews, 51 votes, and a rating of 8.3 (a lot of activity in such a small space of time, considering that six years later, it has only gathered a further 25 votes). Might pranksters have created the Dead End listing by amending an existing entry, in order to avoid the automatically greater scrutiny a new listing would have attracted? Or does IMDB occasionally re-allocate titles codes? I haven't been able to get a straight answer on that, but I don't think we need to squint very hard to see similarities in M.O. between this and Indian Fetish Cult.

The hoax hypothesis offers a plausible closure to the whole situation, but there is a flaw in it. An Emerson Bixby-shaped flaw.

The listed director of Dead End, Bixby has a verifiable track record (mostly, but more on that soon) as a director and screenwriter, and currently owns and operates his own movie theatre in California. What's more, he has confirmed several times that he indeed wrote and directed this film back in 1985. In a radio interview, he mentions the title in passing, referring to it as "my first feature". Elsewhere, in response to a fan's email enquiry, he explicitly denies that Dead End is a hoax, but states that the film was never officially released, despite several tapes being sent out to potential distributors, none of whom responded. He adds that his master copy is now lost and that he has failed, as yet, to track down any of the remaining tapes which were given out to collaborators on the project. If we accept this scenario, the IMDB reviewers and others who claim to have seen it must have seen one of those cast and crew tapes, or an Nth generation copy derived from one, since those were the copies most likely to end up in the wild. One IMDB contributor claims to recall a vendor at horror conventions in the late 1980s selling bootleg copies and enthusiastically recommending it to all who would listen, but the description of the seller (long hair, overweight) could apply to two-thirds of the attendance at such events.

At one point, Bixby announced he was offering a bounty of $10,000 to anyone who could track him down a copy; not a bad price for a movie that, according to the director himself, cost a little over a sixth of that figure to produce ($1500, which seems awfully low given some of the claims about the film). That the bounty remains unclaimed illustrates - assuming the film is or was real - that it's well into London After Midnight territory at this point.

Oh, and remember those user reviews? The posters have disappeared from IMDB and won't respond to private messages.

Now, before I continue, I want to make it perfectly clear that I have found nothing to suggest Emerson Bixby has ever lied about the film. From what I have seen of the man, he seems to be an opinionated, abrasive, strangely likable and genuinely passionate film buff. In short, he's one of us, and I consider his statements on the matter truthful until proven otherwise. If you were to ask for my own honest-to-goodness, unqualified, off-the-cuff opinion, on balance I'd say Emerson Bixby probably did write and direct a zombie flick called Dead End in 1985... probably.

However, I'd be lying if I didn't admit there was something a wee bit odd about Bixby's early career. Have a look at his first three films as a writer - you will notice these pictures have a high degree of overlap in terms of cast and crew. Delving deeper, this group of names all share a markedly similar work history, centering around an isolated "cluster" of very specific movies: Bees (1998), Viper (1996), Sea Shells (1995), Savannah (1989), Scorpion (1989), War with America (1987), Dark Harvest (1986), Blood Red (1985), Dead End (1985), Dimension (1984), Space Patrol (1984), The Basement (1983) and Warrior Island (1980). For brevity's sake, we will refer to these films as the "Mystery 13". Not every regular cast and crew name appears under every film but there is a pretty tight correlation, and, excluding individuals for whom one movie is their only credit, each film in the cluster is crewed pretty much exclusively by members of the same "gang".

In itself, this is not unusual; in fact, it is quite normal for indie film-makers to band together and use certain go-to actors and crew from picture-to-picture. What is strange is that, other than Bixby, virtually none of them have worked on anything outwith these thirteen films, before or since, and the very few that have tend towards extra work, walk-on parts or minor production roles that remain difficult to corroborate. This isn't a devastating revelation, but it is surprising that out of the dozens upon dozens of people who supposedly worked on these productions (and the crews ARE unusually large for shot-on-video efforts), practically no one, not even those credited as performing specialist technical duties, managed to break out or do anything vaguely notable or verifiable in the film industry. Only the film Amor (1980) appears to offer a glimmer of hope in all of this - directed by Robert Beavers, a noted art-house filmmaker, the IMDB page lists several "Mystery 13" regulars in the acting credits - Rachel McBride as Cassandra, Dominique Harris as Carmalita, Ruth Franklyn as Polly, etc. - but this too melts away under closer scrutiny: Amor is an avant-garde montage of connected images - hand signals, cloth being cut, scaffolding being erected, and so forth - shot in Italy; it is not a narrative film and, despite the decidedly suspect IMDB cast listing, by no account does it even feature actors or characters!

Nor can I find any record of any of the "Mystery 13" movies ever being released or shown anywhere, or, indeed, even being mentioned outside of the IMDB, except in a couple of cases where they are brought up in connection with Dead End. It is, I suppose, possible that they were all hobbyist productions, made purely for enjoyment and were thus never intended for distribution outwith the group, but that would raise questions of whether they even meet the nobility criteria for inclusion on the database.

In any case, one would expect, in this modern age of YouTube and blogging, that at least one person of the many, many involved would have allowed some clips, some photos, some fragments of information to slip out into the world. But I can find nothing. In all of the Google-searchable web, not a single individual has ever bothered to mention the time they were part of a large amateur film-making collective based in San Bernardino, turning out indie sci-fi and horror flicks over a period of two decades.

I must admit, it has crossed my mind that Emerson Bixby might be a trickster - aside from everything else, the title Dead End seems almost too mockingly apt to be true - but I feel he deserves the benefit of the doubt. He strikes me as a man with bigger and better things to do than painstakingly build up a vast, intricate network of false names and film titles for the purpose of trolling such a small hard-core of film geeks. Anyway, evidence of absence is not evidence of absence...

Besides the hoax theory, and the "official" picture as presented on the IMDB page, there exists a third possibility. Looking back to the example of Indian Fetish Cult, although the 1997 film was almost certainly a fabrication, there was at least a small kernel of truth amidst the lies: namely, an even more obscure Hong Kong-produced 1984 XXX film called Blood of an Indian Fetish Cult, about a Chinese Amerindian-worshipping cult performing weird sex rites in the woods. This picture's focus is directed more towards tacky T&A than gruelling horror, and features far tamer content than was claimed for the other IFC (yawn-inducing hardcore sex scenes notwithstanding), as well as virtually no gore or horror to speak of, and absolutely no sign of Amy Yip. But the film does seem to have served as a jumping-off point for whoever dreamed up the chimerical 1997 version. So, you could approach the Indian Fetish Cult controversy from the point of view that the film did, kinda, exist after all, it's just that all the interesting details which captured people's attention in the first place were either misrepresented, outright falsified, or vastly exaggerated to the point of being unrecognisable.

The situation with Dead End could be similar: maybe when Bixby says he made a shot-on-video zombie movie with some friends for $1500 he is telling the truth, while the more outrageous and large-scale elements mentioned in the IMDB trivia and reviews are fictitious or inflated far beyond the reality. This scenario resolves the inconsistency between the budget and the apparent scope of the production, without contradicting Bixby's statements. This makes believing in the existence of the film feel like less of a stretch, and to me seems the most credible option, at least in the absence of further evidence.

Of course, I could be well wide of the mark on this. Perhaps someone whose dad is a Hollywood figure as notable as Jerome Bixby would have access to the kinds of talent and resources that would be out of reach to other $1500 productions, making a much more ambitious film possible. There is still a chance, an outside chance, that the Dead End we've read about - complete with zombie babies, triffids and "tiny people in jars bitching at each other" - really does exist, gathering dust in some shady corner somewhere.

Go and check your attic.

No, really, go now and look! And while you're at it, if you worked on, or know anything about any of the films mentioned above (and actually exist) please get in touch via the comments box.

34 comments:

  1. I've been collecting films since 1979 and no one I have ever spoken to has ever seen DEAD END. I believe it is a hoax, as are the rest of the films which list Bixby as a director. Anyone who trusts what they read on IMDB is a fool, because anyone can write what they please and quote it as gospel. I even remember some fool saying that he saw the unfinished GRIZZLY 2: THE PREDATOR on TV! I have a workprint of the film and have talked to many people who were involved with the production and the film was never finished.

    Has anyone ever seen any film directed by Emerson Bixby? I don't think so. Until then, I will continue to believe that it is a hoax, no matter what Bixby says on radio or print. As they say about kidnap victims: Where's the Proof of Life?

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    1. Yeah, your point about IMDB's trustworthiness as a source of information is 100% correct: just look at Indian Fetish Cult, or the even more infamous SLaugherhouse II hoax. What's more, your assessment of Dead End's disputed (non-)existence is fair and, if I am to be painfully honest, I think quite likely the correct one. Believing in Dead End is a lot like believing in God; a lot of people seem to do it, in spite of growing evidence to the contrary. As for myself, let's just say I am trying to maintain an air of agnosticism for diplomatic and investigative purposes. ;)

      If it is a hoax, as seems increasingly likely at this juncture, it is such a detailed and intricate one that it's almost deserving of as much interest and discussion as if it were a real movie. Who would go to such lengths as to create an extensive web of false names and titles adding up to what looks like an entire lost underground film-making movement in 1980s San Bernardino? Is it just Bixby trying to bulk out his resume, or is it intended as some kind of practical joke on obsessive horror geeks? Or might Bixby be innocent, the hoax carried out by some faceless internet joker, and Bixby's just playing along for shits and giggles? Are ALL those dozens of people/films/companies fabricated, or are some based on fact? Just some of the questions it raises.

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    3. I find it impossible that so much as a screenshot hasn't surfaced online by now.
      Back in the 80's, during the glorious tape trading days, I used to know people that would sell/trade copies of movies that only several copies got sold, and even now although only several copies were sold, I can find the same exact LP Mode VHS tapes downloadable online! Even though a DVD exists, I can still find those old VHS tapes. How do I know they're the same? Because of what was recorded on them. Tetsuo: The Iron Man from a Japanese LD source with a copy of Drumstruck on it (that was actually recorded SP Mode), Phantasm II the workprint with a copy of Roadkill: The Last Days Of John Martin on it, The Love Butcher with a copy of Bloodsucking Pharaohs In Pittsburg on it. Not that many copies of those exact films were sent out on VHS, but they somehow managed to surface online, the SAME exact old crummy bad quality VHS copies, I have several of them downloaded. And as you mention that some overweight long haired guy supposedly sold bootleg copies of the VHS for Dead End, I find it very hard to believe that someone hasn't come forward by now with at least a screen shot of the bootleg VHS copy.
      I think this Emerson Bixby guy made this up, along with these other so-called films we've never seen, but only have titles for "Dark Harvest" and "Blood Red". If they are nowhere to be found, just the same as "Dead End", they are more than likely hoaxes too. I honestly think it's some kind of effort to promote his new films, for people to say "Wow, the guy who made Dead End made this, although I've never seen Dead End before, it's just sounds like the greatest zombie film ever made!", I think it's nothing more than a publicity hoax for his new movies.
      It's not that hard to come up with some fake IMDB accounts, and details to a great 80's zombie film, just by reading all the user comments on IMDB, they seem very fabricated. Of course you have your outraged IMDB user who saw the film and was outraged at the gore, and it just so happens that none of the users have gotten online since they left those comments. Even the user who claims he saw the film before and wants a copy now, why bother asking for a copy of the film if your never going to check your IMDB account again? And why not at least leave your email address?
      All of it seems way too made up. I've filed "Dead End" under hoax in my mind.

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    4. Jan Emerson Bixby is real just a bad writer. He is married to amy vaughn. They live in Jacinto california.

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  2. It turns out that The Basement is real, as it was recently given a VHS release to simulate what watching it in 1983 would have been like if it had been released back then. If The Basement is a real movie that just took over twenty years for someone to release, maybe Dead End is just as lucky

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  3. At first I thought that you might be part of the vast conspiracy, until I realized that you had simply gotten the film's original production year wrong (it was 1989), and it actually did get a release recently. Cool!

    Absolutely NO sign of 1986's DARK HARVEST (another one of the "Mystery 13"), however. It was while I was searching for the slightest evidence of its existence that I was led to this page, and learned of the more intricate web of highly suspicious minimal-presence IMDB-listed films. I would tend to agree that even if one or two of them actually exist, they are probably just being used as decoys to help make the bulk of fakes look legitimate. But like the Captain says (great article!), there is really no solid evidence.

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  4. There are plenty of unreleased or barely-released movies out there, while it seems a wonder little shred of evidence pops in today's electronic age, that my friends is the fallacy of these modern times. Yes, things do exist even if they have no internet presence. The reason evidence is scant is that few people care. Look at PITCHFORK MASSACRE (1984) - http://retroslashers.net/lost-slashers-pitchfork-massacre-1984/, it actually had a theatrical release, there's a newspaper advert, yet no info, not even a mention, existed on the internet till 2012. Makes you wonder how many mystery films are out there. Keep the DEAD END hunt going!

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    1. Dusk: Pitchfork Massacre is an interesting one, I have read that page before. I think it is, as the author of that great article says, almost certainly a more widely known film with an alternate title slapped on it by the local picturehouse or distributor, probably to get away with screening the same picture twice within a short period of time, in the hopes of duping people into paying to see it multiple times. It was a common practice in the days of drive-ins and grindhouse fleapits, when it allowed distributors to get potentially twice the revenue from a single film print. It's worth noting the R-rating. Then, as now, it was illegal to self-apply any rating other than X, so the film must have been submitted to the ratings board. The MPAA have searchable online records of every film they have reviewed since the 70s. Pitchfork Massacre isn't on there, but there are several with titles, or alternative titles, that contain the word Pitchfork and were originally submitted during the decade before PFM's release. It's probably one of those. If I had the time and the resources I'd look at newspaper advertisements for films showing in that local area going back a couple of years before PFM. I suspect the distributors wouldn't have gone to the trouble of re-titling it if the movie hadn't already been shown there within recent memory. If you find an ad for another pitchfork movie playing nearby, or a movie containing a pitchfork scene, that's probably your Pitchfork Massacre. Just my hunch.

      However, you are absolutely right, there must be hundreds or thousands of low budget horror films out there that have gone unreleased, undiscussed and unknown to the world at large. Case in point: Southern Shockers, a backwoods American SOV anthology horror that was released (as far as anyone can tell) only on video in Spain under the title El Spiritu del Zombi. No one in the English-speaking horror community knew about it until the guy who runs the Regional Horror blog stumbled upon a copy. So I definitely think there's a lot more out there. The issue with Dead End is the improbably amazing nature of its supposed content, as described on IMDB and elsewhere, the mysterious fan reviews, the unverifiable nature of all the names involved and the weird paper trail of its IMDB page being built on top of another movie. Also, no one found Southern Shockers earlier because no one was looking for it, but people have been looking for Dead End for ages. I think it's possible that he did make a film called that, but I'm sceptical on the details.

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    2. I see the validity of your words on Pitchfork, though I'm still giving the benefit of the doubt that it could be an original, possibly registered under another name. I think the fact that it is (indeed) likely a retitling of an existing film gives the film a degree of disinterest in investigating the matter, which I feel is a mistake. Movies with pitchforks are too wide a range to narrow down, the biggest evidence on hand to examine is the poster art, which is IMO a scene from the film. Whether it's an original or retitling, I think I need to know. Wasn't aware of Dead End till your article and it's great to know others out there care about these "loose ends" of horror history. I actually dug up the unfinished Sleepaway Camp 4 in 2002 after years of people telling me it never got past script stage. I spent 5 years working with the director and an editor to recreate the final film as best possible and I released it to DVD last year. Which is not to be tooting my horn here (let's be honest, in the scheme of things, no one gives two craps about unfinished movies outside of people like us) but to say, hey, I totally get the drive to bring these projects to light. I don't know why I care more about unreleased movies than released ones... I think it's an underdog thing, a character trait.

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    3. Dusk: That's pretty cool! I was aware of the Sleepaway 4 footage rediscovery (amazing work!) from hearing about it appearing in raw form as an extra in the box set, but I had no idea it had been edited together and released as a standalone movie. That's great news. Sleepaway Camp is a lot of fun, and I must admit I enjoyed the campy sequels even more. :)

      Regarding PFM: you might be right about not approaching it with such a "negative" assumption. I do think it would be worthwhile for someone to work their way through some of the MPAA listed pitchfork movies to see if any of them contain the frame used in the ad slick, though.

      You hit the nail on the head about the underdog thing. I would say it's that coupled with a desire to seek out something rare that few people have experienced; the Grail Quest, if you will.

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    4. I'm replying to this thread of the comments section years later, and I hope you don't mind, but Pitchfork Massacre was confirmed as a re-titled print of The Prowler, by an intrepid blogger a couple of years ago.

      http://pigfarmergames.com/pitchfork-massacre-uncovered/

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  5. Where is Emerson Bixby? Does a script for Dead End exist? I'm wondering if the movie did exist, since it is supposedly lost forever, the next logical step would be the refilm it in retro 80's style. Which doesn't sound logical at all to your readers I'm sure. Sometimes an approximation is better than nothing?

    Thanks for the Pitchfork tips. I'm scouring a lot of old regional horrors lately. Troma picked up a lot of these and released them, sometimes years later and often with new titles/new footage. Several of them have country/farm leanings so that's an area I'm investigating.

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  6. Emerson Bixby lives in Hemet, CA. He runs the Historic Hemet Movie Theater (which has been around since the 1920s). My friend Kristopher Satchell of HeirFilms.com worked with him for the Inland Empire's 48 Film Project (short film contest). Me and some friends went there a week ago to see The Goonies at his theater. He's a very nice guy, but he seems to have lost all hope in anyone finding a copy of Dead End. He joked that although he'd gladly "go down" on anyone who found it, he'll most likely be dead by the time a copy is ever found. I feel bad for him.

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  7. well, i just found a zombie movie torrent which claims to have zombie town amongst it, wish me luck

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    1. The is a 2007 movie called Zombie Town, it's probably that one, but you never know! Good luck!

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  8. what a load of rubbish saying its a fake movie!!! ive seen it when i was a kid from my dads video collection, ive looked 4 it ever since being an adult with no joy

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  9. Thanks for commenting. I didn't say it was definitely fake, but I am open to the possibility. I'd love to hear of any additional information you might have on the movie you saw, though. Does it exactly match the IMDB description? Do you remember any scenes not mentioned on IMDB? Also, how did your Dad get a copy - was it a bootleg or some sort of "official" VHS release? Where did you live at the time, in the USA somewhere?

    Cheers!

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  10. What a fascinating subject and article!

    I'm a sucker for lost movies (i've been reading anything i coould find on Noches el hombre lobo and Dr. Shagetz).

    I've been spending hours to locate any sign of the mysterious 13 movies with no luck... except this:

    http://www.limundo.com/kupovina/Kolekcionarstvo/Plakati/SKORPIJA-1989-LOT/19531561

    but i'm pretty sure that the seller confused the titles... the photos seem to from other movie (can's see any little town, nor any scorpion), but find anymovie with similar title that would match the screens.

    perhaps you could recognize the stills?

    The whole "Mystery 13" case is mysterious indeed. I cannot think of a single reason for adding 13 fake movies ti imdb if you are not making any real movies at all. If they are are real homemade crap - if you add them to imdb, then you should sell them, promote them, put them on yotube, whatever. Both scenerios seem very odd...

    If you will ever get ANY info the subject - let us know!

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  11. PS:

    Emerson Bixby is also listed in the cast of "Blood red" i wander what would he say about that one...

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  12. the stills are for other scorpion from 1986...

    perhaps the whole Dead End thing is simillar to the Last Motel..:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1974395/board/nest/212498792?ref_=tt_bd_1

    It was alle made up great, realistic... :

    http://i.imgur.com/nh2OJwh.jpg

    http://i.imgur.com/5Qilp4k.jpg

    but it still turned up to be fake :(

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  13. I'm going to have to split this up into various comments as I can't post in its entirety.

    I have a very bold statement to make, I've seen Zombie Town or Dead End, (whichever it’s actually called), and I'm sure of it, I remember seeing it on VHS back in late 80's early 90's (sorry the exact date eludes me) but my friend had a mullet at the time (fashion crimes aside twas the in thing at the time), so it was that period, and I remember seeing what is not only described in this article, but all the other subsequent articles I’ve read off of the back of it, not only am I certain, I’m positive, but first I’d like to (briefly) mention another film I've never been able to name which was screened for me by the very same friend. It had an alien in a cheap set/cave with orange neon lighting and smoke; the creature sat in in a circular control panel of some sort and had a really fake looking metallic crab like claw it clumsily moved up and down. The plot escapes me completely, but I remember the creature was fed women brought into the cave by another bipedal creature. It was either late 70's or early 80's (from what I remember) judging by the film stock, and was utterly terrible, the creature with the claw was all misshapen and poorly executed under a barrage of golden lights and smoke behind the control panel it sat within, (in a cave for some unknown reason), the cave had webs, and I know the women kicked and screamed as they passed through a multitude of roots and webs to be dumped in the cave with the blob in the control panel with the metal claw. If anyone here has any inkling what this could have been, then please let me know? As I'd like to finally learn what the hell that was, but I digress, I have seen this film being talked about, and around the same time I saw the movie I've just mentioned, along with other obscurities like The Video Dead and crucially Zombiethon, which led me to discover online chatter of this apparent “Holy Grail” of lost zombie movies.

    Continued in next comment.

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  14. Continued from above.

    http://zombine.ru/film/Zombiethon/v-00001.jpg

    First, some background: I live in the UK, my name is Nick, and my friend (James) whom showed it me have long since lost contact, despite recent attempts to find him, after he sadly moved abroad. I haven't seen nor heard from him since, and have no point of contact, even Facebook is fruitless. His name was (presumably still is) James Asher, he moved to Melbourne in AUS in the mid 90's, 95-96 I believe. The reason I mention all of this is because he owned the tape I saw, and was a rabid collector of obscurities, particularly zombie and monster flicks.
    A few years ago I found myself viewing Zombiethon (1986) again, I stumbled upon it quite by accident online after the cover rang a bell.

    http://www.iwannawatch.to/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Zombiethon-1986-337x520.jpg

    Low and behold I remembered seeing it way back when with my friend James, it’s an old (compilation movie) from the 80’s and features trailers and scenes from various obscure independent horror trash that littered the era, most of which is also likely to be lost by now too, along with more common fare like ‘Zombie.’ Upon seeing the connecting segments, where different ghouls’, creatures’ and a big-busted scantily clad woman all coalesce on a movie theatre, to sit down and (inexplicably) watch the end credits and perform awful cheese-ridden gags on one another, my memory was jogged. It’s certainly not good, but I had fond memories of seeing it with James and seeing all the other odd crap it contained that we howled at late into the night on many a weekend when we watched this trash on a somewhat regular basis, including that other crap fest I mentioned above that I can’t recall the name of, but also the film that’s being widely touted, (to my recent discovery and surprise), as a lost “Holy Grail,” Zombie Town / Dead End. When I decided to look up Zombiethon again recently I started looking for that movie I mentioned above, putting in descriptions and checking IMDB, looking up “metal claw monster 80’s” etc, but all was fruitless, then I stumbled on these articles regarding ZT/DE and my mind was blown, because what I began to read really struck home to me, I have genuinely seen this film, and I’ve been trying to dig up info and trace my friend for a few weeks to confirm it, but I’m at the point now where it’s a lost cause, unless someone else is lucky enough, James Asher seems to have dropped off the face of the earth, and I can find no tangible proof that what I saw with my own eyes ever existed.


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  15. Continued from above.

    I had no idea this film was so rare and widely sought, and I’m deeply frustrated because I’m forced now to try and think back 25 years or so to describe what I saw and still somewhat remember. It was the other flick that always troubled my memory because that was really weird; I’ve never really given much thought to the movie where I remembered seeing a blood trail left in the wake of a dead dog dragged by a staggeringly awful looking zombie, filmed from behind by a cameraman and an irritating commentator. I remembered it looked quite real (the dead dog) this I remember clearly, I had no idea what it was called until now, but I’m telling you I have seen this, and furthermore I would like to lend credence to the claims (as I’ve recently read of bootlegs being sold at conventions), I know James attended many horror conventions throughout the UK and the US (which he’d regularly visit), but particularly he’d scour the slums of Nottingham in the UK if I recall correctly, looking for most of his obscure crap. He had (and presumably still does) have a huge collection of rare obscure oddities, including many bootlegs VHS tapes he collected from various travelling. I can only presume that what I saw was a bootleg, but this I need to be clear, is speculation on my part, because I don’t know.

    I have to say upfront, that what I’m about to relay is through the haze of distant memory, and like with metal claw blob monster flick, I only remember some stuff and interactions I had about it, and if I’m honest it could be memory embellishing what was actually said at the time when I saw it, but that zombie dragging the dead dog, and the movie theatre scene (which if memory serves is shot similarly to Zombiethon’s connecting segments) with a group of people being filmed (in a line) as a stream of people come out and flow past them. They looked like punks to me at the time, and all stood vacantly staring into space on the street (one was drooling with a dumb look on its painted pale face) as people streamed past them and gave them funny looks as they stared on oblivious while being filmed. These I assume were the Rocky Horror people referenced in the articles I’ve since read? I remember soldiers in cheap green suits and awful looking cheap helmets awkwardly pointing guns at zombies in a tree line and waving back at the idiot with bushy hair who monologues into camera as they get eaten. Said idiot takes the time to run up on them and film them being devoured by people with pale paint and blood on their faces, I seem to remember the one army guy noticeably and clumsily rubbing intestines over himself as a group hunched over him and poorly mimed eating his guts as he screamed for what (at least I think) felt like an extremely extended period of time. I remember that being particularly bad, not in a good way either, just a downright awful kind of way.


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  16. Continued from above.

    If memory serves this was followed by some really cheap looking pyrotechnics blasts, with really odd, (bombs away sounds), the crew screaming as the camera shakes and then as stock footage is cut in of an atomic blast on houses etc and that’s how it ends, I think it had some expository white text on a black screen following that, and then bad 80’s music roll credits. Again, if memory serves I recall us talking about Return of The Living Dead and how it was a blatant and cheap rip off, especially the ending (which I think it was), I do remember us mocking it a whole lot. So let me reiterate, if people are actually calling this thing the lost Holy Grail, then start lowering your expectations drastically, because what I saw wasn’t good or very funny, it was bad, a forgettable kind of bad, with the exception of a few things I can still somewhat recall it’s a faded and none impressive Z-grade zombie flick, but I assure you I have seen it, and my friend James Asher owned a copy.

    I remember only bits and pieces, not a whole. For example, I don’t remember there being jars with tiny people talking to each other in, that’d surely stick in my mind if I had seen that, nor do I remember an overabundance of slapstick humour in it, I’m pretty sure there were jokes, but I can assure you they were most likely all falling flat, because from what I remember we weren’t laughing with the film, quite the opposite.

    I’m pretty much writing a stream of consciousness at this point, (so apologies) I’m desperately trying to recall what my friend said about the film before he put it on, but I’m drawing a total blank, I know we sat bored smoking and drinking for the duration, and that probably doesn’t help my memory now in all honesty. I do remember the postman zombie as is widely reported, and I’ll tell you why. He looked like a milkman. Dressed all in white with dirt smeared on him complete with a jaunty white cap with bloodstains on it; shambling down a street followed by a camera and a guy who keeps commenting on what’s happening in some kind of poorly performed profound statements on life and culture, ripped straight off from George Romero. It goes on forever and he keeps jumping in front of the camera to talk into it about what’s going on, and it all felt like it must’ve been guerrilla filmed on their own street, no way a film like that had permits or the like. I remember it because at one point zombie milkman attempts to put something in a mailbox but misses and then spends about ten seconds awkwardly trying to pick up whatever it was he dropped. Does that sound like comedy to you? See that was another factor that led me to believe I had actually seen this movie people were talking about, but the clincher was the descriptions of how it started, a fallen satellite in the woods spreads a virus and zombies take over. Well that’s a bingo as they say, because this I do remember and I can tell you why.


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  17. Continued from above.

    James and I were rather fond of a couple of movies this opening seemed to be riffing on. Namely ‘Xtro’ and to some extent ‘The Deadly Spawn’, it wasn’t entirely similar of course, but enough for it to register with us, and if I remember right it was brought up at the time. Actually thinking back, it was a little similar to Killer Klowns From Outer Space’s opening, but not as good, although It’s hands down the best thing about the film I saw and had more atmosphere there than anywhere else. It’s traditionally shot and has some hunter type guy wander into a forest after watching a yellow light crash in nearby woodland and stumble on a broken silver satellite looking thing, flames were on the ground, wires and internals protruding from it, and he said something like “Ain’t no meteor,” or something similarly cheesy and approaches it. Before you even think it, no I know full well about The Blob (1988), it’s a personal favourite of mine, but this was on nowhere near that level of competency. He gives it a kick and smoke comes out, he clutches at his throat falls over as smoke slowly builds up the screen and the camera pans up to a shot of the moon above the forest, and I believe the very next shot is the bushy haired guy speaking into his camera, I remember it was a jarring transition, but beyond that I’m drawing a blank, tonally I don’t think either seemed to gel all that well being meshed together, and for all I know could be two totally separate flicks that were spliced together, it had that kind of disjointed feeling, if that makes any sense?

    I know I’ve seen what’s being described in these articles, and I normally have a very good memory when it comes to film, but this must’ve been so bad that plot and character have long since faded and melted from my neural cortex. I remember a lot of things being described by others, but not so much other things that I’ve read described; I do not recall any dead baby zombies. The dead dog being dragged by a lead yes, miniature people in jars talking to each other no, a postman zombie dressed like a milkman scene that goes on forever, absolutely yes. The opening light that crashes in the woods and unleashes (presumably) the Romero plague, yes, I don’t recall at all a character kicking a dead horse, nor any horses period. Nor do I remember any character named Dr Romero. I vaguely remember a short squat guy with glasses and grey hair (professor type) droning on directly to camera in what looked like a school classroom in one scene (maybe one), but beyond that it’s all just brief memory glimpses from many years back, but I’m certain this is the flick you’re all talking about. Too many things connect, but other things not so. I don’t remember excessive gore, there is gore but what I do recall looked very cheaply done. The dead dog did appear realistic though. I’m going to assume basic human decency would prevent people from really hurting an animal to film that kind of crap, but that was well done from what I remember.


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  18. Continued from above.

    I’ve been reading comparisons to Romero’s Diary of the Dead and from what I remember that’s not entirely a fair comparison. While it may have a similar conceit, one is an actual film, and the other is a cheaply made mess, sans the opening, which I firmly believe was filmed for something else by someone else, because the styles did not match at all. All in all it left little impact on me save for the extended milkman scene, the dead dog being dragged by lead, and the opening/ending. I remember bits here and there, but other than the opening, there was very little style on display, everything looked shot in natural light and or at dusk. Very cheap looking, painted pale zombie faces with tattered clothes, some covered in blood. Yes there’s entrails and blood in places (from the pieces I remember), that all looked real enough, but those things always are in these kind of low rent flicks, I guess people just go to their local butchers in these cases.

    If I’m not mistaken there was something to do with a girl being gutted and strangled with her own entrails, cutting off her screeching after she opened her front door in gym gear and you see zombie hands tear into her bare midriff, all terribly done and shot by a cameraman who shouldn’t be poking his nose (never mind commenting endlessly) where it doesn’t belong while the dead rise from the grave and go about various tasks, including eviscerating a helpless woman as they stand by and film their masterpiece. Odd is an understatement from what I remember, but I guess that’s a good thing because if it wasn’t for it being odd and over the top, I doubt I’d have remembered it at all, but I’m telling you this film exists, and if James had a copy way back then, then he certainly won’t have been the only one, so these bootleg convention theories, I tend to believe, because that’s the only way I can imagine he’d have gotten hold of a copy. Weirdly I don’t think he talked the movie up at all prior to viewing, he may not even have known what he had was ultra-rare, probably still doesn’t, but I doubt it was the first time he saw it when I watched it with him. Only he can answer those questions.

    I know this is long, and I’m not even sure anyone will read this (never mind believe it), but after reading up on numerous sites about this flick, and remembering what I saw, I’m certain I’ve seen Zombie Town, and I’m telling you, Holy Grail it most certainly wasn't.


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  19. Continued from above.

    I’m frustrated I can’t trace James, but it has been 20 years or so since I’ve seen him, but I know for a fact (if) he’s still out there he’ll confirm everything I’m telling you here, and probably lots more. As for his collection, I’m not sure whether that stayed here in the UK with parties unknown or whether he flew it out to AUS with him when he left, but I can’t imagine he’d have left it behind, he’s exactly like me, a film fiend, and to be honest I’m surprised (and a little worried) that I can’t find him anywhere, because I’d imagine he could answer many questions, certainly how he obtained a copy, and it is indeed a fact as people claim that it never got officially released, either under an alternate title or what have you. To everyone else clamouring to see Zombie Town, beyond morbid curiosity, I doubt your memory would be much better than mine after seeing it when a few years have passed, because while I can’t remember a whole lot about it, I do remember it wasn’t all that good, and I believe those who’ve seen it may be looking back on it with rose tinted glasses.

    Lastly I’d like to ask anyone out there who has the slightest idea of what that other flick was, to put me out of my misery, because I’m far more interested in tracking down that than ever seeing Zombie Town again, but it does exist, and I have absolutely seen a copy.

    This is the truth.

    Best, Nick.


    PS. Apologies I've had to break this up into multiple comments to get it posted. Hopefully it makes sense and isn't a complete rambling incoherent mess, like Zombie Town.

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    1. Wow! Thanks so much for the information, Nick! Great post(s)! I had mentally written this movie off as a hoax (and almost forgotten about this blog, which I haven't updated in years), but your extensive and detailed recollection of the film you saw, and the circumstances in which you saw it, have given me renewed hope that Dead End / Zombietown may not be a complete fabrication.

      The idea that a movie existed that included most of the things ascribed to Dead End (1985), but in an incredibly slapdash and half-arsed fashion, actually makes sense. If the person who wrote the IMDB page was someone involved in production, as seems likely from the level of detail given, they may well be expected to use language that glorifies the film and makes it sound better than it really is, leading to people having an overinflated expectation of what the film is like. Ironically, it also makes it harder to believe in. It's more likely that a shitty movie would disappear off the face of the earth like this than a good one. Your description of it as "not all that good" makes its existence (or former existence) seem more likely.

      Anyway, thanks for sharing, and if you think of anything else, track down more information, or even find your pal James, please do get in touch again!

      P.S. I don't know your "metal claw spaceship cave monster" movie, but if you haven't tried it already, I would recommend the Tip of My Tongue subreddit as somewhere that might be able to offer a solution: https://www.reddit.com/r/tipofmytongue It's basically a forum for people who are struggling to find/remember the name of a movie/song/story/logo/whatever. They're fairly strict about following the posting guidelines so read the sidebar first, but it has a huge subscriber base and is frequented by lot of smart people with good memories and research skills. Someone there might well have an answer for you!

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    2. No problem. Yes what I recollect was extremely poorly done, apart from the initial opening, which is as I've mentioned by far the strongest part from what I remember. I'm interested to learn that Zombietown was produced at roughly the same time as Return of the Living Dead, and from recollection there's certainly similarities, especially the finale, but the gulf in quality between the two may as well be as wide as the Grand Canyon.

      You should keep going on this blog, it's stellar. I've been reading through it and read that article on 'Him', wow is that some weird 70's controversy, but it undoubtedly existed too. I'll let you know if I can track down James, and if I do I'll put you in touch with him too, as I'm sure you'll have as many questions as me.

      Thanks for the reddit link, I will swing by there in the coming days and see if I can get any closure on that metal clawed blob monster flick. Thanks.

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    3. Nick, Why would you not leave any more official way of contacting you? "I'm Nick." In my estimation, people are bad at finding other people in our modern world. I offer my services to track down James Asher, but I would need more info, which can be privately communicated. Please respond, so we can maybe resolve this search and vindicate your faded memories.

      -John L

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    4. To clarify, I have a skill set in tracking people down and have done this professionally. I would love to help. Also, any updates you have would be appreciated! Might I say also that I find this lost film fascinating!

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  20. Emerson Bixby owns the old historic theater building in Hemet california

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