Columns > Published on August 20th, 2018

Lost Films Anthology: Embrace the Ugly

When I was eleven, my mom let me rent Faces of Death on VHS from Hollywood Video. My brother had talked this movie up for years, claiming it was the most hardcore thing he had ever seen. Finally, I would be able to watch it, too. My horror cred would upgrade to a whole new level, and I couldn’t have been more excited. In retrospect, I don’t think my mom exactly understood what she was getting into.

For those blissfully unaware, Faces of Death is a mondo documentary about a coroner named Dr. Francis B. Gröss showcasing various death scenes caught on video. At the time, I believed everything depicted in this film was the real deal. Later on, through the magic of the internet, I would discover many (but not all) of the deaths were actually fabricated by a cast and crew. But at the time, when I was eleven years old, watching Faces of Death alone in my bedroom in the middle of the night, nothing would have been able to convince me that this wasn’t one hundred percent legitimate. “Banned in 40+ Countries!” the tagline advertised, and I fully bought into it. In this film, I saw video recordings of a man shooting his ex-wife over the grave of their fifteen-year-old daughter, a group of cops opening fire on a bank robber in a stolen pickup truck, a violent football riot in Croatia, and many other scenes I can hardly remember now. Watching this film did something awful to my stomach, to my mind. I didn’t know what to expect exactly, going into it, but once I fed the tape into my VCR, it was too late to abort. I was stuck, trapped, unable to take my eyes off the screen. Faces of Death made me feel sick, inside and out, nauseated and disgusted with humanity. I felt like Alex DeLarge near the end of his aversion therapy (another movie I had repeatedly viewed perhaps a little too young).

I just wanted it to end.

And, finally, it did: with the 1987 public suicide of Robert Budd Dwyer.

Budd Dwyer was the 30th State Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Before that, he served on the Pennsylvania State Senate representing the state’s 50th district. Toward the end of his career—and life—he faced a maximum sentence of fifty years in prison for being one corrupt son of a bitch, although he would maintain his innocence even in his final moments.

On January 22, 1987, he held a press conference and spoke for over a half hour explaining how he had been deeply wronged by the justice system. At the end of his speech, in front of everybody, he pulled out a .357 Magnum from a manila envelope and held it up.

Naturally, everybody in the room freaked the fuck out.

He inserted the barrel between his lips and pulled the trigger. He died instantly.

Filter would later release their best-known song “Hey Man Nice Shot” about this day, although fans often incorrectly attribute Kurt Cobain’s suicide as its inspiration.

One of the cameramen at the press conference lingered on Budd Dwyer’s corpse as blood streamed from the exit wound in the back of his skull and trickled from his mouth and nostrils. As he went from something to nothing within a single second.

Before he pulled the trigger, Budd Dwyer said, "Please, please leave the room if this will . . . if this will affect you."

I hadn’t thought about Budd Dwyer’s suicide or any of the other clips shown in Faces of Death for years. Somehow I had managed to scrub the memory from my brain—or at least stuff it deep into a closet. Then I started reading stories for potential inclusion in a new anthology titled Lost Films, and I came across Bob Pastorella’s submission: “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida on 8track”. In this story, a man becomes obsessed with the recording of Budd Dwyer’s suicide in a very intense, brilliant way. Reading it brought back so many unwelcome memories, I almost rejected Bob’s story out of spite. But I couldn’t. Damn him for being such a talented author. Instead of clicking REJECT, I instead moved “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida on 8track” to my shortlist pile and continued on to the next story.

Everybody knows at least one haunted film.

The suicide in The Wizard of Oz is universal folklore. During the end of the Tin Man sequence, as Dorothy and the gang are skipping away down the Yellow Brick Road, observant viewers will notice the shadow of a lynched munchkin swinging in the background. The story goes, he couldn’t handle rejection after confessing true love to his crush, so he grabbed a rope and kissed life goodbye. MGM would later claim this sighting was no more than a big bird rented from the Los Angeles Zoo, but come on, we all know the truth.

Everybody’s seen the ghost in Three Men and a Baby. About an hour into the film, as Ted Danson and Celeste Holm are walking through Danson’s character’s house, a small boy can be spotted peeking at them from behind window curtains, (probably) plotting his eventual killing spree. After its release, rumors quickly spread of a real boy who had committed suicide via shotgun-to-the-face in the same house used to film the movie, and it was this boy’s ghost revealed in the scene. Of course, Three Men and a Baby was filmed in a set on a soundstage and not a real house, and the supposed ghost was actually a cardboard cutout of Danson’s character intended for an omitted storyline, which sounds exactly like what a studio would say to avoid having to pay a little ghost boy royalties for appearing in their film.

The list goes on. Legend has it, the entire Poltergeist series is cursed. Several people attached to the crew passed away under strange circumstances. Brandon Lee was fatally shot during a scene in The Crow, and for years you couldn’t walk down the street without someone claiming his real death was what could be found on the final footage. A chariot race in Ben-Hur killed a stuntman. Two children were killed by a helicopter in Twilight Zone: The Movie. Another stunt double fell to her death in Vampire in Brooklyn. Several people were injured and nearly drowned during the filming of Titanic, which is of course hilarious. And in Along Came Polly, Ben Stiller was bitten on the chin by a ferret.

Movies are full of bizarre, sometimes deadly accidents. Some of them more ominous than others. Are they all haunted? Probably not. Except for Along Came Polly, obviously. That one is definitely haunted.

When Lori Michelle and I set out to edit this anthology, we weren’t sure what to expect. Lost Films is a spiritual sequel to an anthology we released in 2016 titled Lost Signals. While the previous collection focused on audio horror, this time around we wanted stories centering more on visual mediums. In the open call for submissions we announced in 2017 for Lost Films, we wrote:

We are looking for horror stories involving films, Hollywood, projectors & projectionists, home movies, webcams, television, documentaries, and other themes involving recorded visual disturbances. We want these stories to be weird and terrifying.

What we received: 382 stories. Many of them were not very good, and some didn’t even bother to follow the submission guidelines, which can be expected for every project soliciting outside help from strangers. But a good chunk of these stories absolutely slayed us in the best of ways. Sadly, we were not able to accept every single submission we fell in love with. Many gems had to be cut for various reasons, such as (just like in the movie business) budget constraints, or word count limits, and—more often than you’d suspect—sometimes certain stories just do not play well with others, and they stick out awkwardly among the other tales found in the table of contents.

In the end, we settled on nineteen stories totaling 111,500 words. [...] Nineteen stories from nineteen authors, some of them well-known in the horror genre, others up-and-comers you’ll undoubtedly be hearing more about in the near future. We have horror legends like Brian Evenson (Last Days remains one of the finest pieces of horror fiction ever written) and Gemma Files (Experimental Film directly inspired the idea behind this anthology), and we have newer authors who are quickly shooting to the top of every genre fan’s must-read lists like Betty Rocksteady, Kristi DeMeester, Jessica McHugh, John C. Foster, and so on and so on. There is not a story in this anthology that I am not immensely proud to have published. Lori and I spent countless hours combing through the large pile of submissions, piecing everything together to make the right selection of stories fit perfectly, and the result couldn’t have been more rewarding. In this anthology, you’ll find ideas you can expect given the book’s theme, yes, but also ideas you’ll never in your life see coming.

To say anything more would only ruin the surprise of what’s to come.

But before I do leave you, dear reader, I’m afraid we must discuss one final thing.

How familiar are you with the Mandela Effect?

I’ll let David James Keaton explain it, directly from his novella closing out Lost Films, titled “The Fantastic Flying Eraser Heads”:

“Have you ever heard of the Mandela Effect?”

“Nope. Is that when people keep asking you the same stupid-ass questions?”

“Well, it’s not really like that. But remember The Berenstain Bears. People actually remember them as rabbits, you see…”

“What the fuck.”

“Millions of people think it was The Berenstain Hares.”

“That does sound familiar.”

“It’s named after Nelson Mandela, how people thought he was dead when he was still alive. Or vice versa, I can’t remember. But, like, in Snow White, the evil Queen actually says, ‘Magic mirror on the wall’ instead of ‘Mirror, mirror.’”

“That bitch sounds insane.”

I bring up on the Mandela Effect now because I’m afraid I made a mistake at the beginning of this introduction. I had been positive the film that had haunted me all these years was the infamous Faces of Death. Yet, recently I Googled the documentary and discovered Budd Dwyer’s suicide was nowhere to be found within its table of contents. It wasn’t even included in any of the sequels. What the fuck, I thought, clearly remembering watching this when I was little.

I dug deeper online and learned of a Faces of Death ripoff titled Traces of Death. Unlike Faces of Death, this new film did not pass fiction off as truth. Everything depicted in Traces of Death was real, including the Budd Dwyer suicide that had screwed me up so much as a kid. To this day I have never actually seen Faces of Death, and you know what? At this point, I have no desire to check it out. Traces of Death was more than enough for any eleven-year-old boy.

Goddamn, my mom should have really screened that one first. She basically let me watch a snuff film. What a terrible parent. Oh my god.

Before Budd Dwyer shot himself, he warned anybody in the room to leave if they thought what was about to happen would affect them.

I urge you now to do the opposite.

If you think this anthology of horror will affect you, please stay.

Don’t leave.

Embrace the ugly. Embrace the awful.

Embrace the lost films.

Introduction reprinted from Lost Films, out August 21st.


About the author

Max Booth III is the CEO of Ghoulish Books, the host of the GHOULISH and Dog Ears podcasts, the co-founder of the Ghoulish Book Festival, and the author of several spooky books, including Abnormal Statistics, Maggots Screaming!, Touch the Night, and others. He wrote both the novella and film versions of We Need to Do Something, which was released by IFC Midnight in 2021 and can currently be streamed on Hulu. He was raised in Northwest Indiana and now lives in San Antonio.

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