It’s an unfortunate fact that horror movies, like any other, are prone to cuts and mutilation that reach far outside the screen. Whether due to censorship, commercial pressures or trim-happy projectionists, incomplete versions of quality films have proliferated. Keep in mind that until the mid-eighties most prints of FRANKENSTEIN (1931) lacked a pivotal scene in which a little girl is thrown into a lake, just as THE LOST WORLD (1925) was missing around 30 minutes of footage prior to its 2001 DVD restoration, and THE DEVILS (1971) contained a crucial excised sequence that until just a few years ago was considered lost.
What follows are brief profiles of six films that are known (if at all) in mutilated form. That’s despite the fact that in all cases more complete versions are available (I didn’t say readily available, mind you). Here’s hoping the situation is reversed in the coming years, and that the following survey is a contributing factor. In alphabetical order we have…
LA FIN DU MONDE [THE END OF THE WORLD] (1931)
LA FIN DU MONDE, Abel Gance’s legendary 100-minute folly, was edited down to a 54-minute montage and retitled PARIS AFTER DARK for its U.S. release. It turns out that the little-seen original cut is every bit the outrageous debacle the PARIS AFTER DARK version was. In fact I’d say it’s even nuttier, as it features an appearance by none other than Jesus Christ–or at least a guy playing him on stage, an event that begins the film but is never referred to again.
From there we focus on two brothers (one of them played by Gance himself) who figure that, with the discovery of a comet set to hit and possibly destroy the Earth, they have a chance to unite mankind. Of course we have to endure a lot of choppily edited, poorly acted chatter to get to that point.
This was Gance’s first-ever sound feature, and his discomfort with the form is evident throughout. There’s also the fact that his budget was too scant for the epic vision he wanted to convey, resulting in a lot of cut-rate Ed Woodian silliness (such as a shot of goldfish jostled around in a fishbowl to show the effects of the comet on the world’s sea life). Yet the grandeur of the final scenes is undeniably affecting, intercutting widespread destruction with a mass orgy that must have seemed quite racy in 1931.
For some reason this film, German director Robert Wiene’s follow-up to THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, is most widely known in a 44-minute distillation. In its original 88-minute version GENUINE is an intriguing chunk of hallucinatory splendor that fails to approach (much less match) the brilliance of CALIGARI, but is not without interest.
It involves an artist obsessed by a painting of a seductress named Genuine. A buyer attempts to purchase the painting in question but the painter refuses to sell it (in a scene not present in the condensed version). The painter’s ancient grandfather, we learn, has purchased the flesh-and-blood Genuine from an Arab slave trader and imprisoned her in his weird expressionistic mansion. What follows is a fitfully bizarre stew of perverse eroticism, hypnosis and murder, topped off with an it’s-all-a-dream ending (also excised from the 44-minute version).
IN THE MIDST OF LIFE (1963)
Scripted and directed by the debuting Robert Enrico, this French made adaptation of three stories by Ambrose Bierce is one of the great unknown masterpieces of world cinema. It seems downright inexplicable that at some point following its initial release (nobody seems to know the precise details) the film was turned into three standalone shorts–and that only one of those shorts, “La Riviere du Hibou”/“An Occurrence At Owl Creek Ridge,” is available on DVD. While “La Riviere…” is in fact IN THE MIDST OF LIFE’S standout segment, the film works best in its full three part form.
“L’Oiseau Moqueur,” adapted from Bierce’s “Mockingbird,” starts things off. A complex account of a soldier who shoots a man in the woods only to discover that the latter is actually his long-separated twin brother, it’s marked by luminous black-and-white cinematography and impressive mobile camerawork. The following segment is “Chickamauga,” a profoundly disquieting evocation of a young boy’s innocent frolic amid a troop of zombie soldiers. The rising-of-the-dead sequence, consisting of a lengthy pan across dozens of wounded soldiers clawing their way out of the ground, is among the film’s highlights. As for the aforementioned “La Riviere du Hibou,” it features a condemned man given an unexpected reprieve when the rope around his neck snaps during his execution. The man manages to elude his captors in a vast forest and make his way home to his wife–or so it seems. A disturbing piece, notable (as with the previous segments) for superbly evocative photography that creates a veritable wonderland of water and vegetation fully befitting the hallucinatory arc of the tale, and also the film as a whole.
MR. VIRIL (1992)
This very odd 11-minute short by Steven Sheinberg (of SECRETARY and FUR) is best known as a showcase for a young Angelina Jolie, who appears during the first 3-4 minutes. Unfortunately it’s only those 3-4 minutes (currently streaming on YouTube) for which most people know this 11-minute film.
In MR. VIRIL’S full version Angie plays two of the many girlfriends of the title character, a geeky dude who has constant problems with his gal pals…such as the fact that when he dunks his head in a fish tank the chick standing watch neglects to inform him of how much time has passed…or that past memories haunt him to the point of distraction during intimacy…or that he’s eventually strangled by one of his conquests.
Arch, self conscious and cultish, this film has its moments, although I feel it strains a bit too hard for weirdness.
TIME OF THE GYPSIES/DOM ZA VESANJE (1988)
Serbian maestro Emir Kusturica’s much-acclaimed TIME OF THE GYPSIES is known to most of the world as a 2½ hour feature. That, however, is roughly half the length of the film’s original 5-part TV miniseries version, which is entitled DOM ZA VESANJE (HOME FOR HANGING LAUNDRY).
As you might expect, much is expanded and fleshed out in this version. We learn, for instance, why a fluttering wedding dress is shown attached to the back of the protagonists’ car, which is left unexplained in the feature version. We also get a much fuller portrayal of the life led by the film’s protagonist, a psychically endowed teenage boy (the late Davor Dujmovic) who’s sold together with his little sister to an amoral gypsy. Eventually the boy, who’s initially put off by the larceny and mayhem of the gypsy’s existence, grows to replace said gypsy in the hierarchy, only to be brought crashing back down to Earth upon learning that he was betrayed by his mentor. He hits the revenge trail, upon which his psychic powers come in mighty handy.
DOM ZA VESANGE’S bloated running time actually serves Kusturica’s famously sprawling and undisciplined filmmaking quite well. Furthermore, the spiritually-tinged ending of this version is far more satisfying than the rather puzzling freeze frame that concludes the feature. On the downside, the protagonist is something of an asshole who among other things kills a dog for no good reason and callously shuns his pregnant wife. Yes, he eventually reforms, but that doesn’t make putting up with this shithead for nearly five hours any easier.
A TV DANTE: THE INFERNO (1989-91)
This two-part British TV dramatization of Dante’s Inferno is known primarily for its first portion, created by Peter Greenaway and Tom Phillips in 1989. That part, released in standalone form on VHS and DVD, is admittedly far superior to the Raul Ruiz-helmed follow-up, which appeared in 1991 and is now all-but forgotten. Yet A TV DANTE deserves to be seen in its entirety.
Greenaway and Phillips give us a literal rendition of the Inferno’s horrors, with the text intoned by Bob Peck as Dante, joined by John Gielgud as the poet Virgil and Joanne Whalley as Dante’s muse Beatrice. Also competing for our attention are a wealth of naked extras writhing in torment, overlaid with historical commentary from the likes of documentarian David Attenborough and astronomer Olaf Pederssen, as well as documentary footage and (then) state-of-the-art video effects, presented in a manner that scandalized many viewers (an imdb user whined that the program “violates cinematic grammar”). For the rest of us, however, this 89-minute video funhouse is a wonder to behold.
Onto the Raul Ruiz helmed cantos 9-14, which are quite different in form and style. Here Dante’s text, narrated by John Gielgud, is used as an ironic counterpoint to Ruiz’s real intent: a trenchant portrait of his homeland Chile and its history of political oppression. Thus Dante’s descriptions of the fields of Hell are intoned over panoramic shots of the Chilean countryside, and we see Dante (Francisco Reyes) wandering through a “Hell” of Chilean villages and graveyards.
Ruiz does at least impart quite a few arrestingly gruesome and surreal images, from a man expelling liquid through a torn-up throat to a brain cordoned off by tiny flags and a pile of plucked eyeballs turned into sugary delicacies. The effect, unfortunately, isn’t nearly as clever or revelatory as it could have been. Dante and A TV DANTE both deserve much better.