Every so often, for the past eight years, I attempt to find out the name of a movie I saw when I was a teenager. I only saw the middle part of the movie on TV. I believe it was a late 90’s film based on the cinematography. My memory of the plot is suspect; I don’t know who acted in it, or even the year I saw it. All I remember is how I felt. The mystery, the Gothic drama being enacted through the love triangle of a sculptor (or maybe he was a painter), an older woman, and the young woman she had adopted. (Or was the young woman a household servant?) I’ve visited the Reddit message boards that exist solely to help track down movies for the forgetful. I’ve Googled every search term combination I can think of. So far, it remains only a memory. Even my sister, who I remember watching this movie with me, doesn’t seem to remember it.
That’s where the similarities end between myself and Alice from A Family Film. While my lost movie remains a harmless fascination, her lost film became an obsession. The idea of a VHS tape that morphs into a talisman of evil and family dysfunction was an idea I couldn’t let go until Alice’s story was told.
There are a few reasons that tales of lost media are so intriguing to me. Art can be both democratic and extremely personal and niche. Alice’s connection to the film is so powerful that she becomes enthralled to its memory. After all, if she remembers it when nobody else does, that must mean something – she alone can unlock the film’s secrets. That one moment of mystery brings potential meaning to an ordinary life.
On the flip side, there is menace in the way lost films move through the world. They disappear and reappear, seemingly at will. Alice’s VHS tape makes its way to her in mysterious fashion, just in time to cause new havoc within the family unit. These artifacts exert an otherworldly power on those who view them or seek them out. The lost film, and its magnetic draw to the curious, the obsession-prone, and the cinephile, reveals how much we are shaped by art, and how little we can control the creative process. The art itself becomes a force in the world.
I’m certainly not the first to use the lost artifact trope as a plot point; in fact, I’m always on the prowl for stories revolving around a bit of lost media. Check out John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns, in which the film in question causes madness in the audience. There are also some truly chilling creepypasta about lost TV episodes, such as Candle Cove and Dead Bart.
I’m sure my own “lost” movie could not hold up to the memory; it would be dated, melodramatic, and likely a huge disappointment. I have mostly given it up as lost. But I’ll always wonder.
Rachel DiMaggio is a writer of dark fiction who lives near Boston, Massachusetts with her husband and two rescue cats. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in English and Literature from Southern New Hampshire University. Her fiction has been published by the Tales to Terrify podcast and by Rose Red Review. When she isn’t writing, Rachel loves to cook; as a ginger, she can sometimes be spotted nibbling on the souls of the unlucky.
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