Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre

Fans of The Outer Limits can rejoice -- the long-lost "Ghost of Sierra de Cobre" is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray. Joseph Stefano, the man responsible for television's The Outer Limits, was contracted to produce two spooky television pilots in early 1964; The Unknown and The Haunted. The Unknown was never sold but re-edited with a different ending and telecast as the final episode of the first season of The Outer Limits, titled "The Form of Things Unknown." The Haunted was never re-edited into an episode of The Outer Limits but a lengthier cut with a different ending was released theatrically as "The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre," only overseas in other countries. For the American television audience and theater goers, the pilot/movie was never seen for decades.

The story concerns a young woman, fearful of being buried alive, who installs a phone in her crypt. Should she be prematurely buried, she can phone for help. A few days after her untimely death (and as a result of her phobia her death was verified 110% before burial), the phone suddenly rings and paranormal investigator Nelson Orion (played by the late Martin Landau) is brought in to probe the case. Diane Baker and Judith Anderson play supporting roles. Robert Stevens started directing the pilot, but became ill and was replaced by producer Stefano. 

Hunt Stromberg at CBS previewed the pilot and reportedly cried. He said it was the most beautiful film he ever saw. The Haunted was slated to compete against NBC's Bonanza but Jim Aubrey was fired as head of CBS and his replacement wiped the slate of all shows originated by Aubrey and Stromberg except for The Wild, Wild West. As a result, The Haunted was shelved and never seen. (Numerous websites claim the film was too scary and the network scrapped the pilot as a result, which is inaccurate. The "too-scary-for-TV" theory has been credited towards other unaired pilots so this is not an uncommon myth.)

Other than a brief write-up in David J. Schow's magnificent Outer Limits Companion, I never knew this pilot existed until a few years ago when UCLA hosted a one-time screening from their archives. Supposedly a film festival in Japan screens the film annually due to popular demand. And here on the East Coast at the annual Cinevent Film Festival in Columbus, Ohio, someone promoted a late-night screening of this unaired television pilot. The festival, which draws in hundreds -- if not thousands -- of attendees, often screens rare films courtesy of 16mm collectors. Sadly, there were not many people in the audience by the witching hour and I was one of the few. I always felt there would have been more in the audience had the television pilot been promoted better. The collector who brought the 16mm print for screening was strangely insistent of not promoting in advance what the "unaired horror TV pilot" was, so many decided not to attend the screening and instead hit the pillow early. I cannot blame them -- at least half a dozen people knew I was going to stay up late and watch the mystery film and they asked me to brief them in the morning so they would know just exactly what it was being screened the night before. For myself, I was glad I took the shot in the dark and stayed up late to watch the film. (I suspect the collector was the same person who bought The Haunted 16mm print sold on eBay a few years ago for $90, but nothing to base this on except for the fact that the film is an extreme rarity.) 

The above story proves that some 16mm collectors can be a tad eccentric, but in this case the film is no longer a Holy Grail among collectors, thanks to Kino Lorber. With a street date of October 30, The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray, thanks to a brand new 2K Restoration. The commercial release includes both the movie version and the television pilot (advertised as an "alternate cut"), with audio commentary by film historian Eric Grayson and the ultimate of Outer Limits authorities, David J. Schow.

Kino-Lorber's recent Outer Limits DVD releases are superior to
the prior DVD releases with new print transfers and bonus extras.
Also recommended.

There was a rumor circulating on the internet a few weeks ago that the DVD and Blu-Ray release was cancelled due to a behind-the-scenes rights dispute, but this is apparently inaccurate -- I received my copy in the mail yesterday. The film is worth all the hype and I can state for certain that this is indeed worth the price (which is less than $13 on DVD if you shop around or visit Kino-Lobber's website).

If you are curious to know which should be watched first, start with The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre first, then watch The HauntedGhost was the feature film version, 20 minutes longer in length and contains scenes and characters not found in The Haunted, and a completely different ending. 


Tamam Shud said...

Since you're an "Outer Limits" fan, I presume that you have seen "Incubus," the 1966 curio written and directed by Leslie Stevens. How does "The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre" measure up to "Incubus"?

Lionel Braithwaite said...

I saw The Incubus a few years ago, and it does indeed hold up as an interesting movie. I wonder how hard it was for Shatner and company to learn Esperanto?

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