Mothman (found unreleased Doug TenNapel film; 1997-2009)
Screenshot from the film.
Date found: 29 Aug 2023
Found by: Anonymous, MrBones
Mothman was an unreleased independent horror film written and directed by Doug TenNapel, the creator of Earthworm Jim and Catscratch. It marked the artist's first, and only, foray into live-action filmmaking.
The film follows Ellis Gladson (Ed Schofield), an aspiring animator living in the small town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. With his work continually rejected by Disney, Gladson spends most of his time looking after an abandoned apartment building that his father inherited. In the midst of his dejection, he suddenly encounters a tall birdman known as the Mothman, a creature that has not been seen in the town for thirty years. No one believes Gladson's sightings and he becomes an outcast instantly. With the help of Old Man Hudson (John Fredrick Jones), who claims to have seen the Mothman back in the day, Gladson has to prove that the creature really exists. Things take a turn for the worse when he gets stalked by Agent Fulmer (Doug Langdale); a Man in Black also on the hunt for the Mothman but for a much darker purpose.
Doug TenNapel got the idea for the film when he was assigned to create illustrations for a book covering urban legends, specifically the infamous 1966 sightings of the Mothman. Fascinated by the tale, he wrote a screenplay about what would happen if the creature reappeared in the present day. As he had made the video games The Neverhood and Skullmonkeys for DreamWorks Interactive, TenNapel pitched the idea to their film division.
While not receiving a full green light, executive Martin Cohen was intrigued by the idea and agreed to finance the film. Producer Mark Russell also helped create a production package and the project was quickly coming together. TenNapel soon faced hurdles in pre-production as Russell had to leave for the UK to work on Saving Private Ryan. In his place, Russell recruited longtime collaborator Jay Holben to help produce the film while he was away. The initial budget was $650,000 with TenNapel securing a potential cinematographer along with other crew members.
Delays in the production, however, forced the budget to be shortened to $150,000 and when most of the funding for it collapsed, Holben and Russell had to settle for a $60,000 budget. This meant that the film could only have a 15-day shooting schedule and 90% of the crew was laid off. After losing the initial cinematographer, Holben took over as the DP in addition to producing.
Principal photography began in December 1997 at locations in Orange County, La Habra and Fullerton, California. Filming then moved to Point Pleasant, West Virginia; the same place the Mothman was reportedly seen. The shoot was by all accounts difficult. In addition to facing time constraints, the crew had to deal with freezing temperatures and ruckuses from local hunters.
Since the project was fueled by donations, post-production took longer than expected and missed a couple of potential release dates. Despite this, TenNapel got the word out by creating an official webpage and a few newspapers reported on the film's production. A distributor was not secured, but the movie managed to get an IMDb listing.
Sneak previews were held at the 1999 San Diego Comic-Con and a trailer was cut, but the film was not finished. TenNapel planned to shoot additional footage in February 2000, but this fell through. The following March, music editor Gene Andrusco unexpectedly died from either a brain aneurysm or a heart attack. Prospects of the film's completion soon went quiet.
The last update regarding Mothman was in 2003 when a company called Bad Karma Productions stated that they were in the final editing stages for the film.
The reasons for the film's abandonment have never been revealed and TenNapel has been hesitant to discuss any aspect of the production, although he was willing to list it on his website. It also mentioned that the film had evolving lengths from 90 to seven minutes.
Only a handful of stills and a few behind-the-scenes photos are available online. A trailer was uploaded to YouTube in 2007, containing a minute's worth of footage and half of the opening theme. TenNapel collaborator Terry Scott Taylor composed the music with a few songs performed by the Lost Dogs. A soundtrack was said to have been in production but it too never materialized.
In a 2010 interview, TenNapel had this to say regarding a potential release:
"Long story, but it's just a hard film to finish. We're close to a DVD edit that will be about 20 minutes long. That will be the end of it... And even then, it's the movie that doesn't want to be finished!"
TenNapel has recently stated that he and the producer are trying to find the original footage so they can compile something together.
On August 21st, 2023, YouTuber MrBones covered the Mothman subject on his Lost Media Limbo series. With this, a few days later, an anonymous viewer who claimed to have worked with Doug TenNapel in the past had contacted MrBones from his coverage of Mothman and thus provided the full film that was eventually shared in the Lost Media Wiki Discord server.
On November 28th, 2023, filmmaker Matthew Tannam-Elgie announced that he was nearing completion of a documentary about the making of Mothman, and that it will include behind the scenes footage and interviews with cast and crew. In a Reddit post about the project, Tannam-Elgie wrote the following:
"...the stuff I've uncovered while making this project is truly bizarre, and steps into some rather dark territory."
- While the film was last heard from in 2003, interestingly, in the credits for the short film, the film was copyrighted in 2009, meaning it may have been released under a certain period of time in 2009, but is entirely unconfirmed if it ever was released in that time period, thus its article title still lists it as "unreleased" due to unconfirmed release status. A 2010 interview with Doug TenNapel does confirm that they were planning to have a DVD released, but considering this was copyrighted in 2009, and no other sources referencing that the film was officially released anywhere, it still does go under "unreleased", unless or until sources about it being released surface.
- The film was originally going to be way longer than 22 minutes, but due to time and budget constraints. most of the footage shot may not have appeared in the final film.
- Original Mothman website. Retrieved 01 Feb '18
- IMDb page on the film. Retrieved 01 Feb '18
- Jay Holben's profile on the film. Retrieved 01 Feb '18
- TenNapel's film projects page. Retrieved 01 Feb '18
- Offical article on the film. Retrieved 01 Feb '18
- Neverhood fansite with a few mentions of Mothman. Retrieved 01 Feb '18
- Obituary on Audrusco. Retrieved 01 Feb '18
- Page where the announcement was made. Retrieved 01 Feb '18
- Alternative Magazine Online interview. Retrieved 01 Feb '18
- TenNapel's Twitter. Retrieved 01 Feb '18
- Matthew Tannam-Elgie's Twitter. Retrieved 03 Dec '23
- Reddit post by Tannam-Elgie. Retrieved 03 Dec '23