I can still see it clear as day. The year was 1992 and I was watching Batman Returns on the big screen, when I was possibly a little too young for it. During the climax the Penguin’s base has been destroyed, Catwoman has gained revenge on Max Shreck and Batman watches a chorus of sad penguins drag their fallen master into the water.
One particular image always stuck with me – the Penguin’s lifeless body floating in the water looking up at the camera, and as it passes out of frame Batman’s torn mask can be seen at the bottom of the water. The only problem with this poetic image is it doesn’t exist. I watched the movie subsequently on video, only to wonder why it was missing. It didn’t crop up on TV airings or as a DVD deleted scene, and searching for information online yielded nothing.
Still, this torn mask image is as vivid to me as the rest of Batman Returns, and anytime I’ve watched it since it always comes back to me. Maybe this shot did exist and was trimmed out following the theatrical release, but considering the way the Penguin’s body sinks instead of floats kind of rules that out.
I’m not the first person to have this weird quirk of memory based on a movie, and many more stories of “phantom scenes” – aka scenes that exist only in the mind of the viewer – have emerged over the years.
For instance, on his fan commentary for Day Of The Dead screenwriter Roger Avary talks of an alternate ending he recalls from his initial viewing, where Dr. Logan comes back as a zombie and is reunited with his “pupil” Bub. This ending was never shot or even suggested by George Romero; but since Logan is shot in the chest instead of the brain Avary considers his resurrection plausible, and considers it his personal ending.
Critic Alexander Walker cited in his not exactly glowing review of The Devilsmoments of violence that don’t appear in the movie, including a scene where Oliver Reed’s testicles are crushed. The Devils is hardly lacking in shocking moments, but it contains no such shot of Reed’s masculinity being flatted. Director Ken Russell confronted Walker on this point during a BBC interview focusing on the reaction to the film. When the critic refused to address it, Russell famously rolled up a copy of the Evening Standard and whacked Walker over the head.
In Walker’s defense, it’s possible to infer this during Reed’s torture scene, but it definitely doesn’t happen onscreen. When it comes to these ghost scenes it commonly seems to be exaggerated moments of violence people recall, when the movie itself merely implies them. Some people will swear there’s a deleted shot of Bruce Willis running across broken glass in Die Hard, which is probably them mentally connecting it to his bleeding foot in a later scene. There’s a certain urban myth quality to these phantom moments too. The story will spread of someone remembering a spectacular deleted scene, and suddenly a group of people will back this claim despite such a moment having never existed.
On that front, a good place to start is the enduring myth of The Ring‘s ‘Brussels cut’. Hideo Nakata’s creepy chiller tells the story of a cursed video that kills those who watch it, and shortly after a screening at the Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film accounts of an alternate cut spread. Apparently, audience members were told the version being screened was a unique edit, which differed from the regular version in one significant way.
In the movie Sadako’s victims are found with their faces frozen in terror, yet in the Brussels cut their mouths have instead deformed into extremely narrow vertical slits. Those who claim to have seen this version say it made the movie much creepier, yet no proof of it has ever surfaced.
Nakata himself laughs off claims of another edit, and despite rumors the Brussels version has been shown on TV there are no pictures to back it up. What likely happened is somebody saw this cut and imagined the slit mouth visual. They spread the story online, where other fans excitedly picked up on it and passed it on as fact. Considering this is The Ring we’re discussing, it all feels a little meta.
Elsewhere, there’s a small cult surrounding a fabled TV edit of Jaws 2, which supposedly contains gory carnage the studio removed from the theatrical cut. There was a noticeable dip in bloodshed from Spielberg’s original to the relatively clean follow-up, yet rumors persist a violent version was filmed. This bloody Jaws 2 was allegedly broadcast on Irish television in the early 1980’s and features scenes where most of the victims meet a nasty end.
One particular scene seems to haunt the nightmares of those who saw it. In the sequence where Marge saves young Sean Brody, only to get swallowed in his place, the audience only sees the shark rise from behind and snatch her. In the extended version however, there’s said to be a front shot of poor Marge stuck within the shark’s mouth. The blood-soaked girl screams while the shark’s jaws chomp down a few times – complete with bone-snapping sound effects – before it sinks again.
This image has embedded itself within a subsection of the fanbase, and the hunt to find this edit continues. It’s likely to be a long search since the producers, filmmakers and actors confirm it was never shot. The lack of blood was a conscious act, since Jaws attracted complaints from parents about the gore. In fact, on the making of Jaws 2 director Jeannot Szwarc talks about his deliberate staging of Marge’s death. He designed it so the shark would rise and Marge would just disappear, which admittedly gives the moment an eerie effect.
So the options are the filmmakers lied and a bloody version was shot, or the people who saw the film at a young age have either misremembered or confused the scene with another movie. It’s easy to see how the lines could get blurred; there’s a scene in Jaws 3 where a character is swallowed and crushed, but it’s a male character and the setting is quite different.
Other examples are plentiful; there’s a persistent rumor of a post credit scene in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, where the Ark burns through the crate before it cuts to black. There’s talk of an extended Die Hard scene where Ellis asks the terrorists for some coke and is disappointed when they bring him a can instead (he does enjoy a can of Coca-Cola on screen, though). Lastly, there was talk for many, many years of the deleted Biggs Darklighter scenes from Star Wars being shown to some audiences in 1977, only for Lucas to trim them out in subsequent edits.
So where do these phantom memories come from? There are numerous explanations, including the brain filling in blanks when it can’t complete a connection. If it can’t fully reconcile pieces of information, it will often stitch them together. For the Biggs scenes, it’s likely the fans in question read the novel and saw the pictures of Darklighter and Luke in the Star Wars storybook, and their memory did some creative sewing.
There’s also a theory these false memories have something to do with The Mandela Effect. This term refers to any incident where people collectively misremember an event, despite having no contact with each other. It refers especially to the strange phenomenon of people remembering Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the 1980s when in fact he died a free man in 2013. They recall a televised funeral and a moving speech from his widow and are stunned to learn it’s all within their minds.
Their memories pulled together disparate facts about Mandela’s life and reached the same conclusion. Fervent believers in this theory also think there’s some Sliders-esque parallel universe shenanigans happening; let’s stick with memory being a tricky thing for now, though.
If there’s a collective example of a phantom memory amongst movie fans, and one that has an easy solution, it’s the mythical alternate ending for Big. The movie tells the story of Josh, who wishes to be grown-up and comes to regret that choice when his wish comes through. The film ends on a bittersweet note when his love interest Susan learns he’s literally a boy trapped in a man’s body. She declines the chance to become young again to stay with him, and in the last shot he becomes a teen again and they wave goodbye.
The alt ending of Big – which was allegedly aired on television in New Zealand – continues from the final shot, and finds Josh in class. A new student sits beside him, and when he looks over he’s shocked to find it’s Susan, who changed her mind and became young to be with him. This ending stayed with fans for years, but if it ever existed no one could find the footage.
It turns out this lost ending was neither made up or mysteriously buried. Fans did, in fact, see this ending, it just wasn’t for Big. The same year it was released there was another age swap movie called 14 Going On 30, which featured the same premise. In the final scene, the lead character is sitting in class when he realizes the new female student is a young version of his love interest. The scene is exactly how fans described the phantom Big ending, and since the two films share so many elements it’s easy to see how they got them confused.
So if you’ve ever clearly remembered a scene from a movie, only to be shocked when you found it doesn’t exist, just know you’re not alone. Also, if your version of Batman Returns happens to contain an extra shot during Penguin’s demise, please be sure to get in touch.
This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.