The Bizarre Mystery Behind a Filmmaker Named J.X. Williams

My most recent selection from the incomparably deep collection offered by Facets was Experiments in Terror.  It features a series of six avant-garde, surrealist, obscure horror vignettes, some made as early as 1961. All of them struck a  chord with me, and I instantly started googling the individual short films to learn more. One in particular- The Virgin Sacrifice, made by a guy named J.X. Williams- has an extremely bizarre and fascinating history.

Let me first state that everything I’m going to write from here on out, all of the information, is only alleged. I can’t find a shred of proof for any of it.

The original running time of the film was approximately three hours. However, nearly all of the footage was destroyed in a fire. All that was left was nine minutes. The part that survived the fire shows a mute girl who’s apartment-hunting. She arrives at a new potential home, where she’ll have two roommates… who just happen to worship the devil. They invite her to one of their meetings, and then the short devolves into an LSD-infused Satanic ritual. Here’s the full clip, which is well worth the view:

Today, there is a shroud of mystery surrounding every part of the film, and especially around the director. Some people claim that the production was the most cursed film production ever, if you believe in such things. One obvious example of horrible luck is the fact that nearly the entire film was destroyed. It was only seen a few times on the festival circuit before it burned. Williams (the director) survived a car-bombing, which Cinema Nova alleges was a result of his unpaid mafia debts. Supposedly, people on the set died of drug overdoses. The film was financed by a “high-profile member of The Church of Satan whom many believe to have been Sammy Davis Jr“, and some say that it’s the source of the curse. Read that again. Sammy Davis, Jr. was allegedly a member of the Church of Satan, and financed a 3 hour film about a virginal sacrifice, then cursed the movie. I can’t bring that up as fact. Even though there are a lot of rumors about Sammy Davis, Jr.’s ties to Satanism, it sounds ridiculous. And I can’t find a single source that can confirm ANY of this information- the deaths, the overdoses, Sammy Davis…

J.X. Williams’ most controversial film, Peep Show (1965)

J.X. Williams probably doesn’t even exist. More likely, it’s a pen name for Noel Lawrence, the curator of the J.X. Williams Archive. IMDb’s page for Williams even lists “Noel Lawrence” as Williams’ birth name. The name itself- “J.X. Williams”- was used as a pen name for a lot of gay pulp novels in the 1950s (thanks to the New York Times for that bit of info). Williams, the filmmaker, made a lot of mafia-sponsored pornography, including a film actually named “The 400 Blow Jobs”. If you don’t believe me, here’s the poster. His most controversial film was 1965’s Peep Show, which posed itself as found footage but clearly featured a lot of stock footage and clips from lesser-known films that had already been released. It goes bananas for 1960s conspiracy theories, proposing many potential conspiracies behind the JFK assassination, and suggesting a mafia plot to get Frank Sinatra addicted to heroin.

Here we are, some 40 years after The Virgin Sacrifice. And it’s all still a mystery, one of those classic urban legends buried in Hollywood lore. Is J.X. Williams real? Is he Noel Lawrence? Did the mafia try to do him in, and did he take money from the Church of Satan to make a cursed movie? Did people really die during the filming of The Virgin Sacrifice? Is it all a hoax, tied to some attention-whoring filmmaker from the middle of the 20th century? It’s all fascinating and I wish I knew the answers.

20 Comments

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20 responses to “The Bizarre Mystery Behind a Filmmaker Named J.X. Williams

  1. Wow, what a fascinating article. As soon as I finish the film I’m watching, I’ll watch The Virgin Sacrifice. Sounds pretty weird, but I’m down for that. The Sammy Davis, Jr thing is hilarious. As is the 400 Blowjobs poster.

  2. One thing I love about Classic films is the endless possibility for X-rated parodies! I’ll try to put my hand on the Virgin Sacrifice!!!!

    • The Youtube clip in the article is all that’s left of the film. If you watch that, then you’ve seen as much of it as is out there.

  3. goregirl

    Fan-freaking-tastic!! I can not believe I have never seen Experiments in Terror! What the hell? I had no idea there was a rumour about Sammy Davis, Jr. being a satan-worshipper! I find that hysterically funny!

    • The Sammy Davis rumor is so crazy. When I googled it, though, it turns out that it’s a popular rumor. Something about Anton LaVey giving him an award.

      You, of all people, should track down a copy of that disc. Or better yet, everything that’s on it is available on Youtube with one exception. Tuning the Sleeping Machine takes clips from classic Hollywood horror and mashes it all together into a Guy Maddin-style vignette. It’s my favorite of the bunch. Here it is on Youtube:

      Ursula, about a little girl who’s oppressed by her mom. From the early 60’s:

      Outer Space- some guy took clips from The Entity and turned it into an avant-garde weird-ass horror short. Again, kind of like Guy Maddin:

      Journey into the Unknown- I couldn’t find a clip on this one.

      And Dawn of an Evil Millennium:

  4. I don’t believe in any of that supernatural curse stuff, but this is a fascinating story, nonetheless.

  5. I love bizarre stories like this…only in the world of cinema!

  6. Mysterious story indeed and I guess that’s what makes it some sort of urban legend. Great look into it John, I didn’t even know about until I read your post.

  7. The Candyman can INDEED! Ya’ know…that Eastman Color IS revealing!

  8. Chitij Karki

    I wonder what a movie which is very close in theme to sunset boulevard but instead explores the life and delusions of J X Williams would be like…I’d love to see one (as long as they don’t turn it into something like exploitation cinema….)

  9. As a personal friend of the author of this article, I humbly request that no one bring up the fat funny man curse. Hopefully Droid is too low on the radar for such a thing, but that movie I is like cyanide for those of us who enjoy our calories.

    • The Fat Funny Man curse is sometimes mislabeled as the Fat Funny Man curse. It’s actually The Curse of Atuk, which somehow involves John Candy, John Belushi, and Chris Farley:

      Atuk is most famous for supposedly being cursed and, according to legend, responsible for the deaths of several major comedic actors in the 1980s and 1990s. The “Atuk Curse” has become one of the better known urban legends of Hollywood. Its first victim, supposedly, was John Belushi, who had read the script and was reportedly enthusiastic about taking on the role of Atuk. Shortly afterwards, he was found dead of a drug overdose in 1982.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atuk#Alleged_curse

      • Dude, I know what the real name is….Now that you wrote about it, your ass is on the list. I was trying to keep everyone else from jinxing you and you went and did it yourself!

  10. The 400 Blowjobs…. wow. What a weird little story.

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