Return to Babylon: The Creepy Movie that Captured Ghosts on Film

Deciphering Hollywood’s Scariest Movie: Return to Babylon’s Terrifying Ghosts Caught on Film

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For some people, a good horror movie is enough to give them sleepless nights for a week. If that’s you, you might want to skip this article and move on to some nice alien abduction stories, or maybe a vintage mystery, because the legend behind the film Return to Babylon might scar you for life.

There are quite a few “haunted movie” myths floating about the internet, in fact, there’s a handful of movies themselves that tackle the subject of haunted or cursed films, The Grudge or V.H.S., for example. 2012’s Return to Babylon, however, claims to be the real deal. After reviewing the evidence, you just might agree.



Directed by Alex Monty Canawati, Return to Babylon has amassed quite a reputation for itself over the years, thanks in part to the legends circulating around the making of the movie. If you’re inclined to believe that we’re capable of photographing and recording evidence from beyond the grave (or even somewhere else entirely), you’ll likely be more open to RtB’s frightening history.

According to Canawati, he and his producer discovered 19 rolls of 16mm film abandoned on the Hollywood Boulevard sidewalk one afternoon. Deciding it was a twist of fate, the pair began writing a movie that would utilize the old black and white film. Return to Babylon was filmed entirely on an original hand-cracked camera, and focused on the scandals of some of the 1920s most famous movie stars.

This all sounds pretty harmless so far, right? Yeah, well, keep reading.

According to some of the cast, including Jennifer Tilly and Debi Mazar, it wasn’t long before strange things began happening on the set of the film. Actors and actresses reported feeling otherworldly, oppressive entities lurking about, and in some cases many of the crew claimed to have been reached out and grabbed by unseen hands more than a few times. This bizarre activity continued on for the duration of principal photography.

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What the actors didn’t know was that Canawati and his crew had started to notice strange things in the editing room. Mysterious figured began appearing in the negatives; sometimes they were just bizarre shadows, but other times they were much less ambiguous.

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The negatives revealed frightening and grotesque changes to the actors. Their hands appeared stretched, mouths twisted in agony, and faces hideously distorted. Entities appeared out of thin air, and disappeared completely, none of which were present on set while the movie was being filmed.


The strange activity captured on film drew the attention of the Brooks Institute of Photography and several paranormal and film enthusiasts, who were all ready to prove the anomaly a fake. In the end, not one person could definitively explain what had “manifested” on the film’s negatives.

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One proposed conclusion was that the effects were created via countless animations, however the movie’s budget was much too small to afford the cost. Another explanation offered was that merging film running at 16 frames per-second with digital video running at 24 frames per-second may have caused the strange impression that something paranormal was happening on the negatives.

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Unfortunately, the film never found distribution, and according to the director has been the source of continued financial and personal bad luck. Canawati has come to believe that a “Higher Power” was trying to get a message to the world through his film, and that the strange images weren’t demonic, but rather “Christ-like”, and evidence that he captured something much larger than just the actors on film.

I know what you’re thinking. This guy made-up a great campfire story to create buzz for his upcoming film. Well, I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I’m also not saying that you’re right. Sure, there’s a very good chance that the explanation is something completely mundane — old film is volatile and can become contaminated very easy.

But just what if… what if the film canisters Alex Canawati found that day weren’t meant to be used? What if someone… or something… knew that the mysterious film would inevitably cause Canawati to obsess over it for years and years, bringing with his obsession a long run of bad luck? What if Canawati captured evidence of something that was never from this world to begin with?

I guess we’ll never truly know, will we?

What do you think of Return to Babylon? Watch the clip and let us know in the comments below.


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Dana Matthews

Dana Matthews

Co-founder, Editor, Writer at Week in Weird / Planet Weird
Managing editor, occult museum curator, and paranormal TV junkie, Dana has been actively investigating the strange and the unexplained for two decades. When she’s not telling ghost stories or penning articles about real haunted places, she's chasing mysteries with Planet Weird. Learn more about Dana.
Dana Matthews

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He should just release it in its entirety on Youtube. It’s never going to be released properly at this rate, no matter how much publicity or urban legends surround it.

I tend to lean more towards the FPS explanation. The film was designed for a specific type of camera that was used back then. Was the film silent? Magnetic or optical? using the wrong type of film in a camera with a different take up idler will cause problems.

“I guess we’ll never truly know, will we?”

Um. I think we know.

Or…what if website that wants to be reality show cross-promotes other self-promoting media and they all try to create a thing out of nothing?

I guess we’ll never…oh, it, we know that, too. Eh.

I want to see this!!!

The film looks awful and the story reeks of an attempt for free publicity for a low-budget and poor quality film. This is what happens when a film and its budget are just an excuse for a Hollywood coke party.

I agree with you. First Alex Canawati needs to lay off the coke when on camera promoting this ‘so called movie’. And if the standard for paranormal is Maria’s hair whipping around her chin making it look like she has a beard, that is beyond pathetic. Of course Canawati seems to make it clear that the movie will be mainly about bashing Lord Jesus, as usual. At least this movie will show how pathetic Hollywood really is.

I don’t remember Canawati bashing any religion; not sure how accurate you are on that. On the other hand I’m not giving him any compliments either. It’s just spooky entertainment.

Here’s a tad more information on the “paranormal aspects” of the film, but it’s not much. I get the impression this film’s going to become the source for more than a few urban legends/creepypastas over the next few years.

That said, I like the idea of this haunted movie reel. It’s certainly a good story that has bite.

Perhaps it’s the locations they filmed at.

I’m glad I didn’t have to pay my Money to watch this garbage!

considering hollywood babylon was a set of books by kenneth anger, also an avant garde filmmaker, i say post it and let us see this great work.

I love Silents – even the comedies lend themselves to a certain creepiness. But this … . Any chance we can see this thing?

I saw him on celebrity ghost stories a few years back talking about the creepy face morphing. I almost forgot about until I came across this clip. Not really sure if I believe it or not.