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January 14, 2009

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra

2001, Dir. by Larry Blamire

"From the company that brought you Zombies of Mora Tau and Lawrence of Arabia!" (yes, that's the tagline!) comes a spoof of bad '50s sci-fi that's clearly spent 40 years studying that era in cinema. In fact, it will be very hard for me to write the rest of this review without breaking into spontaneous laughter, because there aren't many movies that seem so perfectly made for me (one character even screams "for the love of Mike!" in a scene!) as this one does.

The Plot
The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, as stated by Director/Writer/Star Larry Blamire, is a tribute to Z-Grade Science Fiction Films. And it imitates one perfectly. The film begins with scientist Paul Armstrong and his wife Betty (Blamire and Fay Masterson) venturing into a wooded area in search of a rare element, Atmosphereum. Paul loves science, as is determined through multiple conversations about how much Paul loves science. Meanwhile, a more "disgusting" scientist Dr. Roger Fleming(Brian Howe, recognizable now as one of Clint's sons in Gran Torino) is on the Atmosphereum's trail, but for a more devious reason - he wants to awaken the terrible Lost Skeleton of Cadavra!

Oh, and also a husband and wife pair of aliens from the planet Marva, Kro-Bar and Lattis, crash-land on Earth and their pet mutant gets loose. And Dr. Fleming creates a female named Animala from four forest animals and dust, using the aliens' lost Transmutatron. And there's a forest ranger named Ranger Brad that loves to help people who're lost in the woods.

The Good
First of all, the film is gloriously shot in black-and-white. And shot in famous Bronson Canyon, the setting for the likes of the infamous Robot Monster and a myriad of other creature/alien flicks of the era. Blamire and crew make it clear from the opening that they were fully committed to becoming the kind of film they wanted to pay tribute to, and it pays off in full. To be perfectly honest, my first viewing of Lost Skeleton made me feel like I had watched an Ed Wood film, and left me scratching my head. But the more I looked back, and the more I remembered old sci-fi films I'd marveled at, the more the film's charm showed through. Now, I've seen it multiple times, and it seems to grow more relevant as a record of midnight cinema's history with each viewing.

But, primarily, the movie is hilarious. From strange sight gags like the miniature rocket in broccoli trees, to strangely clunky dialouge, to the obviously visible wires that control the skeleton, the film pulls no strings (well, except the ones on the skeleton). Blamire and Masterson play the "straight" characters, but the entire film is played with a straight face. This is especially joyous in the aliens' behavior (great hammy performances by Andrew Parks and Susan McConnell), and in the silly sensuality of Animala, considering that she's made from four different forest animals. The Mutant, as pictured above, is goofy (though it looks better than that tree that's Stanford's mascot!), yet always on the attack - which makes it fit in perfectly eith the movie's charm. And, of course, there's the skeleton, which is an actual science lab skeleton on wires, but also a idol to the devious doc and a telepathic terror to the rest of the characters. Ridiculous, yet straight faced.

The Bad
Well, like I said above, it's a film that takes some getting used to. Awkward is a good word for it. It balances on the line between spot-on and ridiculous at times, and it took me multiple viewings to realize how self-aware the film is. Hopefully, you're quicker than me, and will catch it first time.

I can't promise the film will be relevant to those that aren't immersed in the sci-fi of this era, either. But I think it can be entertaining in a "so bad it's good way" regardless, something the filmmakers were hoping for while making it.

Random Quotes (because they're too good to share time with moments)
  • While posing as a human, Kro-Bar is flustered when Dr. Fleming accuses he and his wife of being aliens, and retorts quickly with "Aliens? Us? Is this one of your Earth jokes?"
  • Ranger Brad stops by to inform the Armstrongs of the mutant's first horrible mutilation, and assures them that "We take our horrible mutilations seriously in these parts!" This leads to the scientific Paul pondering "Mutilate...mutant...mutilate...mutant. I wonder."
  • Dr. Armstrong also repeats many times how much he loves "doing science", most notably by telling his wife "If you keep cooking like that, I won't have enough energy to move, let alone do science!"
  • And my favorite, Ranger Brad stating when asked if the mutilation could have been due to a bear that "I've seen a bear do things, well...even things that a bear wouldn't even do."
The Verdict
It's only one film, but Larry Blamire and everyone else that worked on this film are officially on my cool list. The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is a testament to exactly why I created this site - the fact that even the most ridiculous movies can thrill us, inspire us, and make us smile. Here's hoping the upcoming sequel The Lost Skeleton Returns Again! is half as funny, and that Blamire's follow up idea The Trail of the Screaming Forehead finds its way to theaters someday. If you have any interest in midnight cinema, and even a passing interest in the sci-fi films of the 50s, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is an absoulte must see.

The Mike's Rating: Legends Series

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have wondered and wondered and wondered about this one!

I thought the trailer was freaking GOLD when it first came out, but I never got around to seeing it.

I guess I must, now...