Larry Blamire’s film spoofs the multitude of grade Z, schlocky sci-fi films made during the fifties and early sixties when directors carrying a passing familiarity with Filmmaking 101 and an independent spirit crafted a flurry of low, low budget films, and allowed untalented hacks such as Ed Wood, Jr. to flourish in clumps and small clusters.
The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is an affectionate spoof of films such as Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), as well as even dumber derivations such as The Astounding She Monster (1957), nailing the flat, hard compositions of those films (camera dollies were expensive, so the visual style was often just static master shots), and the non-performances of amateur and bit actors who talked in a weirdly measured tone, and used smiling to convey their character’s grand knowledge of things scientific.
Blamire’s dialogue also exploits the loopy speech patterns in schlock films where concepts were repeated using slightly different words, if not the same words to ensure even a dog would understand who was the scientist, or an alien, and why a mutant creature roaming California was dangerous to Earth.
The story of the Cadavra legend actually has three threads: eeevil scientist Dr. Roger Fleming (Brian Howe) wanting to revive the titular skeleton so he can be universally powerful; a stranded Marven ship whose pilots Kro-Bar (Andrew Parks) and Lattis (Susan McConnell) must trek down their stray pet mutant (Darrin Reed); and bland scientist Dr. Paul Armstrong (Larry Blamire) and his wife Betty (Fay Masteron) who search the mountains with a handy Geiger counter for Atmosphereum, a spacey mineral needed by Fleming to revive the skeleton, as well as the aliens to power their ultra-slim spaceship.
Once the aliens and villain are aware of Armstrong’s fast discovery, they converge at a woodsy cabin and eat, talk, dance, and eventually battle to gain control of the valuable mineral. This mish-mash of plotting tends to drag on, and the problems with Blamire’s script lie in amusingly ridiculous but inherently flat characters who become tiresome in the final third, as well as the expansion of deliberately bad dialogue that could’ve been trimmed to help the film’s pacing.
By fixating and expanding on the genre’s worst elements, it’s guaranteed to appeal to the genre’s loyal fans, but less so to those who find more bad dialogue and meandering plotting interminable.
Blamire, however, took great pains to make the film feel like a lost B-movie, and it’s actually hard to think of a moment when the Cadavra feels like a spoof. He told his cast to play their roles like amateurs, the effects are ludicrously cheap, the props rarely hide their origin (a chrome caulking gun was used as an alien ray gun), and for film music fans, he took great pains to select vintage stock music from the Valentino Production Music library.
The title sequence is a perfect recreation of the minimalist graphics used by Roger Corman, as well as sixties shlockers such as I East Your Skin (1964), but perhaps the film’s real gem is the character of Animala (Jennifer Blaire), a composite girlfriend Fleming creates with the ray gun from four undisclosed forest animals. Calling his creation “Pammy,” he uses her as cover to approach the Armstrongs as a married couple, but finds her difficult to manage when her cat-like behaviour has her diving face down into a dinner plate, or searching for crumbs on the living room rug. She also lures Paul Armstrong into the woods with a lounge dance number that he embarrassingly imitates.
The film's creation and production – written in five days, shot for $100,000 over 10.5 days, and completed over several months – is covered in the DVD’s dual commentary tracks, as well as the Q&A session at the Egyptian Theatre, where the premiere was held in January of 2002.
There’s also a vintage Ub Iwerks shott, “Skeleton Frolic” which accompanied the film during its theatrical run after Cadavra was picked up by Columbia Pictures. The 1937 cartoon isn’t particularly good – it drags on and on with contrived dance sequences – but it has some striking background layouts and colours that recall trippy sixties cartoons, such as The Amazing Spider-Man (1967) and Rocket Robin Hood (1966), of all things.
Probably the most amusing extras are the non-existent (or “virtual”) promo materials created by Cortney Skinner for the film’s now-gone website, like board games, collector bubble gum cards, “Kro-Bar Krunch” cereal, FEZ candy dispenser, Linbooba Bar, mugs, glasses, dolls, and other ephemeral junk that could've existed had Cadavra been created as a 1962 drive-in feature.
Larry Blamire’s films as writer/director include his debut, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001), Meet the Mobsters (2005), Trail of the Screaming Forehead (2007), The Lost Skeleton Returns Again (2009), and Dark and Stormy Night (2009).
© 2010 Mark R. Hasan