Stating that writer and director Larry Blamire brilliantly nails every bad horror and sci-fi convention in The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra isn’t saying very much. The concept of spoofing all those flicks from the ’50s and ’60s has itself become a bit of a cottage industry, with innumerable skits on Saturday Night Live and Mad TV going for a cheap laugh by skewering the equally cheap production values and the horrible dialogue delivered by horrible actors. Mystery Science Theatre, one of the funniest shows on television, did nothing more than run these forgotten low-budget gems in front of a couple of robot puppets and a fake astronaut who assaulted the movie with an arsenal of sarcasm and derision. Tim Burton’s Ed Wood spent two hours exploring the life and times of the infamous director who made the worst-of-the-worst of these no-budget creations.
So it’s been done before. So what. It’s still a pretty funny gag, and Blamire’s lampoon is notable because he concentrates more of his attention on the dialogue than he does on the sight gag of spaceships made out of toilet paper rolls, although you are treated to such things in the movie. What seems to have obsessed Blamire was the way these films used ridiculously long monologues filled with pseudo-scientific babblings to replace anything actually happening in the film. To have something actually happen, you need a couple bucks for props and locations and effects. And the monologues were not written by William Faulkner. But it didn’t matter because the films were shown in theaters that had nurses posted at the doors for those who were overcome by all the HORROR and SPINE-TINGLING CHILLS. They were shot in Scary-Vision or Shock-Vision or You’re-Gonna-Crap-Your-Pants-Vision. If you were a kid, you just had to check it out. Walking out of the theater, realizing you got ripped off in a huge way matured us more than the weathered copies of Playboy stuck under our mattresses.
Blamire uses Bronson Canyon in California, a location seen in many “bad” movies of old, to pit Dr. Paul Armstrong (Blamire himself) and his bouncy and terminally Caucasian wife Betty against evil scientist Dr. Roger Fleming. Both scientists are looking for atmospherium, an element contained within a recently fallen meteorite. If that isn’t enough dramatic tension for you, Blamire throws in a couple of aliens, Kro-Bar and Lattis, who also need the atmospherium. But wait! The aliens’ pet monster, The Mutant, has escaped! And there’s a bunch of forest animals that have been turned into a beatnik chick, Animala, and she’s seducing Dr. Armstrong with a hypnotizing dance! And there’s an ornery skeleton lying in a cave that wishes to come alive! Alive, I tell you!
The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, shot in Skeleton-O-Rama ... uh ... I mean black and white, is preceded by a gorgeously animated short from the ’30s, Skeleton Frolics. This short alone is worth the price of admission. Unless you are clinically depressed, you’ll be wearing a huge grin throughout its too-short running time.
Dr. Paul Armstrong himself sums up my reaction to The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra: “I cannot not watch this.”
Now playing at Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak) preceeded by the classic cartoon short Skeleton Frolics. Call 248-263-2111 for more information.
Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.