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THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA (PG) (2002)

Fragmighty/Transom Films/Valenti Entertainment/Tri-star Pictures

Official Site

Director: Larry Blamire

Producer: F. Miguel Valenti

Written by: Larry Blamire

Cast: Fay Masterson, Betty Armstrong, Andrew Parks, Susan McConnell, Brian Howe, Jennifer Blaire, Larry Blamire

Rating:

As an idea for a first film, the logic of making a parody of low-budget movies is painfully obvious. I’ve done it myself. Cheap production values are an absolute requirement. Don’t waste money on fine actors, when your drinking buddies will do. All you need is an incisive wit, clever script, good timing, and talent. Ah, there’s the rub! There are so very many unspeakably horrible amateur “camp” movies (including my own) that I was dreading this film. Don’t make that mistake because The Lost Skeleton Of Cadavra excels. In fact, it just might be the Citizen Kane of cheap sci-fi parodies!

“Hmm, I wonder… Oh, well.”

There is a fundamental problem in the critiquing of this film. It isn’t a sci-fi horror film; it is “camp” sci-fi horror film. It makes fun of those countless low-budget movies of the ’50s and early ’60s. Are these films “bad”? Most think they are clearly awful, with their stiff acting (to put it very politely), third-grade-reading-level scripts, and laughably cheap costumes and not-so-special effects. Consider this: Why is Robot Monster, the movie I recommend that you watch to get an idea of just how low these films can go, available on DVD? These “bad” movies have an enormous cult following which continues to support the product some 40 years later. Clearly, there is some unique aesthetic at work in these “bad” films.

So, how to judge Lost Skeleton Of Cadavra, which draws inspiration from outstanding incompetence? This film is not like a Mel Brooks parody, which stands on its own comic terms. Nor is it a fine homage, like Star Wars, which improves on a successful formula. What it does, however, is lovingly recreate the charm of the genre to the best of its ability. If the charm of these low-budget sci-fi films is the unique way in which they are “bad,” then is it wrong to be better? Just how “bad” is good enough?

Bottom line, any response to this film is going to be extremely subjective in a way most difficult to predict. Myself, I love the genre. I’ll admit that I have real trouble watching Robot Monster or Plan Nine From Outer Space, but I think that Giant Gila Monster and The Killer Shrews are true masterpieces because of their elegant incompetence, whether intentional or not.

In my opinion, Larry Blamire and crew have captured that elegance. Through impressive attention to every last detail and complete grasp of the winning style of these films, they have crafted an enjoyable parody that conforms religiously to the rules of the genre. The music, culled from an old compendium of stock music from Valentino, Inc., is more than just truly authentic. This odd, modern, ’50s music is linked to the pace and timing of the film with an expertise almost worthy of comparison to Kubrick. Of course, if you hate the music, you got problems. Watch the exquisitely cheap art direction, down to the obligatory visible strings and an interior of the alien rocketship that is perfect in its inventive, minimalistic poverty. Shot digital and then transferred to B&W film, the photography correctly captures the feel of the old films, remaining economically watchable. To be truly authentic, there should have been a couple of dark shots, or over-exposed shots, where you can’t see what’s happening. Our screening had focus problems that I suspected to be irritatingly intentional for the longest time, but I finally concluded that it must have been a problem with the print. If this director had intended them, then the lack of focus would have been perfectly appropriate, and it wasn’t.

Every exaggeration is subtle, yet profound enough to be amusing. At our screening, several people were howling almost continuously with laughter, probably through some version of better humor through chemistry. Most laughed in the “right” spots, but there where also some groans of real agony. The banal and redundant dialogue is unmistakable, and the occasional static shot goes too long, but editor Bill Russell keeps the pace slow and authentic, never lethargic. The actors are a possible weak link in the authenticity of the film. I hope they will forgive me for saying so, but they simply are too talented and too stylish in a uniquely personal way. They should have been exceedingly bland. This seeming betrayal of the formula of bad films probably helps keep the film humorous, but they don’t deviate from character, never wink at the camera, and clearly give their performances the utmost serious attention. I shouldn’t complain that they are all too good-looking. I’m just jealous.

So, I think this film is bad, really good. If you aren’t the sort of person who really enjoys cheap ’50s sci-fi or aren’t passionately familiar with the rules of the genre, then I would suggest that you go with a group of people who are. Moderate amounts of alcohol might help, but get a ride to the theater, of course. Regardless of your background or state of intoxication, this movie has memorable hooks, not unlike great pop songs, that you will be “humming” aloud as you exit the theater. I fully expect to overhear some quotes randomly in public. I’m not sure, but this is the sort of film that could easily improve with repeated viewings, so I’m going to see it again. Then, I might drag friends to the film, which would oblige me to upgrade the rating to five stars. I anxiously await a DVD. Just think! The deleted scenes! The mind boggles.

—Steven Harding

 

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


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