LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA (2001)
Review by Daniel G. Keohane
With the release of its sequel, THE LOST SKELETON RETURNS AGAIN (2010), I thought I’d give the original: THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA (2001), a quick once over before I cover the new film (coming soon to a CinemaKnifeFight.com column near you), seeing as how it’s one of the funniest movies I’ve had the pleasure to watch since AIRPLANE (1980). And, to be honest, I’m having a heck of a time getting my hands on a copy of the sequel (Hey, Netflix, what’s the scoop???). So while I scour the globe (I think there might be one Blockbuster left in Central Massachusetts….), let’s talk about the original.
Directed by Larry Blamire, THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA is a send up of the best (or worst, depending on your viewpoint) of the 1950s and 60s cheese-ball science fiction/radioactive monster movies. The best way to describe this: mix PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959) with THE CREEPING TERROR (1964), and for some insane reason do this on purpose, then have your immensely-talented cast play their parts as badly and/or over-the-top as possible, but do it all with an obvious love for the genre and the movie-making era to which the film pays homage, and you end up with a sentence which never, ever seems to end, but also a warm, funny movie.
SKELETON is filmed in glorious black and white (or “Skeletorama” as the DVD proudly proclaims) and looks so much like an old 50s movie, my kids – who laughed their butts off when they saw it – had a hard time believing it was less than ten years old. This is a movie for all ages. Younger viewers might not get many of the references, but it won’t dampen their obvious enjoyment of the film’s over-the-top goofiness, at least if my kids were any indication.
The story revolves around our hero, scientist Paul Armstrong (played by director Blamire) who is a man of science, with dreams of bettering mankind, through science. Dr. Armstrong is on a working vacation with his wife Betty (Fay Masterson). Betty, in proper dress and heels throughout, is looking forward to time alone with her husband, but her man is obsessed with finding a fallen meteorite and thus obtaining the rare element Atmosphereum, which – somehow – will better the world, through science. The word “science” is the only word used to describe what Dr. Paul Armstrong does for a living, nice and generic and very funny in how it’s delivered (over and over).
Others also search for the same element. Villain number one: Dr. Roger Fleming (Brian Howe), who needs Atmosphereum to bring to life the legendary Lost Skeleton, our second villain and for whom Roger he has been searching for his entire life. In order to repair their damaged spaceship, an endearing alien couple (from outer space): Kro-Bar and his wife Lattis (Andrew Parks and Susan McConnell), need the Atmosphereum. They also are trying to capture their pet monster which has escaped and is currently running amok in the canyon. More on him later… To achieve both of their goals, Kro-Bar Lattis need to “blend in” with the humans, so as not to attract undue attention.
The three come together, along with a new character created by scientist Roger: he uses a special ray gun to combine four different woodland animals together into a woman he names Animala. His new “pet” is a purring vixen in black spandex and one of the strangest (though quite funny) characters in the film. Animala becomes the sixth member of one of the all time best dinner party scenes you’ll have the pleasure to witness, as Roger and Animala, Kro-bar and Lattis all try to steal Paul and Betty’s Atmosphereum sample for their own evil, and not-so-evil, purposes.
OK, so there’s also been a rash of “Horrible Mutilations” going on in the woods where our heroes are staying. Kro-Bar and Lattis’ escaped monster – a creature so horrible, so grotesque (and brilliantly conceived), the filmmakers spared us viewing it until the end of the movie because it’s simply too shocking to accept at first. Not to mention this wouldn’t also be a parody of old monster movies without the camera itself killing a few innocent bystanders early on.
The best part of this film, I think, are conversations between the characters. Aside from the dinner party scene, the best interchange comes early on between Dr. Paul Armstrong and Ranger Brad (Dan Conroy), who arrives at the cottage to warn the couple about the recent rash of “Horrible Mutilations.”
Never before would I think two of the funniest words in the annals of movie-making would be Horrible Mutilations. Life is good, if not surreal, sometimes.
Now, there is an evil Lost Skeleton. Once brought back to life, it controls Roger’s mind and makes him a slave to its evil will. I’m not sure who actually does its “voice,” but he’s perfect for it. To be honest, the Skeleton, title character or not, was my least favorite. I mean yes, could be because as a young child I had this recurring nightmare of an evil red skeleton chasing me into the Bat Cave. I would hide under the Batmobile as a red glow came slowly down the bat poles, as the skeleton came lower and lower and closer and closer….
Anyway, skeletons in movies back then obviously frightened me (not to mention the “something is not right here” humor of comedian Red Skelton), and many others of my generation… which is why this skeleton is perfect. Especially in the scenes when it rises on almost-invisible strings, or marches through the landscape filmed only from the waste up for obvious reasons (someone was carrying it).
For a movie that sets out to be as imperfect as possible, and do it as perfectly as possible, there is one imperfection I should point out. This joyous, goofy movie made me laugh out loud every time I’ve seen it, but there is a point where I simply stop laughing. The last quarter of the film seems to drag on a little long. As if Blamire wanted to achieve a certain length film and stretched out the final scenes to make it fit. It could also be that by that point in the movie I was simply tired of laughing so friggin’ much. The first three quarters of THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA truly are that funny, if you watch it in the right mindset.
As a nod to the cast and crew, no matter how much you enjoy this movie, it probably pales compared to how much they seemed to enjoy making it. As stilted and wooden as they portrayed their characters, the cast could not hide from us the sheer joy they seemed to have in making LOST SKELETON – even the skeleton itself seems to grin and wink at the audience. So rent this film, turn off your brain and let it be what it is, a funny, loving homage to a classic film style we simply don’t get much of these days. (Maybe that’s a good thing, but after seeing this movie, I think perhaps not.)
© Copyright 2010 by Daniel G. Keohane