Bill’s Bizarre Bijou
William D. Carl
This Week’s Feature Presentation:
THE REVENGE OF DR. X (1970)
(A.K.A. VENUS FLYTRAP, BODY OF THE PREY, THE DOUBLE GARDEN, and THE DEVIL GARDEN)
Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!
Now this is what I’m talking about! THE REVENGE OF DR. X (1970) is a movie that’s almost incomprehensible to modern viewers, an assault on all that is good and decent in quality motion pictures; a viewing experience so weird and wacky that it boggles the mind. You want to expose your friends to how entertaining a terrible movie can be? This is the stinker to show them the true wonders of crap cinema!
The movie starts with poorly matted credits, and we get a little excited. This stars John Ashley, Angelique Pettyjohn, and Ronald Remy. . . hey, what a minute. These are the exact credits for THE MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND, the green-blooded zombie exploitation hit from 1968. They’ve used all the wrong credits, so it’ll take some digging to identify any cast and crew members for this turkey. Luckily, that dialogue is instantly identifiable. Even in the first scenes, when rocket scientist Dr. Bragan is worrying about the fate of his newly lunched space probe, we get classics like:
Dr. Bragan: How in the hell can anyone be so stupid as to build a rocket base on the coast of Florida?
Dr. Stanley: Dr. Bragan, there could be a possible error in our calculations.
Dr. Bragan: Could be? Could be, Dr. Stanley? There is no room for ‘could be’s’ in this project. You see this? A mathematical error the width of this small coin in space could represent the distance between New York and Tokyo. A ‘could be’ in space could throw our rocket a million miles off its targets. Dr. Stanley, ‘could be’s’ I cannot use! Gentlemen, I want the facts! The facts, do you hear? Paul, you take these ‘could be’s’ and make the necessary corrections and bring me the reports. And get these (motions to other scientists) things outta my sight. Get them outta here!
Yes, friends, the words bear the unmistakable stamp of the wonderfully untalented Ed Wood Jr., writer and director of such joyfully bad films as PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE (1959), BRIDE OF THE MONSTER (1955), and the inimitable GLEN OR GLENDA? (1953.) By the late 1960s, our favorite cross-dressing director had fallen on hard times, and Ed Wood Jr. was writing soft-core (and even some hardcore) pornography. He brought us delights such as ONE MILLION AC/DC (1969),TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE (1970), and the delightfully titled THE SEXECUTIVES (1967). Somewhere between his naughty nudie movies, he managed to whack out a script entitled VENUS FLYTRAP, which was purchased by Japan’s Toei Studios and was anonymously directed. Nobody on any website I searched appeared to know who directed THE REVENGE OF DR. X. It wasn’t even good enough for Alan Smithee.
They did wrangle an aging matinee idol from yesteryear, James Craig, who often stood in for Clark Gable and still sported his pencil-thin moustache in 1970, when DR. X was filmed. Craig had an interesting career spanning from the 1930s to the early 1970s. After establishing himself as a handsome, rugged actor, ala Gable, he starred in several real classics, such as KITTY FOYLE (1940). THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943), KISMET (1944), and OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES (1945). By the Fifties, Craig was working on television shows like DEATH VALLEY DAYS and HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL while still churning out fun B-Pictures like THE CYCLOPS (1957). In the novel MYRA BRECKENRIDGE, Gore Vidal named him the most desirable film star of yesteryear. By 1970, he not only starred in THE REVENGE OF DR. X, he was also in the grade-Z movie BIGFOOT(1970) and the Nazi Biker flick THE TORMENTORS (1971). Yes, oh how the mighty have fallen!
As we saw earlier, Dr. Bragan is a NASA scientist who has a meltdown while waiting for his probe to arrive at whatever space-place it’s aimed for, so his Japanese assistant, Dr. Nakamura, tells him to take a vacation in Japan. Bragan packs his car and drives to the airport —by way of North Carolina, if the signs are right! Stopping for repairs at a rural gas station, he is aided by a friendly white rube in black-face who has a special fondness for snakes. While he fixes the doctor’s car, Bragan discovers a Venus Flytrap and takes it with him. No, there doesn’t seem to be any constraints on transporting a large carnivorous plant across the ocean and into a strange, alien environment. Once he arrives in Japan, he is picked up by the beautiful and, unfortunately completely untalented Noriko, Nakamura’s lovely cousin. They decide to set up Bragan’s laboratory at her father’s old place where there is a greenhouse. You know, because all space physicists are also botanists in their spare time. The road getting there is rough, including passing a volcano which is spewing lava and ash hundreds of feet into the air. Nariko informs the unshaken scientists that “the volcano is never really dangerous.” Hello? Lava? Falling rocks? Okay, I’ll eat my popcorn and watch.
The house is a sprawling mansion with a huge greenhouse tended by a Japanese mute hunchback who plays Danse Macabre on the giant pipe organ in the living room. Doc X (Note: not once in the movie is Bragan referred to as Dr. X, despite the movie’s title!) replants his beloved Venus Flytrap in the greenhouse and begins to go a little crazier. He decides he needs to mate his plant with another carnivorous plant that walks around on the ocean floor. He believes even Charles Darwin could respect such a creature, that even Darwin secretly believed humans to have evolved from plants. Luckily, Noriko knows several nubile women who like to pearl dive topless, and they get the walking plant for the scientist, who marvels over its beauty. It’s a huge tube with long roots to walk with a more scraggly tubers sticking out of its top. When he gets it back to his lab, he injects it with new glands and vitamins so he can make the plant “as human as the human element itself.” What what what? All the while, the thing whimpers like a puppy. Plants can cry? I am learning so much from this movie that I never knew before. Yeah, okay, shut up Bill and eat your popcorn.
Noriko: But, Doctor Bragan, that’s impossible.
Bragan: Don’t tell me anything’s impossible! I refuse the word ‘impossible!’”
Suddenly, the Venus Flytrap is six feet tall with shiny red papier-mâché mouths and the whole greenhouse looks like Frankenstein’s lab. There is a pulley system which Bragan uses to heft the mutant Plantenstein to the roof during a storm and there are lots of those metal shocking things that go buzzzzz bzzzzt buzzzz. Animated lightning crackles on the set as Bragan screams at the storm, “Your mother was the Earth! The rain your blood! The lightning your power! Ah hahahahahaha!”
The resulting creature must be seen to be believed. It’s as if someone who’d watched too many Ultraman episodes was given a fifty dollar budget at Hobby Lobby. It’s a rubber suited monster with pipe cleaners sticking out of its head, flytrap hands and feet, and a scowling skull face. And, yes, the zipper is plainly visible, even in the grainy print I witnessed.
Bragan starts sleeping by the creature, and the mute hunchback begins raising puppies in the greenhouse (uh-oh!), and Noriko begins fighting with the good doctor.
Noriko: You must eat, Doctor Bragan. You must keep your strength.”
Bragan: I can watch after myself, thank you very much! I’ve been doing it for quite some time already.
Bragan attempts to feed the monster one of the puppies, but Norika gets upset. Puppies are off the menu! But, apparently, woodland creatures like mice and squirrels are fair game, and the plant creature grows even larger and makes duck-like quacking noises when it moves. Every time it feeds, the screen goes red. Bragan even goes to a local hospital at night (on a mountaintop?) and steals blood from people getting transfusions to give the Plantenstein its protein supplement for the day. It attacks the hunchback (who, in all fairness, was teasing the monster with a white bunny treat), and the doctor takes the plant’s side.
Noriko: You are no longer Dr. Bragan, brilliant scientist. You are Dr. Bragan, madman.
Bragan: There is nothing wrong with my MIND!
Finally, the creature breaks its bonds and goes rampaging down the hill toward a local village. You know, the one right underneath the lava-spewing, non-dangerous volcano. Soon, villagers take to the streets, carrying pitch-forks and torches. Bragan, using a baby goat as bait, lures the monster to the rim of the volcano, and the scientist and his monstrous creation tumble into the lava stock footage together, while the adorable goat bleats and watches. Just like the end of THE MANSTER(1959)!
So, Ed Wood Jr. wrote it and a fallen star headlined it and apparently nobody directed it, yet you can’t take your eyes off the damned thing! Nor your ears. The music isn’t credited to anyone, and it’s pretty obvious that stock library music was used by randomly putting a needle down on a record and recording. It never stops! And it is rarely appropriate for the scene. Most of it involves xylophones, oboes, and wooden blocks, and the whole doggone thing reminded me of the percussion band we had in music class in the third grade! It’s hard not to laugh when comical xylophone music is playing over footage of an argument or 1960s beach style pop is heard every time someone drives a car. It’s so schizophrenic that an idiot savant seems to have scored it.
Be warned, in no way does THE REVENGE OF DR. X resemble a good movie—and that’s a wondrous thing! James Craig acts as if he’s portraying the dastardly villain tying ladies to railroad tracks. Noriko spouts phonetically learned speeches with no inflection whatsoever. Men in rubber suits attack small children and puppies. Volcanoes can’t hurt anyone till they have to. Inappropriate music, NASA stock footage, snakes in a barn, Ed Wood Jr. dialogue . . . it’s bad movie heaven!
For normal moviegoers, 1 out of 4 non-dangerous volcanoes. For people like us, 4 out of 4 non-dangerous volcanoes. You know you wanna see it!
THE END (..OR IS IT??)
© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl