The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (review)
To B or Not to B
The geeky love, the wonderfully geeky love of bad B movies has now come full circle, from the unappreciated decades of the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, to their ascendancy to objects of derision and perverse fannish worship on the Satellite of Love, to today, with The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, which affectionately apes the “genre” in all its awful, hilarious glory.
No, wait, excuse me: This just in: The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is not a modern spoof, not a loving parody, not a larkish, prankish adventure in deliberately bad filmmaking. It is, in fact, a lost film dating from 1959 and recently found in pristine condition and presented to us, we completist film buffs, now as an historical document.
Gotta, gotta, gotta love a movie where the Mystery Science Theater is built right in. Of course, that makes it hard to supply your own sarcastic commentary, but the calculated badness is more than amusing enough on its own. Everything that made B movies so great and so terrible is here, and writer/director/star Larry Blamire doesn’t even need to play anything up to make it so bad it’s funny — this is just like all those cheap, shoddy movies we love to ridicule. There’s an absurdly coincidental plot. It’s all filmed in “the miracle of Skeletorama,” which apparently means “black-and-white,” in all those same bad California locations that would later show up on Star Trek where shirtless Kirk would fight a guy in a lizard suit. It’s scored with music dusted off from some studio library. And it’s so badly acted that the cast is taking quite a risk, for who can tell whether they really are bad actors or are simply very, very good at aping badness?
It’s the latter, really. Blamire is Dr. Paul Armstrong, a scientist who specializes in science, much to the loving chagrin of his lovely wife, Betty (Fay Masterson: The Apartment Complex, Eyes Wide Shut), who puts up with all this science like a devoted scientist’s wife should. Paul is on the track of that rare atomic element atmosphereum, which — wouldn’t you know it? — is also being hunted down by evil scientist Dr. Roger Fleming (Brian Howe: The Majestic, K-pax), who does not have a lovely wife and who needs the atmosphereum to reanimate the Lost Skeleton of the title, which wants to rule the world, natch. But that’s not all. Krobar (Andrew Parks: Donnie Brasco) and Lattis (Susan McConnell), two Marvans from the alien planet of Marva, which is quite alien, also need the atmosphereum to repower their crashed ship. And I won’t even go into the radioactive mutant monster or the a slinky catwoman girl creature, neither of whom need the atmosphereum.
I just like saying “atmosphereum.”
Oh, the lengths, the faux, snarky, tongue-in-cheek, trust-no-one, it’s-all-real/it’s-all-fake lengths to which we world-weary Xer geeks will go in order to amuse ourselves. We’ll deliberately watch movies deliberately made bad because we get off on seeing someone else — in this case, Blamire — get off on being amused by the same badness we’re amused by. There’s some kind of circle-jerking at the heart of this bizarre symbiotic relationship, but I’m much too much in the middle of it to sort that kind of thing out.
Oh, and just so you know: The cartoon that precedes The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, the one called “Skeleton Frolic,” about the corpses rising from their graves for your entertainment? I couldn’t figure at the first, given the nature of the feature that was to follow, whether it was a genuinely old toon or whether it was a new spook of those old toons that were weird and never really funny and went on just a little too long. Turns out it’s the real deal, dating from 1937. No, really.