The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra – A Review
I wrote in a previous article that I felt the worst kinds of movies are the ones where the filmmakers get lost in their own sense of self-importance. Where their inflated sense of artistry prevents them from making a movie that’s actually good. I hate movies like these, because it doesn’t allow the film to have any sort of entertainment value. Luckily, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001), an independent film written, directed, and starring Larry Blamire, is not one of those movies. This is the kind of movie that is so bad, so silly, so tongue in cheek, that it’s actually a lot of fun to watch. It is one of those “good bad movies.” You know you’re in for a good time when the opening credits proclaim that the film was shot in “Skeletorama.”
Lost Skeleton is an homage to the B-movie, sci-fi horror films of the 1950s. During that particular post-war era, there were a number of themes that were running in the public conscious, particularly involving fear. You had the Cold War, the Red Scare, Area 51, and potential alien invasion. Filmmakers tried to capitalize on those themes involving the unknown, and the doubts about those around us. As a result, they made many low-budget movies involving aliens, mutant monsters, and characters that were not what they seemed. Many of these films turned out to be straight-out classics, such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The War of the Worlds (1953), and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Unfortunately, the majority of the films turned out to be appallingly bad, the kind of films Ed Wood would make a career out of making. These are the kinds of films you would see being made fun of on Mystery Science Theater 3000. However, the earnestness of those films allowed them to be highly entertaining despite their badness, and as a result, they would receive a cult following. Larry Blamire is one of those cult followers, and that was the inspiration for how Lost Skeleton came to be.
To describe the story of the movie is almost unnecessary, because the story is so far-fetched and silly. Scientist Paul Armstrong (Blamire) and his wife Betty (Fay Masterson) travel out to a cabin in the California foothills to make a “scientific discovery to advance the field of science.” They are the prototypical 1950s American couple: him with his chiseled chin and her with the perfect hair and polka dot dress. The two of them are in search of Atmospherium, a rare piece of meteor that apparently landed somewhere near. If he finds it, he will be able to advance the field of science, and become a world-renowned scientist (starting to get the idea?).
At the same time, another scientist by the name of Dr. Roger Fleming (Brian Howe) is also in search of Atmospherium. However, his intentions are much more diabolical: he plans to use the Atmospherium to resurrect the legendary Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, and with it take over the world…or make a lot of money…or something…does it really matter? The way that Fleming discovers the skeleton is a metaphor for the low-budget independence of the whole production: he finds the skeleton in cave hidden under a…blanket. No expense too great, as you can see.
But ho, the excitement doesn’t end there! While the two scientists dig around for the Atmospherium (say it out-loud, isn’t it a cool word?) an alien spacecraft made out of cardboard crash lands in the same vicinity as well. Out of the spacecraft appear Kro-bar (Andrew Parks) and his wife Lattis (Susan McConnell), alien beings from a distant planet. In a conversational style reminiscent of Yoda, the couple literally explains to the audience that they too need the Atmospherium: to fuel their ship and return home. Unfortunately, their crash accidentally released their pet mutant; a huge snarling killer beast that they must also recapture before it kills any innocent victims. This leads to a three way meeting of all these characters, all desperately needing the precious Atmospherium, all willing to do whatever it takes to get it, and all doing it in hilarious fashion.
In his film, Blamire has captured the amateurishness of those bad B-movies, yet also retained the good nature that made them so enjoyable to watch. The film was shot in scruffy black and white, the lighting was done often from natural sources, and the framing was static and flat. Often times the actors were framed so badly that they would be partially cut off from screen. The editing was sudden and abrupt, and the continuity was almost completely absent. There is one moment where a character would be seen walking to one side of a room wearing a dark jacket, and then in the very next cut would be seen wearing a lightly-colored shirt. Props were clearly made from household items, the skeleton was straight out of a high school science class, and was moved by clearly seen wires. During a scene where the skeleton walks with two cohorts, you can almost see where on the plastic skeleton the actors are gripping to hold it up. The mutant monster was obviously a man in a bad monster suit: it looked like a fish costume you would see a frat-boy wear at a Halloween party. But despite all these bad aspects of the film, everyone involved moves and acts as if they are aware of exactly what they’re doing. They may be playing their roles straight, but they know that they are doing it badly on purpose.
A word on the acting. All the actors that play in the film must be extremely good performers. This may seem a little weird to say, but it takes a lot of effort to portray a bad actor. This is a fine line that they must balance: the real actor playing a bad actor trying their best to be a good actor. Take that Marlon Brando! There is even an actress here (played by Jennifer Blaire, Larry Blamire’s wife) that plays the character Animala, a beautiful woman that was transformed from four different kinds of woodland animals. She spends the entire movie acting like a jungle cat, sniffing and prowling and hissing all the way through, that must take a load of dedication.
The best part of the entire film, in my opinion, is the dialogue. The dialogue these characters say is hilariously awful; there is almost a type of brilliance to the way they talk. Here is a just a snippet of the quotable gold throughout the movie:
“Do you believe in the Legend of Cadavra Caves?” “I’m a scientist, I don’t believe in anything.”
“Is that your meteor?” “My meteor already landed. That would be scientifically impossible.”
“It’s strange how different beings on different planets differ.”
“Aliens…from outer space!”
“Sometimes my wife forgets she is not an alien.”
“The only thing I want in that pretty little head of yours is me.”
With this film, Larry Blamire has brought out a style of filmmaking that was apparent back in the 1950s. Of course, there have been plenty of good bad movies made throughout the years, but the films of that time had a consciousness and attitude that made them specifically one of a kind. This film is not a parody, because parodies point and laugh at its source material, but rather, this film lovingly laughs with those movies. Larry Blamire must be a fan, as evidence of his later work, Trail of the Screaming Forehead (2007) and The Lost Skeleton Returns Again (2009). In the end, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is terribly shot, terribly edited, and terribly acted, and is one heck of a good time.