100 Film Favorites – #8: The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra
(Larry Blamire, 2001)
The more artistically-inclined among you will be glad to note that yes, my Top Ten does contain at least one independent film. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s particularly high-brow or sophisticated.
The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra opens with Dr. Paul Armstrong and his wife Betty driving along a mountain road. Paul (director Larry Blamire) is a scientist, widely renowned for his advances in “the field of science.” He has journeyed to the region in search of a fallen meteor which he believes to be rich in “atmospherium,” a highly valuable radioactive element.
But the Armstrongs aren’t alone. Dr. Fleming, another scientist specializing in science, has trekked to the mountain seeking atmospherium as well. But while Armstrong hopes to use the atmospherium to provide “benefits for mankind – many of them good!”, Fleming’s intentions are more insidious. He plans to use the substance to resurrect the titular Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, with the aid of whose phenomenal powers he hopes to rule the world.
While Paul and Betty settle in at a cabin in the woods, a second “meteor” falls to Earth. But this latest celestial visitor isn’t a space rock at all…it’s a spaceship. The alien pilots, Kro-Bar and Lattis, have crash-landed and are now in search of the only substance capable of powering their craft: Atmospherium! As Kro-Bar and Lattis assess the damage to the ship, they fail to notice the escape of their pet mutant.
The Armstrongs recover the meteor, and soon both Fleming and the aliens converge on the cabin. To “blend in,” Kro-Bar and Lattis utilize their “transmutotron,” a beam which disguises them as “Earth people.” Under the aliases of “Tergasso” and “Bammin,” the aliens are able to elicit invitations inside, posing as the cabin’s owners. Fleming likewise comes across the transmutotron and, to “seem less alone,” uses it to make himself a date. He aims the beam at an assortment of woodland critters, and the ensuing blast creates the alluring Animala: “half woman, half four different forest animals.”
In perhaps the film’s funniest scene, the three couples sit down in the cabin to dine: Paul and Betty, “Bammin and Tergasso,” and Fleming and Animala. Not knowing Earth eating customs, the aliens resolve to do as the Earthlings do. When Animala gives in to her instincts and buries her face in the food, Bammin and Tergasso promptly do the same. The Armstrongs are nonplussed, and Fleming meekly mumbles, “Everyone’s so hungry…”
As the dinner situation becomes more convoluted, the Lost Skeleton grows weary. From his cave atop the hill, the Skeleton seizes telepathic control of Betty and commands her to bring him the atmospherium. However, Kro-Bar uses the lull to issue a similar mental command. Betty is torn between the telepathic orders of the alien and the skeleton, and collapses in a faint.
Sensing that they are working at cross-purposes, Fleming and the aliens agree to work together and share the atmospherium. On Fleming’s orders, Animala enters the cabin and entrances Paul with a seductive “rock dance.” But when the hypnotized Paul delivers the meteor to Fleming, he renounces his pact with the aliens. “You’ll find that much of Earth ‘sharing’ works this way,” he says. “It’s really like I’m sharing…WITH MYSELF!” Fleming and Animala use the atmospherium to resurrect the Skeleton, who paralyzes the aliens with his telepathy.
Meanwhile, the escaped mutant has been prowling the mountain, committing a string of “horrible mutilations.” Betty, waiting on the hilltop for Paul to return, is accosted by the googly-eyed mutant, who carries her off through the woods. She eventually escapes, and re-unites with Paul. Flushed, they recount their day to one another. Paul tells of being hypnotized by Animala’s dancing “…like I’ve never seen a woman dance before,” and Betty recalls the mutant’s three eyes gazing into her soul “deeper than any human ever has.” After reflecting on their mutual flirtations with supernatural infidelity, Paul and Betty awkwardly chuckle. “We’ve certainly had quite a day,” muses Paul.
The Armstrongs come to the rescue of the paralyzed aliens, and none too soon: The Skeleton is preparing to make Lattis his bride. The scientist and his wife interrupt the bizarre ceremony, and the Skeleton strangles Fleming to death for “being an idiot” and “ruining my special day.” Lured by Betty, the mutant plows into the midst of the intergalactic fray. Soon the Skeleton and the mutant are engaged in an epic “battle” (made all the more hilarious by the fact that the Skeleton prop can’t actually move of its own accord, and the entirety of the “fight” is due to the mutant’s flailing). The mutant hurls the Skeleton over a cliff before succumbing to its own wounds. Paul, Betty, Kro-Bar and Lattis are re-united. Using the transmutotron, they restore Animala to her original, multi-species form.
Finally, the aliens and the humans stroll together down the hill to retrieve the atmospherium. Even though “the ways of different people on different planets differ,” the couples opine, all life-forms will be better off if we can all just get along.
The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is a loving homage to the schlocky, ultra-low-budget sci-fi and horror films of the 1950s, and it nails every convention of the genre. There’s ambiguous “science,” and spaceships on strings. Characters point and laugh at the antics of squirrels in clearly tacked-on stock footage. Villagers and forest rangers stand conveniently by the roadside to offer sinister-sounding directions, or wander through the woods at night at precisely the right moment to be devoured by a marauding mutant. And throughout, the wooden acting and bizarre dialogue contribute to a sense that Lost Skeleton really is a lost “Z-Movie” of the 50s.
Even better, the film does it all without feeling forced. It would be so easy for an intentionally “camp” film to fall flat, but Skeleton never does. Perhaps most impressively, Blamire and company pull off a skillful demonstration of intentionally, and yet convincingly, bad acting.To be fair, a few moments in the film drag slightly (the extended back-and-forth between Kro-Bar and the Skeleton for telepathic control of Betty, for instance, or Fleming and the aliens’ lengthy and circuitous discussion on how to “share” the atmospherium), but never enough to fully derail the movie. All in all, you get the sense that Blamire truly has an impeccable appreciation for and understanding of his subject matter, and spoofs it to a T.
The film is cobbled together from a variety of Z-movie tropes, but a few references to specific films are apparent. Most obvious are the ties to previous Countdown entry Teenagers from Outer Space. The plot point of the wayward mutant escaped from the alien spacecraft is more than a little reminiscent of the Teenagers‘ pet Gargon. Additionally, the film prominently features cheap movie icon Bronson Cave as the Lost Skeleton’s resting place. Appearing in countless sci-fi and western films, Bronson Cave is a pivotal location in the notorious 1953 schlock-fest Robot Monster, where it serves as the monster Ro-Man’s hideout.
Though all of the actors deliver stellar “so bad it’s good” performances (made all the more remarkable by the fact that they’re intentional, and yet still come off as largely genuine), the real show-stealer is Jennifer Blaire as Animala. She does an incredible job of portraying how an animal might act if suddenly made human, interjecting hisses and the occasional “rowr” amidst her gradually-expanding vocabulary. Furthermore, the “illicit” romantic tension between Animala and Paul is one of the sweetest aspects of the film (and made all the more charming when one learns that Larry Blamire and Jennifer Blaire are married in real life).
Blamire secured a distributor for the film in 2004, and in subsequent years has released a string of other kitsch-tribute films, including The Trail of the Screaming Forehead, spoofing colorful 60s B-Movies such as The Blob, and Dark and Stormy Night, an homage to the “old dark house” horror films of the 1930s. 2008 saw the Armstrongs reappear in The Lost Skeleton Returns Again, in which Paul and Betty, accompanied by Fleming’s brother (eager to restore his tarnished family name) journey to the jungles of South America to destroy the Lost Skeleton’s still-living skull. Lattis and Kro-Bar return as well, and “forbidden” romance continues to blossom between Paul and a re-constituted Animala.
All these films are recommended. Blamire is a true comedic genius of the independent cinema scene, and everything he does (including interviews) is saturated with unrelenting surrealism. I eagerly await his next project: The Lost Skeleton Walks Among Us, set to be released in 2014.
-The Lost Skeleton himself, while credited at the end of the film simply as “???”, is voiced by Larry Blamire in a dual role.
-Finally, here’s some impressive cosplay (both in terms of accuracy and obscurity):
Brian Terrill is the host of television show Count Gauntly’s Horrors from the Public Domain. You can keep up with Brian’s 100 Film Favorites countdown here.