Robin’s Underrated Gems: The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001)

When the infamous Birdemic: Shock and Terror was unleashed on the world, many people were convinced that the entire movie was an elaborate hoax. It just did not seem humanly possible that a film could literally do EVERY single possible thing wrong and that anyone could make a movie that bad by accident. However, I think I’ve seen enough terrible films in my lifetime to be able to tell the difference between filmmakers who are intentionally trying to make a bad movie and filmmakers who are just plain incompetent. While I most definitely believe that Birdemic is an example of the latter, effectively doing an example of the former requires a lot more skill than you’d think. Intentional recreations of bad movies are an acquired taste, to say the least, and only seem to draw a limited audience. The most famous example of this sub-genre is definitely the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez collaboration, Grindhouse, which did a terrific job at recreating the sleazy grindhouse B-movies of the 1970s and garnered a devoted cult following, but wound being a major flop at the box office. Black Dynamite did a brilliant job at doing a comedic recreation of the cheesy blaxploitation films of the 1970s, but only garnered a limited theatrical release. And then there’s The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, an hilariously dead-on recreation of low-budget sci-fi B-movies from the 1950s. This film has pretty much languished in obscurity since the day it was released, but is still beloved by a small, but loyal following of fans who appreciate its style of humour. The original trailer for Lost Skeleton is such an accurate recreation of a 1950s sci-fi trailer that anyone watching it could easily be fooled into thinking it really was a trailer for an old movie.

The director, writer and star of The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is Larry Blamire, who decided to make his film in the same cheap fashion that was used to make so many B-movies in 1950s. The whole thing was filmed in ten days on a budget of only $100,000 and was shot entirely on videotape, which was later converted into black-and-white in order to give the film its authentic 1950s feel. Much of the filming was done in the legendary Bronson Canyon, a location that has witnessed the making of more low-budget B-movies than you can count. The movie had no music score composed for it at all, as its entire soundtrack is comprised of the same stock library music that was used by numerous B-movies in the fifties. The whole thing was even filmed in “Skeletorama”… though I don’t actually have any idea what that is! Providing a plot summary for The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is almost redundant since, in true B-movie fashion, the dialogue feels the need to repeat its plot points over and OVER again! Maybe I should just describe the plot in the same style as the dialogue. The main character is a scientist named Dr. Paul Armstrong (Larry Blamire), who likes to practice science. His wife, Betty (Fay Masterson), is a scientist’s wife who supports her husband’s decision to practice science. The couple goes to a cabin in the woods, so that Paul can look for a fallen meteor and practice science on it. A mad scientist named Dr. Roger Fleming (Brian Howe) is in the same woods practicing science, and is looking for the legendary “Lost Skeleton of Cadavra”. A spaceship from the planet Marva also crashlands in these woods and two aliens from the planet Marva, Kro-Bar (Andrew Parks) and Lattis (Susan McConnell), go on a desperate search to find a rare element called “atmospherum”, which is the only thing that will allow them to repair their ship and make it back to the planet Marva. Paul and Dr. Fleming are also looking for some atmospherum in order to practice their science, and, man, what an astounding coincedence that all the people in the universe who need atmospherium wound up together in the same secluded woods! If my plot description sounded awfully repetitive, keep in mind that I’ve sat through numerous bad movies where the characters constantly TALKED LIKE THAT! However, Lost Skeleton does an hilarious, bang-on job of recreating clunky scenes like that.

In addition to all the wackiness involving the married couple, the alien couple and the mad scientist, there’s also a mutant in a really cheap-looking costume that has escaped from the alien spaceship and spends his time horribly mutilating people (which the characters constantly remind us about). Dr. Fleming also creates a companion for himself named Animalia (Jennifer Blaire), a human hybrid of four different woodland creatures who makes people dance with her hypnotic powers. Fleming eventually finds the Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, who orders him to find the atmospherium, which will bring him back to life. Most of the scenes involving the skeleton involve shots of it lying on the ground with Larry Blamire doing a tacked-on voice-over. Now, if you’ve watched a lot of cheap 1950s B-movies, you’ll definitely appreciate Lost Skeleton of Cadavra and what an authentic, convincing job it does at both recreating and spoofing the genre. While watching it, it’s fairly easy to forget this isn’t actually a fifty-year old film. As easy as it may seem to make an intentionally bad movie, one has to walk an incredibly fine line while doing so. The most important lesson to remember is to never wink at the audience and let them know that the whole thing is a joke. This movie follows the same model for parody that was established by the Zucker Bros. in Airplane! by having their actors deliver the dumbest, most ridiculous lines of dialogue with 100 % seriousness. Many accomplished actors have said that it is incredibly difficult to give an intentionally bad performance. Some of the cast members in Lost Skeleton, particularly Fay Masterson and Brian Howe, are highly experienced actors who’ve had numerous roles in Hollywood films, so it’s a hard adjustment to make when you’re asked to deliver a deliberately wooden performance. I’m sure it was a daunting task for a professionally trained actress like Fay Masterson (whose previous roles included working with Stanley Kubrick in Eyes Wide Shut) to have to act out scenes like this and keep a straight face.

Trying to do a deliberately bad B-movie is an incredibly tough task, but The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra manages to pull it off and since it runs a lean 90 minutes, the joke doesn’t end up wearing out its welcome. It’s clear that Larry Blamire has a genuine fondness for the movies that he is spoofing, and it’s obvious that everyone involved had a ball making this film. While those who enjoy watching bad movies are sure to appreciate Lost Skeleton and find it hilarious, I have to admit that this film is probably a tough sell for others. I’ve known many people who just don’t understand the appeal of willing sitting through a bad movie, so there’s no chance in hell they’d ever want to sit through a comedic recreation of one. That probably explains why spoofs like The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra only wind up reaching a very limited audience. At the end of the credits, there is a a title card reads: “Coming Soon: Trail of the Screaming Forehead“. Larry Blamire and his cast actually did reunite to make Trail of the Screaming Forehead in 2007, another 1950s B-movie recreation/spoof about killer alien foreheads, and in 2009, they returned to make a sequel, The Lost Skeleton Returns Again. Both of those films came and went without making a peep and I wasn’t even aware that either one of them existed until very recently. It’s a shame Grindhouse was a not a big hit because it could have lead the way to more quality spoofs in this sub-genre, but alas, they are destined to be nothing more than cult items. However, I do consider myself proud to be in this sub-genre’s limited audience and consider The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra to be a very clever and hysterical hoot. The whole thing terribly shot, terribly edited, terrible written and terribly acted… and that makes it one the most underrated comedies of the past decade!

This entry was posted in Movies, Robin's Underrated Gems. Bookmark the permalink.