In the golden age of movies, a ticket gave you more then a single movie. With the purchase of that ticket, you got a feature film and previews for other films just like today, but you also saw newsreels and cartoons, and sometimes a "B"-movie. "B"-movies were the starting ground for fresh faces in Hollywood in those days, a place to prove your mettle and ensure that stars like Paul Walker didn’t make it to featured pictures. Typically starring no-name talent, written by new scriptwriters, and featuring budgetless special effects, "B"-movies were a good time to go get popcorn, or have a good laugh. The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra idolizes those "B"-movies of old, and attempts to recreate the fun of those pictures, all while having a good time.
Please, hold on to your seats while we peruse the story of The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. Betty Armstrong (Fay Masterson) and Dr. Paul Armstrong (Larry Blamire) take a trip to the woodlands. Armstrong is a scientist, you know – one of those folk who "does science". On a search for a meteor and the "atmospherium" it contains, the two become participants of an adventure involving aliens who have crash landed on our planet and need the atmospherium to power their ship, and the titular Lost Skeleton who also needs the atmospherium to bring life to its bony corpse. Along the way other eerie and enchanting characters are encountered, including an oddball farmer, Ranger Brad – a forest ranger who stands around hoping people need a ranger, Dr. Roger Fleming - another scientist who is aiding the Lost Skeleton, and Animala – the female form of four woodland animals transformed into a human body.
Written, directed, and starring Larry Blamire, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra has all the features of old "B"-movies. It sports bad dialog such as "Our car broke down and I fear I’m afraid we’re dreadfully lost I’m afraid". The "special effects" are laughable at best, and howlingly funny at their worst. The sets are sometimes nothing more then pegboard with dials and gauges tacked to it (for the inside of a space ship). Honestly Ed Wood would be proud of Blamire’s accomplishments. But through it all, the actors seem to have fun with the material. Blamire and Masterson are great as the overly innocent would-be heroes of the flick. Brian Howe plays the evil scientist role to the hilt including an over the top maniacal laughter bit. Susan McConnell and Andrew Parks are probably the highlight of the film as aliens Kro-bar and Lattis, with the worst dialog and funniest way of personifying an alien’s confused perception of our world. Finally Jennifer Blaire’s Animala is humorous and exotic, and I guarantee you’ll never find a more sexy delivery of the word "rowyr" in a black and white movie outside of the porn industry. Even the few supporting members of the cast are great though, playing their roles with talent deserving of the script.
This film does exactly what it sets out to do – create and pay tribute to "B"-movies, so part of the low rating I bestow upon the film is an honor. The cast and crew wanted to make a bad movie, and they succeeded. Like Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies, this is a bad movie that will entertain many people and is destined to become a cult classic. However, one can only take so much badness. The film’s redundant dialog and laughable special effects are only humorous for so long, and then they become tiresome. Blamire would have done his project and his audience a great service by shortening the film to less then 60 minutes. As it stands, the ninety-minute movie starts to feel tedious at the first half-hour mark, and an hour later is far too long to try and hold an audience.
The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra had only a limited release in theaters and really is destined to become a cult film and the DVD release attempts to build that potential, but not as much as I would have liked. While there are a decent amount of extras included with the film, it’s not enough or presented in an original enough format to drive people to give them more then a passing view.
The film itself is included in stereo, but unfortunately that’s the DVD’s first major issue. Bad artifacting appears on screen through as much as 20% of the movie. The picture started in a digital format, shot on DV, then transferred to film, and then to DVD, it’s unimaginable the picture quality would go down so badly. At first I hoped it was intentional, some way to give it that older feeling, but as it’s inconsistent from shot to shot and scene to scene, I think it’s an actual technical issue with the transfer of the film, most likely due to contrast issues. Unfortunately it mars the movie itself, which would the main thing you’d expect to be right. Also included is a classic cartoon short entitled "Skeleton Frolic" which is older then the movie, but looks almost new thanks to a good transfer and helps build a theme for The Lost Skeleton. Apparently the cartoon was shown before the film during its theatrical release.
Two commentary tracks accompany the film - one by the cast, and one by the crew. Larry Blamire appears on both of course, and helps keep the tracks from repeating information. He does a good job of wearing his actor hat during the cast track, and leaving his director and writer diatribe for the other track. The actors talk about their take on the movie, and how many of them didn’t play the character on screen, but rather tried to play an actor playing that character. That approach allowed them to be brilliant as actors, and poor as performers at the same time. Other time is spent belittling the film, and pointing out inconsistencies such as missing gloves. The crew track is a lot more informative for those who want to learn how a "B"-movie is made in this day and age. Everything from script to location hunting and costumes is discussed at length. Both commentary tracks are great to listen to, but the crew track has some depth to it as well. It’s a shame no interesting approach was taken for the tracks such as a visual commentary, or inviting someone like Mike Nelson to come belittle the film like the recent Refer Madness re-release.
Two featurettes are included. "Obey the Lost Skeleton" talks a little bit about the making of the film, and what the intended goal was. If you watch this, then you remove much of the reason to listen to either of the commentary tracks, as the testimonials in the featurette has the same information as the tracks. The tracks are more entertaining, but the featurette doesn’t take an hour and a half to watch. It’s your choice. The other featurette is a Q&A session from one of the film’s screenings. Shot on a home video camera, the session is difficult to watch and not very captivating.
Also included is a short blooper reel, mostly made up of footage of the skeleton falling apart during filming, and "virtual selectables" – fake collectibles for the movie like collectable drinking glasses or collector cards. Nothing outstanding is presented in either one of these. More bloopers would probably have been fun, but Blamire explains somewhere on the DVD that most of the footage was used in the actual movie, thus the lack of bloopers.
All in all, the film is a lot of fun, especially if watched in a crowd that enjoyed "Mystery Science Theater". The DVD however is lacking, and with a bad transfer of a bad film, isn’t really worth a permanent place in a DVD collection.