Friday, June 25, 2004

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra
Review by Sombrero Grande

In the past, I, Sombrero Grande, have enjoyed, reviewed and recommended films best suited for select audiences: Bad Santa for those who possess a high tolerance for vulgarity; The Triplets of Belleville for silent film or surreal animation fans. Today I will recommend a film for perhaps the smallest audience yet: The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.

Who should see this film? Are you a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000? Are you a believer that a movie can be “so bad it’s good”? Have you seen Plan 9 from Outer Space more than once? Do you smile upon hearing the name “Torgo”? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra was made exclusively for you. (Just so you know where I’m coming from, Sombrero Grande would say “yes” if asked any of the above questions.)

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is both a heartfelt homage to and a parody of films like Plan 9 from Outer Space, The Screaming Skull and Manos: Hands of Fate. It tries--and most of the time succeeds--to pass itself off as a 1950s-era grade-Z sci-fi horror flick. All the conventions that make these kinds of movies “so bad they’re good” are present: aliens who look exactly like “Earthlings” save for their shiny space suits; mutant monsters in ludicrously bad costumes (which show obvious seams and zippers); heavy-handed and forced exposition that grinds the film’s pacing to a dead halt every single time; obviously cheaply constructed sets; obvious miniatures; obvious strings and wires; you name it.

The “hero” of the story (though he doesn’t really do all that much to earn him such a lofty position) is a “scientist”. We know that he is a scientist not only because he constantly is saying, “I’m a scientist,” but he also has a microscope and some test tubes with him in several scenes. The “villain” (who also doesn’t do a whole heck of a lot “villainous” other than laugh in an evil manner) is also a scientist and also can be seen occasionally with what appears to be the exact same microscope and test tube props the hero had in the last scene. Just like in the movies The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra spoofs, that’s really all the character development these folks have or need for the story that feels both overly complicated and overly simplified at the same time.

Normally comments such as these in a review would be a bad thing for a film, but here I mean them as compliments.

Aside from possessing an often dead-on likeness to grade-Z cinema, the best thing The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra has going for it is that since it is trying to be bad, any slip-ups, mistakes or shortcomings look intentional. The flipside of this is that it’s really not a film everyone can enjoy. (You really have to be a fan of these kinds of films to get into it. I’m really frankly shocked that a major studio picked it up to distribute--granted it was in VERY limited release--so limited, in fact, that it never played in any theaters close enough for me to see it until it came out on DVD--but still.) WHY isn’t this a film everyone can enjoy? I mean, it’s smart, it’s funny...people love parodies. In many respects, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra falls into the same pits that the films it imitates do. A fan of these kinds of movies can dismiss the tediousness of the slow plot, the flatness of the characters, the unnatural dialogue, the alternately obvious and baffling story points and the downright goofy performances as being “faithful” to the material, but I can see any other viewer having zero tolerance for it.

Mil Peliculas calls the kinds of movies The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra emulates “anti-classics”. These are movies that are so bad they’re good because the filmmakers that created them really thought they had created something wonderful...and it turns out they really, REALLY didn’t. Ed Wood had a purpose and a message to convey in Plan 9 from Outer Space. If you’ve seen Tim Burton’s great bio-pic Ed Wood, you know that Eddie thought of Plan 9 as his Citizen Kane. He really thought he was going to grab people, touch them and enlighten them. El Bicho has a great explanation of “anti-classics” in his Kill Bill: Volume I review: “Yes, those films were truly bad; badly acted, badly written and badly put together, but for most of them it was not intentional. We laughed at their seemingly lack of awareness as to the limits of their talent; nevertheless, there was also a smattering of respect because somehow they had completed a film and got you to watch it.

Though The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra very effectively mimics “anti-classics”, it can never be one because it is INTENTIONALLY bad. So, ultimately, the experience feels rather hollow. Yes, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is funny and clever and should be a hoot for genre fans to watch (and they SHOULD watch it), but as a piece of film it’s really nothing more than just a novelty. I saw it once, I enjoyed it, but I really don’t have any interest in seeing it again; Plan 9 from Outer Space or Manos: Hands of Fate I can re-watch anytime.


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