Tuesday, July 06, 2004

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra

* * (out of four)
Seen 3 July 2004 in Jay's Living Room (widescreen DVD)

There's a fine line between parody and pastiche... actually, the line isn't fine. One the one side, you've got a faithful recreation of a certain style, while on the other, you've got the mere mockery of it, though without the creativity, wit, or meaning necessary for it to be called satire. Parody isn't completely worthless, but it's a small, somewhat petty pleasure, especially when the target is as easy as the 1950s sci-fi B movies that The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra targets.

I imagine Cadavra's filmmakers will say that their movie is more a tribute than a mean-spirited taunting, but it seems to me that a more fitting tribute would be to do the whole B-movie thing with the same materials and budgetary limitations, but do it well. Make the best low-budget sci-fi/horror movie you can. After all, what makes certain movies from the 1950s genuinely entertaining as camp isn't that they're bad, but that there’s a certain sincerity that radiates from them. Even if the people involved knew they were just making "product" to fill drive-in screens, they were trying hard in the hopes of elevating the work above that or just to get noticed and hopefully graduate to A-level pictures. Something like Cadavra just does not, and cannot, have that, and the audience picks up on it instinctively.

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra combines several B-movie plots – a scientist and his wife looking for an asteroid made of "atmospherium", another scientist (this one eeeeeevil) looking for a ghostly skeleton he believes will help him Rule The World, and a pair of human-looking aliens whose ship has crash-landed on earth and must repair it as well as recapture their pet mutant. All three groups will, of course, need the atmospherium for their purposes. All three, of course, will spout fifty-year-old bad science and stilted dialog. It’s amusing the first time, but an hour and a half of it...

In the areas where it doesn't try to score points on how goofy its source material is, though, this movie can be quite enjoyable. The opening credit sequences were some of the most slick, if not actually stylish, parts of these B-movies and Cadavra's mostly accentuates the positive. The same is true for the score.

And there are two very funny performances. Andrew Parks and Susan McConnell play Kro-bar and Latis, two aliens from the planet Marva, and these are genuinely funny characters. Yes, they are just as over-the-top as the guys saying that something "will be a great scientific breakthrough for science", but these bits are all about making this movie entertaining, rather than pointing up those movies' shortcomings. It's well-executed "we don't understand your strange Earth ways" stuff.

As a result, the aliens' scenes are the most consistently funny. The others score some occasional points, such as having good comic timing on how the phrase "horribly mutilated" is repeated, but too often rely on simply pointing out deficiencies without seeming to realize that that, in and of itself, is not actually humorous.

When I worked at a movie theater in college, I would often be asked whether such and such a movie was "supposed to be good". Being the picky-with-words person I am, I would often reply that every movie was supposed to be good, and state whether or not this one succeeded. With The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, I'd have to admit that, no, this one wasn't even supposed to be good, and guess what? It often isn't.

No comments: