Anyway, last night I watched The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, which will appeal to at least a few of you (Matt, Jim, Sarah, I'm looking at you).
The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra looks like a classic, B-grade, black and white sci-fi movie, but it actually came out a couple of years ago. It's part parody and part homage, but it's done with such a straight face that it could pass for the real thing. I didn't see it in 2004 when it was in theaters because it wasn't playing any closer than Chicago, and I didn't make it a priority when it came out on DVD because the critical response was all over the map. Generally the gainsayers complained that it was devoid of actual jokes and ineffective in the way that deliberate camp usually is (remember what I was saying about Snakes on a Plane?). I was bored and annoyed with the first third or so of The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, but after that point it got really entertaining. I suppose it's possible that I was just getting tired or that I'm going soft in the head, but I'm more inclined to believe that somewhere after the opening scenes writer (and director and star) Larry Blamire started writing with tongue firmly in cheek, and then failed to edit the screenplay into a more homogeneous product. Either way, it felt unpromising when it started out, and eventually became incredibly entertaining.
Anyway, the plot, for those who care: Dr. Paul Armstrong and his wife Betty are spending the weekend at a secluded cabin so that the Doctor can study a recently-landed metorite made out of that rarest of atomic elements, atmospherium. Unbeknownst to Dr. Armstrong, two other factions are trying to get the atmospherium: two aliens who need the element to power their ship, and the nefarious Dr. Roger Fleming who hopes to use it to reanimate the Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. We're never really sure how it's going to happen, but the Lost Skeleton is going to help him take over the world. Add to this a murderous alien mutant and Animala, a lithe, sexy creature made via transmogrification from (as Dr. Fleming points out so frequently) four forest animals.
The movie is assembled from genre conventions and cultural memories, and it excells as a collection of Schlock Cinema's Greatest Hits. Its problems -- and these are most apparent toward the beginning -- lie in its overdependence on those conventions. Yes, old movies are rife with badly-matched stock footage, circular dialogue ("That meteor could mean actual scientific advances in the field of science!"), and scenes that end with forced laughter over bad jokes. The opening scenes rely heavily and painfully on this stuff, but after awhile the style settles down and the jokes start being genuinely funny (as opposed to faux ironic). Once this happens, the tedium lets up, it becomes fun, and it begins to feel like an authentic example instead of just a parody. Adding to the authenticity is a soundtrack comprised of old stock music. For some reason -- I haven't quite figured this out -- you can't beat that stuff, and it's hard to imitate.
Anyway, now I'm looking forward to Larry Blamire's next movie, Trail of the Screaming Forehead. It's a horrendously bad title, but the special effects will be done by the Chiodo Brothers (Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Team America: World Police...), and it's being backed by one of my biggest film heroes, Ray Harryhausen (no kiddin'). On one hand, I'm a little disgusted by the whole idea of pre-fab cult classics, but on the other hand, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (when it gets good) is so close to the best of the classics... Those who like good "bad" films can either slog through the mountains of cinematic trash looking for the "cream of the crap," or they can check out the few really convincing genre parodies out there. Most rational people would rather choose the second option. More than anyone else, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is for them.