Larry Blamire (who also wrote and directed the film) plays Dr. Paul Armstrong, a scientist who, along with his wife Betty (Faye Masterson), sets out to find a meteor that has landed on Earth and which is made of atmospherium.
At the same time that the Armstrong's are searching out the meteor, an alien spaceship lands on Earth. Its inhabitants are Kro-Bar (Andrew Parks) and Lattis (Susan McConnell) have somehow let loose their pet mutant and need to retrieve it before it lays waste to the nearby human population. They also need to get some atmospherium to power their rocket so that they can return to their home planet, Marva.
Meanwhile, the sinister Dr. Roger Fleming (Brian Howe of K-Pax) is trying to resurrect the notorious skeleton who resides in Cadavera caves. When he finds the legendary bones, the skeleton tells him that the only way that he can be resurrected is if Fleming can find him some, your guessed it, atmospherium. Fleming uses the aliens ray gun to create a woman out of four different kind of forest animals, dubs her Animala (Jennifer Blaire), and sets out on his quest.
Ultimately of course, all of their paths cross with the Armstrong's trying to save the planet, the alien's trying to capture their mutant and get home, and Fleming and Animala trying to resurrect the skeleton so that it can bestow upon them untold powers.
If the plot sounds like something out of an Ed Wood movie to you, you're on the right track. Shot over two weeks in Bronson Canyon using props mostly bought on eBay, The Lost Skeleton Of Cadavera is a tongue in cheek throw back to the old sci-fi/monster movies of the 1950s. Parts of it work, parts of it don't but you've got to give the cast and crew points for trying. Bronson Canyon was the perfect locale to shoot on and anyone even remotely familiar with the movies that this film is striving to recreate should recognize the location from the hundreds of b-movies that were and still are made in the part just outside of Los Angeles.
The dialogue is intentionally stilted and, well, dumb. Think Plan Nine From Outer Space written by a five year old. It's repetitive and chauvinist and actually pretty funny in its accuracy. This is the type of movie that Mystery Science Theater Fans are sure to enjoy. At the same time, the repetition of the same jokes over and over again is also the films biggest downfall. While it's hilarious for the first fifteen to twenty minutes, by the time we get around to the ending we've been there and done that and it doesn't really hit any new ground.
That aside, the film does a great job with its low-tech effects. Seeing the plastic skeleton come to life and climb a cliff through the aide of some very obvious wires is a blast, and I couldn't help but chuckle every time the mutant shows up on screen. The heroes are likeable and the villains despicable, which gives it a nice b-movie flavor and makes it worth checking out if you've got a high tolerance for bad jokes and a love of big dumb monsters.
The Lost Skeleton Of Cadavera receives a surprisingly nice 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Seeing as the film was shot on video and in color not less, the picture looks pretty good here (it was down-converted to black and white). There is some digital noise in a few scenes but overall it's nice and clean and not too obviously a shot on video production. Edge enhancement, while present, isn't really a problem and compression artifacts don't really creep up at all. Given the origins of the source material, I was surprised to see the movie look as good as it does on this DVD.
The film receives an appropriately minimalist Dolby Digital mono sound mix. Dialogue is clean and clear and always easy to understand and the track is mixed quite nicely. The track is pretty basic, but effective at the same time, and does fairly accurately recapture the sound of the movies that it's parodying.
For an obscure little movie like this, it's refreshing to see Sony/Columbia put a decent amount of extra features on the DVD release. First up is a commentary from director Larry Blamire and pretty much the entire cast. There's a lot of good information and this is a fun track, but at times it is a little tricky to figure out just who is speaking and things get a little garbled a few times. That issue aside, they obviously had a blast making the film and it shows on this track as they work their way through the film from start to finish with no small amount of amusing anecdotes and stories. A second commentary from Blamire and the crew is also on the disc. This second track isn't quite as much fun but it is equally interesting as it focuses a little more on the technical aspects of the film.
Aside from the commentary tracks, there's a moderately funny Blooper Reel that runs for a few minutes. The interesting thing about the Blooper Reel is that it is in color, which makes for an interesting comparison against the finished product. The American Cinematheque Q&A runs just under half an hour in length and features the entire cast on stage fielding questions from an audience that has just screened the film. It was shot on a handheld camcorder so the quality leaves a little bit to be desired but there are some interesting anecdotes to be told. An brief making of featurette entitled Obey The Skeleton contains interviews with the cast and director as they explain their motives and more or less rehash what happens in the film, talking about their characters a little bit here and there. It's not a particularly revealing piece but it is worth sitting through once.
A great photo gallery of fictitious spin off merchandise can be found, and features some interesting (albeit made up) tie in items such as character masks, cereal, toys and the like, all of which retain the 50s vibe that the movie strives to create. The best supplement though is a tripped out old fashioned cartoon entitled The Skeleton Frolic done in the tradition of the shorts that used to play before the features in days gone past. It's a fun piece, essentially comprised of a group of skeletons that rise from the grave at night and play in a band, only to return underground when the sun comes up. Finally, a generous selection of trailers rounds out the features, some of which are for legitimate 50s horror films available on DVD from Columbia, like The Tingler, and a few that have nothing to do with the feature at all, like Monty Python And The Holy Grail.
Hardcore vintage sci-fi aficionados should get a kick out of The Lost Skeleton Of Cadavera despite a few noticeable shortcomings. Columbia has done a nice job on the DVD release with some interesting extra features and a solid a/v presentation. The film itself is good for a few laughs and is worth checking out if you appreciate the type of material that the film lovingly spoofs. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.