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Old-Skull Moves: 'The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra' replays the bad movies we love.

Bones of Contention

'The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra' is based on sworn testimony! Can you prove it did not happen?

By Richard von Busack

AN EVIL SKELETON BEAST lies dormant in Bronson Canyon, its depraved "skeleton brain" teeming with plots against mankind. Dr. Fleming (Brian Howe), an unscrupulous (i.e., bearded) scientist, begs for the fiend's favors, despite his natural revulsion ("I always felt skeletons hated me as a child"). Meanwhile, the subplots in The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra unfurl. The tangents include a stalwart scientist (Larry Blamire) and his dim but spunky wife (Fay Masterson). A pair of stranded aliens turn up, as does a half-woman, half-"forest creature" named "Animala" (the sleek Jennifer Blaire). All are menaced by an escaped mutant (escaped from the world of Sid and Marty Krofft, apparently; it seems to be H.R. Pufnstuf's three-eyed love child). All the cast are in need of a meteor made out of pure "atmospherium."

Black-and-white, deadpan and free of puns, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra serves the niche of satire intelligently. Anyone can josh about pie-pan flying saucers, tin-can robots and sparkler-propelled rockets. What really makes the Howco (the company famously responsible for a lot of Ed Wood movies and Mesa of Lost Women) era of science-fiction deathless is the atmosphere, or rather atmospherium. And director Larry Blamire has understood it all perfectly: the tautological dialogue ("Together, we will rule the world together!" cackles Dr. Fleming), the stiff-as-a-plank stage thespians chafing in their satin spacesuits and, most of all, the bee-you-tiful prose, the niggling exposition, the waterlogged message of brotherhood.

The magic moment is a scene of Antonioni-esque tedium. It's a human/alien cocktail party, where each side congratulates itself (repeatedly) on its goodwill. This exquisitely boring scene, like the dullest embassy wine 'n' cheese soiree imaginable, may turn out to be closer to what first contact is like than any previous cinematic representation. Andrew Parks really has Plan 9 From Outer Space's Dudley Manlove down pat. As his country-clubish consort, "Lattis," the Northern Irish Susan McConnell plays the slumming alien perfectly, to every rich syllable. The drawback is, inevitably, length. That old familiar Saturday matinee ennui kicks in after about an hour. Golden hindsight suggests that this should have been a two-fer, a la the Stanley Donen comedy Movie Movie. The very good cast could have turned up in a plaster-lagoon South Seas adventure in Nomoolah Atoll (as played by Redondo Beach), with the catwoman Blaire as the picture's Tondelaya, perhaps with the bwah-hah-haing skeleton as their leader, just to tie the two halves together.

Billed on this run is Skeleton Dance (a.k.a. Skeleton Frolic), a charming cartoon by Ub Iwerks, circa 1937. Iwerks was Walt Disney's on-again, off-again collaborator and one of the key technicians responsible for marrying live action and animation (in Song of the South and Mary Poppins). Whether it's living skeletons or blasting-off spaceships, the quaint original always out-charms CGI.

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (PG; 90 min.), directed and written by Larry Blamire, photographed by Kevin F. Jones and starring Blamire and Fay Masterson, opens Friday at selected theaters.

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From the February 18-25, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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