DVD Review: The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra

After I reviewed Trail of the Screaming Forehead a few weeks ago and spoke highly of the other films of Larry Blamire, I started rewatching them all and decided to say something more about them. The Lost Skeleton first.

This film was made in 2001 as a parody and tribute to the low-budget, black-and-white scifi films of the 1950s. I always think that parodies work best when the people creating them are knowledgeable about their subject, have an affection for it, and most important of all, understand the appeal of it. We have a good example here. The Lost Skeleton is extremely goofy with its mash-up of several B-movie plots and use of low-budget props. With it’s Ed Wood-style wooden dialog, it’s also frequently and hilariously stupid. These are its charms. Watching it, I feel certain that Larry Blamire has seen even more of these type movies than I have, and he loves them.

Paul and Betty Armstrong

Our story begins with a typical-looking 1950s couple driving a (1961) Thunderbird through the countryside. They are Dr. Paul Armstrong (Blamire), a Man of Science, and his lovely wife Betty (Fay Masterson), heading for a cabin they’ve rented in the woods. Betty is hoping that Paul will take a break from doing Science for a romantic weekend, but Paul’s main reason for this trip is to find a meteor that landed in the area. He believes the meteor is made of atmospherium, a radioactive element that could mean actual advances in the field of Science.

Along the way, they stop to ask for directions from a farmer who happens to be standing at the side of the road. The farmer sets the tone for the rest of the film by telling them:

“Stay on this road here, past Dead Man’s Curve. You’ll come to an old fence, called the Devil’s Fence. From there, go on foot `til you come to a valley known as the Cathedral of Lost Soap. Smack in the center is what they call Forgetful Milkman’s Quadrangle. Stay right on the Path Of Staring Skulls `til you come to a place called Death Clearing. Cabin’s right there–you can’t miss it.”

Dr. Armstrong isn’t the only scientist in the vicinity. There’s also Dr. Roger Fleming (Brian Howe). While Paul Armstrong is a good scientist, Roger Fleming is obviously evil. You can tell because he has a beard. His objective is to find the legendary Lost Skeleton–what precisely he wants it for is unclear, but you can be sure he’s up to no good. We first see Dr. Fleming with the happy and imbecilic local forest ranger, Ranger Brad (Dan Conroy), asking for directions to Cadavra Cave.

“You don’t believe in those old legends about the Lost Skeleton, do you?” asks Ranger Brad.

“I’m a scientist,” Roger assures him. “I don’t believe in anything.”

Meanwhile, Paul and Betty have walked to their cabin (though you can see a car parked outside when they go in). That evening after dinner, they see a falling star streak through across the sky.

“Could that be your meteor?” Betty asks her husband.

“No, my meteor’s already landed,” answers Paul. “That would be scientifically impossible.”

“It must be another meteor.”

“Hm… I wonder.”

Roger Fleming, camping out in the woods, watches the same falling star and also wonders.

Later that night, the farmer is attacked and killed by a camera-point-of-view monster.

The next morning, Paul and Betty go out to search for the meteor using Paul’s atmospherium detector (which looks a lot like a voltimeter). While out in the woods, they hear some large creature rustling in the bushes and that camera-point-of-view comes toward them, then goes away again; the detector clicks wildly like a Geiger counter and Paul declares that whatever it is, it’s “lousy with atmospherium.”

Roger Fleming finds the cave Roger Fleming does some rock-climbing to reach Cadavra Cave (the all-too familiar Bronson Canyon cave). He goes in about 10 feet and immediately discovers the Skeleton lying under a blanket. We can only assume it was lost because nobody bothered to look for it up `til now. With good reason, as things turn out.

Roger, in happy ignorance of his future, indulges in triumphant, extended, evil laughter.

Now, what about that second meteor that fell the night before? That was no meteor, but a rocketship from another planet! The model is one of my favorite “special effects,” made from a cardboard paper roll.

The rocket belongs to an alien couple named Kro-Bar and Lattis from the planet Marva. Actors Andrew Parks and Susan McConnell are wonderful in their pompous and overly dramatic delivery of the verbose dialog. They’re also the most Woodian part of this movie, in the style of the alien pair in Plan Nine from Outer Space.

Kro-Bar and Lattis

Kro-Bar and Lattis were flying through our solar system with their pet mutant when their rocket crashed. This morning, as they assess the damage, Lattis discovers that the mutant has escaped from its cage. They must hunt it down and use their transmutatron to change into something harmless before “untold millions die by its hands.”

“If only it did have hands…” Kro-Bar adds ominously.

Back at the cave, Roger is doing everything he can to bring the Skeleton to life. He’s even brought in his Jr. Scientist chemistry set and microscope, to no avail. It looks like his insidious but unspecified evil plans are about to end in disaster, when the Skeleton suddenly awakes and begins speaking to him in a reverberating, arrogant, and obnoxious voice; it has obviously already taken a dislike to Roger.

The Skeleton tells Roger that its skeletal brain is alive, but to restore its body to life will require atmospherium. Where are they going to get atmospherium? Roger asks it.

Roger Fleming and the Lost Skeleton

“That’s for you to know,” says the Skeleton. “Not my problem. I sleep now.”

While the Skeleton is napping, Roger hears Betty’s and Paul’s voices and peers out of the cave to see them discover that meteor they were looking for (a dried sea-sponge with a light-bulb inside; it caught fire while they were filming the scene).

At the rocket, Kro-Bar tries to make repairs to the engine (He plays with a little mechanism that looks like a bicycle horn, but the DVD commentary informs me that it’s actually part of a music box). He will also need atmospherium to use as a power source if he and Lattis ever hope to get their rocket moving and see their homeworld again.

Paul and Betty find the atmospherium

By a remarkable coincidence, while Lattis is out hunting for the mutant, she overhears Paul and Betty providing some obvious exposition about the atmospherium in the meteor they’ve found.

Lattis dashes back to the rocket to tell her husband, and the two decide to go after the humans and steal the meteor from them. Using one of their high-tech alien instruments, the human-wherabouter, they find the Armstrongs’ cabin, but before they can go in, they need to disguise themselves.

Using the transmutatron (another alien device that very much resembles a caulking gun), they change their space-uniforms into 1950s-style Earth-clothes.

Krobar and Lattis navigate Earth stairs The cabin stairs and a door that doesn’t open by itself prove challenging to the alien couple, but once the Armstrongs answer the door for them, the unexpected guests are welcomed in.

Betty assumes the two are the Taylors, the people they’re renting the cabin from. Krobar and Lattis introduce themselves with what they consider to be commonplace Earth-type first names–Bamen and Turgasso.

Roger Fleming has also tracked the Armstrongs back to their cabin. He was hiding in the bushes when the aliens came up, eavesdropped on their conversation and saw them change. Since they left the transmutatron lying around outdoors when they went in, he uses it for his own plan to infiltrate the cabin.

Reasoning that he’ll look less suspicious to the Armstrongs if he shows up at their door with a date, he directs the transmutatron toward four forest animals that happen to be standing nearby and transforms them into a woman wearing a catsuit (Jennifer Blaire).

The creation of Animala

Roger names her Animala, but tells her he’ll call her Pammy when they’re with other people. He also teaches her a few rudimentary social skills, like “Always agree,” “Thank you very much,” and how to drink properly from a cup instead of lapping the water up. “Tip, tip, tip, tip…”

Inside the cabin, the best part of the movie is just getting started. The Armstrongs aren’t the brightest people, but even they can’t help observing that their visitors are- well- very odd. A little bit of scotch and soda in great big glasses only helps to relax the aliens and make their behavior more bizarre. Nevertheless, Paul and Betty cling to the social conventions and keep up the polite conversation, trying their hardest to overlook the increasing weirdnesss and pretend that everything’s normal.

Then Roger shows up, introducing himself as Rudolph Yaber and “my wife, Pammy.” He claims that their car has broken down, and this second strange couple is invited in by the generous Armstrongs. The little group sits down to dinner.

Animala eats her dinner

Knowing nothing of Earth table-manners, Kro-Bar and Lattis look to the others for guidance and end up following the example of Animala. I love when they all go “Tip, tip, tip…” while drinking. But beyond that, Animala has the manners of a cat.

“Everyone’s so hungry,” Roger observes cheerfully as the Armstrongs look on in bewilderment at their dinner guests face-down in the mashed potatoes.

Someone approaches the cabin door; Animala looks up and growls, and the men get up to see who’s there. Kro-Bar mentions that it might be a mutant.

But, no, it’s Ranger Brad, come to tell the Armstrongs about the farmer who was horribly mutilated late last night. Ranger Brad is in a position to inadvertently expose the Armstrongs’ visitors, since he’s already met “Rudolph Yaber” under his real name of Dr. Roger Fleming and he knows that the Taylors are an older couple. “We are a younger version,” Lattis explains. Animala, given her forest-animal origins, takes a liking to the ranger.

If you enjoy the phrase “horribly mutilated,” this is your chance to hear it repeated about 20 times in one short scene. Ranger Brad thinks a bear must have been responsible.

Could a bear horribly mutilate someone like that? “I’ve seen bears do things even a bear wouldn’t do,” Brad tells Paul.

As he sees the ranger out, Paul muses over the similarity of the words “Mutilate… Mutant… Hm… I wonder.”

Ranger Brad screams Walking in the woods, Ranger Brad hears strange noises and is attacked by the same point-of-view monster that got the farmer.

The people at the cabin hear Brad screaming as he’s horribly mutilated. Lattis and Kro-Bar make some cryptic remarks about it being too late to do anything.

Paul has finally grown suspicious. “I might be just a test-tube-tipping lab jockey who’s looked at too many shiny rocks for too long, but something tells me you know more about this than you’re letting on.”

He thinks that Bamen’s suggesting the legendary Lost Skeleton has something to do with the horrible mutilations, but this is actually the first time the aliens have heard about the skeleton. Dr. Fleming, however, discreetly spit-takes into his oversized glass when the subject of the Lost Skeleton comes up.

Perhaps it’s this discussion that awakens the Skeleton back at the cave from its nap. Growing impatient with Roger’s slow-moving plotting, it tries to use its mind control powers to influence Animala to find the atmospherium. But this word isn’t in the animal-woman’s vocabulary; the best she can manage to say is “Amish terrarium,” to the further confusion of the Armstrongs.

“Don’t the Amish live in open air, like us?” asks Betty.

“Of course, Betty. It’s absurd. Putting the Amish in glass cases would be inhumane,” replies Paul.

The Skeleton turns its mental powers on Betty next. But Kro-Bar has also chosen this moment to try and use Marvan mind-control on her. Bombarded with two conflicting mental messages–“Bring the meteor to the skeleton” versus “Bring the meteor to Kro-Bar and Lattis”–she finally announces “I must make a skeleton meatier by covering a crowbar with lettuce,” and goes upstairs to fetch the meteor in the bedroom loft. Before she can do anything with it, she collapses on the bed.

While Paul looks after to his wife upstairs, Roger has a frank conversation with the alien couple, first tricking them into admitting that they are aliens (“Aliens? Us? Is this one of your Earth jokes?” “There! You see? See?”), and then proposing an alliance. They both need the atmospherium, so why not work together to obtain it, then share it?

Kro-Bar and Lattis agree this is a good idea. “Some for you, and some for us.”

But how to get the atmospherium from the Armstrongs? Now that takes some thought.

A little game you can play while watching any Larry Blamire movie is try to pick out the stupidest character. It’s not always the most obvious one and there tends to be stiff competition.

The next morning, Paul is up in the loft, doing science with the meteor using his very own Jr. Scientist kit (which looks exactly like Roger Fleming’s). The others have all gone out, but Animala is there.

Animala and Paul do the Rock Dance Doing a seductive dance, she casts her own kind of spell over the hapless scientist. He picks up the meteor and carries it out of the cabin and through the woods, following Animala, dancing all the way.

When they reach the rocketship where Roger is waiting with Lattis and Kro-Bar, Paul collapses on the ground and Roger grabs the meteor.

Then in an easily foreseen twist, Roger Fleming, being evil ‘n’ all, betrays his alien allies and keeps all the atmospherium for himself. The Skeleton exerts its mental powers over them to freeze them where they stand while Roger and Animala run off with the meteor to the cave.

“It’s not like Marvan sharing at all,” Lattis laments. “This must be Earth sharing.”

Betty, meanwhile, is wandering the woods in search of her husband when the mutant appears out of the underbrush. This is our first opportunity to get a look at the creature and it’s quite a treat: numerous googly eyes, long pointy claws, and some sturdy hiking boots. It doesn’t kill Betty, but carries her off in traditional monster-fashion.

Paul awakens a short time later to find Lattis and Kro-Bar standing over him, still held as if by invisible ropes under the Skeleton’s influence. Fortunately for them, the Skeleton takes another one of its naps and they are freed.

In spite of being a Man of Science, Paul has a great deal of trouble understanding the concepts Lattis and Kro-Bar present him with: “We’re aliens. We crashed here. We have a mutant–it got loose. The mutant has Betty.” (See what I mean about stiff competition?) But eventually he is made to realize the seriousness of the situation.

Kro-Bar and Lattis are moved to tears when Paul tells them he really would’ve been willing to share the atmospherium with them, not like Roger’s “Earth sharing.”

Before they can do anything to rescue Betty, she staggers by herself into the clearing and faints. Paul and Kro-Bar carry her into the rocketship. Like the Tardis, it’s much roomier inside than it looks from its tubular exterior. The control room walls consist of a pegboard with some little gauges and doodads stuck on it.

Our heroes inside the rocket

When Betty comes to, she screams, then tells them about her encounter with the mutant and how she was released from its clutches unharmed. She seems to have a strange affinity with the creature–when it gazed deeply into her eyes, she saw some “understanding that frightened me to my very soul.”

At the cave, Roger has placed the meteor inside the Skeleton’s ribcage. The Lost Skeleton awakes! It arises! It sits up for the first time in ages (with the assistance of some visible strings; according to the DVD commentary, this was even more tricky than it looks and thing kept falling over when they tried to pull it upright).

The Skeleton walks!

Now that it has the use of its boney body again, the Skeleton is on the march. It strides boldly out into the world, followed by its minions–sometimes so closely that one suspects they are carrying it.

Back at the rocket, Paul, Betty, Lattis, and Kro-Bar are bonding over space-wine and a snack the aliens call “cranberoids.” Paul explains why he isn’t called a meteorologist even though he studies meteors, and the aliens and humans find they have many things in common, like an enjoyment of picnics.

“As we observed you from afar, we thought of you as little more than pleasant, entertaining monkeys,” Kro-Bar tells Paul and Betty. “So dirty and foul.” But all that’s changed. Everybody’s friends now.

Kro-Bar comes up with an idea to use Paul’s atmospherium detector to locate the meteor Roger Fleming has stolen and to get it back. Both couples set out in search, but instead of the meteor they find the mutant, which you may remember is also made of atmospherium. Kro-Bar tries to use the transmutatron on it, but the mechanism seems to be jammed and doesn’t work.

Fighting the mutant. Doesn't this look like an exciting scene? The mutant attacks Paul, then breaks off suddenly when it sees Betty and wanders away into the woods.

“I wonder why it changed its mind?” Betty says. “Oh, well.”

The two couples split up. Kro-Bar and Lattis return to their rocket to repair the transmutatron, and Betty takes Paul back to the cabin so he can lie down on the sofa and rest after his mutant-wrestling. But Paul is unable to rest for long, so worried is he about the danger their new alien friends might be in. When he leaves the cabin, Betty insists on tagging along. “I’m tagging, Paul. I’m tagging!”

When they reach the clearing where the rocketship is, they witness a horrifying sight: the Skeleton has taken over the two aliens again. As it sits flanked by Roger and Animala, Kro-Bar and Lattis are forced to dance for its entertainment. But this is only a preliminary to the Skeleton’s even more terrible plans. He intends to kill Kro-Bar and make Lattis the Bride of the Skeleton.

The rocketship

Paul quickly forms a plan to rescue his alien friends, but he needs Betty’s help to draw the mutant back to the rocketship. It’ll be dangerous, Kitten, he tells her.

Betty responds, “If I wanted to have a safe life, I wouldn’t have married a man who studies rocks.”

Gee, Betty’s swell.

While the Skeleton takes another nap, Roger and Animala prepare for the wedding. “How do I do that?” “Just do it!”

Once Paul’s atmospherium detector has located the mutant, Betty leads it toward the spaceship in the slowest and least suspenseful chase sequence you’ve ever seen. Great music, though.

Lattis wearing a skull mask

The Skeleton’s wedding is in progress; the horrified Lattis is wearing a mask with a skull painted on it and her helpless husband is forced to give her away.

The Armstrongs arrive just in time to crash the ceremony. Paul engages in some Biff! Pow! fisticuffs with Roger. For a 1950s housewife, Betty shows herself surprisingly capable of fending off an attack by a woman created from various wild animals. But it’s up to the mutant to take care of the Skeleton.

The Skeleton can’t use its powers to subdue the creature, since mutants simply don’t have the mental capacity to be mind-controlled, and winds up being thrown off a cliff.

Betty and the mutant The End…

Or is it?

The Lost Skeleton is defeated, but it promises that it will return. And it did, some years later, in The Lost Skeleton Returns Again. Fond as I am of this movie, I love its sequel even more–but we’ll save that for another day.

The DVD’s extra features include 2 commentary tracks, one with the cast and another with the crew; both are delightful to listen to, although the cast one is more funny. There’s also a great Q&A session with the cast and crew held after the film’s first public showing, a making-of featurette, the original trailer made in the style of the 1950s, and a dancing skeleton cartoon. Quite a bargain considering that I bought this used at Suncoast many years ago for only 5 dollars.

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Author: Kathryn L Ramage

Kathryn L. Ramage has a B.A. and M.A. in English lit and has been writing for as long as she can remember. She lives in Maryland with three calico cats named after the Brontë sisters. In addition to being the author of numerous short stories, reviews, essays, and period mystery novellas, she is also the author of a series of fantasy novels set in a dukedom called the Northlands on an alternate Earth whose history has diverged from ours somewhere during the medieval period.