DVD Review: The Lost Skeleton Returns Again

The Skull under a tree. My favorite shot in the whole movie--I used to use this as my computer wallpaper.

The sequel to 2001’s The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra didn’t appear until 2009. One of the producers describes it as “The same people who made the first movie now have a little more money.”

This second film follows the first as a tribute to the scifi movies of late 1950s and early ’60s, but it adds on a jungle adventure.

The production values have also taken a couple of steps up with the addition of a new production manager, Tony Tremblay. While his props retain a certain goofy period charm, they don’t have the same found-objects look as the props in the first film.

Another noteworthy change is apparent in writer/director Larry Blamire’s wonderfully inane dialog, which has becomes more polished, and his characters’ names. Lattis and Kro-Bar leave their spaceshipIn the original Lost Skeleton film, the “Earth names” the aliens picked out for themselves–Bamen and Turgasso–seemed more than a little weird. In this movie, they would fit right in.

The Lost Skeleton Returns Again begins with stock footage of the Capitol building, so it’s presumably in Washington DC that Federal agent Reet Pappin (Frank Dietz) meets with General Scottmanson and receives his assignment: Import/export king, Handscombe Draile, a man who deals in government secrets, is after a newly discovered element called Jerranium 90; Reet’s job is to locate the only source of Jerranium 90 in South America before Draile does. The discoverer of Jerranium 90, Dr. Jerry Calvern, is sick but the General tells Reet that there is one other scientist “that smart about rocks.”

Before we follow Reet on his mission, we visit the humble suburban home of a TV repairmen named Peter Fleming (Brian Howe), who is going over the personal effects of his late twin brother, evil Dr. Roger Fleming. The thing that most puzzles Peter is the skull–Roger always felt inferior to skeletons and believed they hated him. Why would he keep “the top part of something he felt didn’t care for him one little bit?”

Peter soon receives an answer to this mystery, when the Skull begins to speak to him in that familiar, arrogant and obnoxious voice. Its skeletal body was destroyed at the end of the last movie, which somewhat limits its ability to act for itself, but it still has its mind-control powers and soon has Peter doing its bidding.

The Skull announces that to restore its body, it will need to be exposed to “an idol called the Dalp of Anacrab” in an unexplored region of the Amazon basin named Menalusa (aka, the Valley of the Monsters). The next thing you know, Peter tells his wife that he has to go to South America on TV-repairmen business and packs a suitcase.

Reet Pappin calls at the home of well-known Rock Scientist Dr. Paul Armstrong and is greeted by Paul’s lovely wife Betty (Fay Masterson, wearing the same dress from the previous movie, but now with longer and darker hair). She invites Reet in for coffee and cookies and tells him that she hasn’t seen her husband since he left for the Amazon jungle 2 years ago; he sent a telegram when he arrived, and that was it.

Flying to South America

Betty doesn’t seem very worried–she is, after all, a scientist’s wife and used to this kind of thing–but when Reet says he’s going to South America to look for Paul, she insists on going with him.

They fly to South America, as shown on the map.

At a warehouse belonging to Draile Import Export, Handscombe Draile himself meets with a cheap hood named Carl Traeger (Kevin Quinn). After very slooowly checking Carl’s identification, Draile tells him that he’s sending an expedition to the Amazon to find the source of Jerranium 90, and Carl is to join it.

Peter flies to South America with the Skull. Carl also flies to South America. Different flights, same passengers boarding.

After searching identical-looking villages for Paul Armstrong, Betty and Reet begin to lose heart. They step into a bar that’s little more than a shed to order something to drink.

“We’re looking for an American Man of Science,” Betty mumbles disspiritedly. “You haven’t seen him, that’s okay.”

“Si, Senora,” the bartender answers. “We call him ‘the Man in the Corner’.”

Cut to a table in a shadowy but dramatically lit corner, where sits a bitter, drunken, unshaven man. “Betty,” he says in a gravelly voice. Yep, it’s Paul (Larry Blamire), but he tells his wife that he’s not the same Man of Science he once was.

“I’ve seen too much now, Betty. I’m not the Paul you knew. The Paul you knew is still out there, looking for stupid little rocks, rocks that used to be so special. That was before I knew about drinking, and life… All that’s left now is the vague memory of a man in a white shirt with a ticking box and a loyal wife.”

Betty very sweetly assures him that he still does have a loyal wife–although she broke the atmospherium detector by trying to keep some bacon warm.

Paul agrees to accompany Reet on his mission into the jungle, since Reet knows nothing about rocks. “But I’m still really bitter, okay?” He also tells Reet and Betty that he’s probably more familiar with Jerranium 90 than they know.

Reet assembles the rest of his expedition team. He’s hired the best guide available–Jungle Brad (Dan Conroy), twin brother to the late Ranger Brad. Jungle Brad is suspicious about his brother’s death and finds it hard to believe Ranger Brad was horribly mutilated by a bear. Paul and Betty are in a position to reveal the truth to him about the mutant, but they don’t.

The final member of their party is a volunteer, Peter Fleming. The Armstrongs are astonished to recognize him as Rudolph Yaber, even though he doesn’t have a beard and they saw “Rudolph Yaber” die at the bony hands of the Skeleton.

Peter Fleming & Skull But Peter explains:

You’re referring to my brother, Roger Fleming, who sometimes went by that name. I’m Peter Fleming, the good twin.

Like Jungle Brad, Peter believes that there’s more behind his brother’s death. He’s sure that the Lost Skeleton was responsible for turning Roger evil (as the Skull itself says, “Six of one!”), and he hopes to clear the good name of Fleming.

While he says this, he has the Skull tucked under his arm. The Armstrongs, oblivious as ever, take no notice of it. It’s Reet who asks, and Peter explains that it’s his umbrella holder.

A flying saucer lands somewhere in the jungle. Our old friends, the alien couple from the planet Marva, Kro-Bar and Lattis (Andrew Parks and Susan McConnell) have had an upgrade from their cardboard toilet-paper tube rocket since we saw them last.

Their Danger Alarm has alerted them that Paul and Betty might be in trouble–fortunately, they had it set for Earth, Friends, Married Couple, Scientist, Rocks. After exchanging some of their usual overly dramatic and verbose dialog, they agree that they mustn’t let the Armstrongs know they’re helping them until they’ve assessed the situation.

Carl Traeger has also met up with the other members of his expedition: the Sydney-Greenstreet-like Gondreau Slykes (Dan Roebuck) and Rock Scientist Dr. Ellamy Royne (Trish Geiger). I note that the word “Geologist” does not exist in this world.

“But aren’t you a woman?” Carl exclaims when he meets the latter. He doesn’t like taking orders from dames. Dr. Royne assures both men that she can do Science as good if not better than they can–which isn’t that great a recommendation, since they’re both crooks and one is an idiot. She does seem to be the smartest person in this movie, however, so it’s a pity she’s evil.

Slykes has also hired two porters: Kro-Bar and Lattis, wearing their new, typical Earth clothes; he’s in a Hawaiian shirt and white shorts with black socks, and she wears a tiger-striped jacket and short shirt and a feathered hat, and carries a large parasol. They introduce themselves as Day Trillis and Zamie Solnewl (or something like that–she never pronounces it the same way twice).

For shorthand purposes, I’ll be calling these two groups Team Good and Team Evil, although of course there’s a certain amount of moral ambiguity in both sets of people.

The next morning, Team Good prepares to embark on their expedition. Before they go, Jungle Brad warns Paul, “The jungle is no place for bitterness.”

Bitter Paul Armstrong Paul responds with the best speech in the whole movie:

The jungle is every place for bitterness. It sows and reaps it like so much cane sugar. The jungle gets into your blood and builds tiny little houses of pain, and you don’t want to be there when the rent’s due because the anaconda, funny thing, they don’t know how to read a lease–seems they never learned! The only thing longer than a croc’s mouth is the time it takes to swallow you whole. So next time you talk to me about jungles and bitterness, next time you’re trying to find your eyes with both hands, just keep that in mind–that is, if you still have a mind.

Jungle Brad replies:

Jungle Brad

The jungle is a dangerous place, that’s true–but anyone who’s ever seen two monkeys give each other things knows that it’s a happy place too. And keep in mind you can eat pretty much anything you see, so have fun!

He heads off into the jungle. The others follow.

I never loved Betty Armstrong more than when she went on her safari adventure carrying a picnic basket.

There follows the first jungle-hiking montage, as Team Good and Team Evil trek beneath tall ferns and push their way past other huge-leaved plants. At dusk, they each make camp for the night. While the members of Team Good are not yet aware of the other expedition nearby, the Skull has sensed Team Evil’s presence.

We have a whole lot of characters to keep track of and there are more to come, so it’s about time to start thinning the cast out.

The first to go is Gondreau Slykes. While Peter is sleeping at Camp Good, the Skull exhibits a previously unseen power and flies over to Camp Evil on visible strings. Slykes has left the others around the campfire and goes for a walk before turning in. The floating skull sneaks up behind him.

Gondreau Slykes meets his skully doom.

This scene is actually kind of creepy, until the Skull starts bonking Slykes on the head.

In the morning, Lattis discovers Slykes’s body. “The man Gondreau is cold and will not move. Also, he refuses to chat with me.”

Dr. Royne looks at the body and declares that a skull did this–not one in somebody’s head. She suggests that they keep moving, and they carry on into the unexplored jungle, leaving dead Slykes lying there.

Hiking Montage Two: more huge-leaved plants, and Jungle Brad wrestles a rubber snake.

For some time, it’s been obvious that Reet has fallen for Betty and, now that he’s met her husband, doesn’t think that “Mr. Sourpants” deserves the love of such a wonderful woman. Betty is oblivious to this, even when Reet tries to hint to her about how he feels, but Paul notices and tension grows between the two men.

Peter occasionally tries to break free from the Skull’s power and warn his companions, but his outbursts are hilariously incoherent and they take it for jungle fever. “Worst case I’ve ever seen,” Jungle Brad says with a sad shake of his head.

Over at Team Evil, Kro-Bar and Lattis leave their camp so they can have a frank discussion of how to warn Paul and Betty about the people they’re traveling with.

Animala joins Team Evil While they’re gone, Carl takes the opportunity to go through the aliens’ packs and finds the spiffed-up transmutatron. He tries to work out what it does and points it toward four jungle animals that happen to be gathered nearby; they are transformed into a familiar-looking woman in a catsuit (Jennifer Blaire).

The curious thing about this is that, even though she’s made from four completely different animals on a whole different continent, she’s the same Animala. She tells Carl that her name is “Pammy” when he asks her. Later on, we’ll see that she also remembers the Lost Skeleton.

Carl takes her back to the camp and they join the group seated around the fire. When Dr. Royne wonders who she is, he tries to pretend that Pammy’s been with them all along.

“Funny I hadn’t noticed her before,” says the evil Rock Scientist.

Stock-footage alligator

Hiking Montage Three: Both teams walk past a waterfall and look at some stock-footage jungle creatures.

This has been a fairly amusing, worthy-enough sequel up until this point. Then, about 40 minutes into the movie, something wonderful happens.

When the two expeditions enter the Valley of the Monsters, everything suddenly turns from black and white to color. Shot at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, the film becomes beautiful to look at. It’s like Oz or the Secret Garden, a magical place where anything can happen.

Betty walks through a giant ribcage Teams Good and Evil now walk along the edges of steaming primordial ponds where giant trilobites scuttle through the tall grass. They pass through the skeletal remains of huge, long-dead creatures.

But there are also living monsters in the valley. This place is not misnamed.

As they continue their trek the next day, Team Good meets one of these monsters face to face.

In the old-fashioned jungle/lost world adventure films, where the budget for Ray Harryhausen-type stop-motion creations wasn’t available, filmmakers would sic iguanas and unfortunate baby alligators with fins glued on their backs on each other for gruesome fights; this doesn’t go over very well today. Cheaper filmmakers would use a guy in a monster suit, and that’s what we’re getting here.

The Gramanopodon looks like a giant, gray Gumby with extended forearms and crab-like pincers for hands. It makes not-very fearsome “Whoop! Whooop!” noises as it charges toward its prey. (One interesting fact I learned from the DVD commentary: all the monster voices are either Larry Blamire or Bumper, the Foley guy’s dog. This one is Larry.)

Reet wrestles the GramanopodonThe Gramanopodon knocks down Brad and Paul and heads for Betty. It’s up to Reet to save the woman he loves, and he leaps in bravely to fight with the monster to give Betty time to run away.

At last, the Gramanopodon retreats whooping, but poor Reet is fatally injured.

“So long, Betty,” he chokes out his farewells. “Take good care of her, Paul.”

The death of his rival makes Paul realize that he’s been “a giant, Grade-One Number-A big-time fool.” That bitterness he’s been carrying around with him begins to drop away.

Paul intends that they should give Reet a hero’s burial, but before they can do anything, they spot a man in native clothes and wearing what appears to a cantaloupe on his head, standing in the underbrush, watching them. When he sees that they see him, he runs away.

“Come on!” cries Peter. “It might be a trap!” They chase after him. (So Reet’s body, like Gondreau Slykes’s, is just left lying there.)

The Cantaloupe Temple They chase the man until they come to an ancient and slightly crumbling temple in a vast clearing. A woman emerges from it and walks to a nearby throne, where she receives the outsiders.

She is Chinfa, Queen of the Cantaloupe People (Alison Martin). She wears an even more impressive cantaloupe headdress topped with fruit salad, and also a cantaloupe bra. With her is her high priest/adviser, whose name is something like Vitametavegamin. (Nobody gets it right and I don’t see why I should be any different.)

Paul tells her that they come in peace and seek the shiny rocks, but it’s Peter who mentions the Dalp of Anacrab. It’s the first time the other members of Team Good have heard this name. How does he know of the Dalp? Vitametavegamin demands. “I just do, okay?”

The Dalp of Anacrab is sacred to the Cantaloupe People–it means “a whole lot!”–and Chinfa couldn’t think of giving it to the strangers. Besides, anyone who takes the Dalp will suffer the wrath of the Dread Megraclop.

Jungle Brad, and then Betty, try to use pidgin English with sign-language to convince her that they really are good people and only want the Dalp’s brother rocks, but Chinfa isn’t impressed. “What’re you doing with your hands?”

Chinfa, Queen of the Cantaloupe People and her advisorNegotiations drag on. Chinfa might eventually agree to help the strangers, but her adviser is against it and gives a heated but incoherent speech made up of a patchwork of phrases used by evil advisers, high priests, and witchdoctors found in traditional jungle-adventure movies.

Peter, under the Skull’s influence, ruins any hope the team might’ve had of coming to an agreement with Chinfa by threatening to take the rocks by force.

Then the Skull, growing impatient, flies from Peter’s arms and goes for Vitametavegamin’s throat.

Team Good runs away, leaving the Skull behind. Peter Fleming is, for the first time, free of the Skull’s mental control. The Armstrongs, hearing that obnoxious voice, finally realize that Peter’s umbrella holder is the Lost Skeleton. They say they thought it had been destroyed, if you want to take that as an explanation for why they didn’t recognize it before; I just think they’re incredibly dim.

Ellamy Royne was watching the meeting between Team Good and Chinfa from the cover the trees. She goes back to her own camp and tells Carl of her plan to get the Dalp.

In a gorgeous-looking scene by a shimmering, sunlit pond, Paul finally tells Betty what made him so angry and bitter. He was the one who originally discovered Jerranium 90 and named it Armstrongium. His former friend and colleague, Jerry Calvern, stole the rock and most of their food supplies and abandoned him in the jungle. By the time Paul made his way back to civilization, Jerry had returned to the States with what he called Jerranium 90. This betrayal of the basic fellowship of Science sent Paul into a disillusioned drinking binge.

The Armstrongs make up Betty sympathizes:

“I had no idea you’d been through anything so painful and awful as having your rock renamed.”

But everything’s better now. The Armstrongs laugh, and hug and kiss–and then they’re interrupted when Lattis and Kro-Bar show up, back in their space uniforms, to tell Betty and Paul all about Team Evil. The aliens join up with Team Good, where they truly belong.

Dr. Royne approaches Chinfa and makes an offer: If Chinfa will show her the other shiny, happy rocks like the Dalp, she’ll teach the Cantaloupe Queen how to use the powerful magic of the Double Negative. “I am not not counting on it, my Queen.”

Chinfa consults the Dalp of AnacrabChinfa consults her idol, the Dalp of Anacrab, seated in its cool-looking altar for guidance: should she trust the happy-handed people, or learn the ways of the Double Negative? Dr. Royne, hiding in the bushes again, advises the course that will be to her own advantage.

Where’s the Skull all this time? Sitting under a tree; flying takes a lot out of it and it wants someone to carry it to find the Dalp.

Animala is the first person to walk by, but it isn’t as easy for the Skull to exert its mental powers over her as it once did. She walks away (“Bye-bye”). Carl comes along next, and the Skull has better luck this time.

Kro-Bar, Lattis, and Peter Fleming are looking for the Skull when they pause beside a strange, large plant that looks like the Muppet version of a Venus Flytrap. Not surprisingly, it tries to eat them.

Kro-Bar and Lattis sing a final tribute to Peter Fleming In the DVD commentary, Larry Blamire says distinctly that it’s the plant that kills Peter, not Kro-Bar whacking at the plant and accidentally braining him, but that’s what it looks like to me.

Before he dies, Peter says that he’s glad he’s cleared the good name of Fleming (although I’m not sure how), which will now be sung with pride. Kro-Bar and Lattis fulfill his last wish literally, but with no sense of melody or harmony.

Betty, Paul, and Jungle Brad are trying to locate shiny rocks using the Jerranium 90 detector, when the Gramanopodon makes a reappearance, chases them, and traps them inside a clump of bamboo. This is a lot like the scenes you’d see in the early episodes of Lost, if the Smoke Monster were a giant Gumby.

While Carl is carrying the Skull around, they run into Lattis and Kro-Bar. The Skull remembers the alien couple, especially Lattis, and still wants to make her the Bride of Skeleton once he has his body back. It extends its powers over them as well but doesn’t make them dance. We’ll have enough dancing a little later.

Meanwhile, Chinfa and Ellamy Royne have had a few lessons on the use of double negatives. The Queen takes her new friend to the place where her tribe keeps the other shiny rocks… but the rocks are already gone. Animala, who likes shiny things, had found and carried them off earlier.

If you’ve been thinking that Dr. Royne hasn’t done anything very bad for an evil scientist yet, here’s where she shows her true colors. She hits Chinfa over the head with a big stick and goes back to the Dalp altar.

The moment she takes the idol down from its niche, a monster roars somewhere in the jungle.

Everyone who hears this knows what it means: the Dalp has been stolen.

Dr. Royne and the Dalp of AnacrabThe Skull sends Carl, Lattis, and Kro-Bar out to find whoever has the Dalp and get it.

Paul, Betty, and Jungle Brad, who have slipped past the napping Gramanopodon, head back to the Cantaloupe Temple to see Chinfa.

Chinfa, who is just coming to, realizes that the Megraclop is on the loose and will destroy them all unless the Dalp is returned. She does a dance to summon her tribe’s goddess Cantaloupia for aid against the monster.

Animala sees Dr. Royne with the idol and wants to add it to her own shiny rock collection, but it’s Carl who gets hold of it first, using the same big-stick-to-the-head technique that Ellamy herself used on Chinfa.

Animala's dance Animala then waylays Carl and does that seductive dance of hers, as seen in the first movie. Once what’s left of Carl’s brain is frazzled, he drops the Dalp into her waiting hands. She runs off with it.

Chinfa is exhausted doing her own dance, when the goddess finally reveals herself… No, it’s only Animala, emerging from the jungle after burying the Dalp. Not that Chinfa knows the difference.

When what’s left of Team Good returns to the Temple, Chinfa has placed Animala on her throne and given her a sacred offering of some cantaloupe. “Pammy” recognizes Paul Armstrong and, from the look on her face, you can be sure Betty hasn’t forgotten the seductive-dancing animal-woman.

Since Chinfa is eager to deliver whatever punishment her goddess suggests, it takes some time for Team Good to convince her that they have nothing to do with the Keeper of the Double Negative and the theft of the Dalp.

Left without its minions, the Skull has meanwhile flown around a bit and located the buried Dalp by itself, but it has no hands to dig it up.

The Megraclop gets Carl while he’s running through the jungle. The monster is like a gigantic, warped and wrinkled baby-doll. One notes a resemblance to the carving on the Dalp altar. One also can’t help noticing the industrial-sized zipper up the back.

It’s up to remaining members of the cast to put a stop to this monstrous menace if they want to make it out of the movie alive.

Dr. Paul Armstrong refuses Chinfa’s offer to join her in a second round of the Cantaloupe Dance to deflect the Megraclop’s fury. (“Perhaps there’s another way.”) Using a technique familiar to Doctor Who and Star-Trek fans, he reverses the polarity on his Jerranium 90 detector to turn it into a ray-gun.

Shooting at the MegraclopWill this device be powerful enough to defeat the fearsome Megraclop?

Will the Skull confront the Megraclop in the Battle of the Century?

Will Dr. Ellamy Royne escape the monster’s wrath, or will she get thrown around like a life-sized ragdoll?

Or will Animala return the Dalp at the last minute, sending the appeased beastie back into the jungle where it belongs and saving everybody else?

What I love most about this movie is its delightfully absurd dialog, but we also have goofy monsters, two separate dances, and a flying skull. So there’s lots to enjoy.

There’s also an interesting emotional element that wasn’t present in the first Lost Skeleton film–to call it a “serious side” would be going way too far, but the character arc of bitter, angry Paul Armstrong and the triangle between him, Betty, and Reet make the story more grown-up. I’m actually a little sad when Reet dies, and the off-key musical tribute to Peter Fleming’s good name is touching as well as silly. Try not to sing along in your own special way when they reprise it at the very end.

The DVD has a featurette about the making of the film, which was how I learned about the contribution of Tony Tremblay to this sequel’s upgraded appearance. There’s also another one of those terrific cast and crew commentaries.


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.