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.”

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DVD Review: X the Unknown

When I was watching the first episode of Nigel Kneale’s second Quatermass series for the BBC, I had the feeling I’d seen something like it before although the rest of the story didn’t progress the way I thought it would. What I remembered involved an indestructible blob monster coming up out of the ground.

This was the movie I was thinking of. It does look like a sequel to Hammer’s version of The Quatermass Experiment–but it’s not. It’s more a sort of Quatermass wannabe. Hammer originally intended it to be another tale in the continuing adventures of Professor Bernard Quatermass until Kneale objected to their unauthorized use of his character. The studio went ahead with their story idea, but with certain names and other details changed.

Up in the rocky Scottish Highlands, a group of soldiers is conducting an exercise using a Geiger counter to scan for and locate a harmlessly small amount of radioactive material buried out on the heath. The sergeant (Michael Ripper, not playing the same sergeant he was in Quatermass and the Pit) is about to call it a day, when a young man named Lansing chirps up that he hasn’t had a turn. The other soldiers moan and groan, but the sergeant goes out to rebury the little canister so Lansing can find it.

Soldiers search for radioactive material... and find more than they expected.

Lansing takes awhile and the company’s lieutenant goes out to join him to see what the problem is. The Geiger counter is picking up a very strong signal, much higher levels of radiation than the canister contents would emit.

The ground beneath their feet begins to tremble and a long crack opens up in the earth. The rest of the men retreat to safety, but when the crack widens into great fissure, poor Lansing and one other man are caught in the blast that shoots up out of it.
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DVD Review: Trail of the Screaming Forehead

Sheila and the creeping forehead

Trail of the screaming forehead.
What can a body do?
‘Cause when your forehead’s screaming,
It isn’t really you…

 

First, a few words about the films of Larry Blamire.

I discovered The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra when I purchased the DVD second-hand a few years after its 2001 release and thought it was clever and cute. The film was made on a pocket-change budget in the style of the even more low-budget sci-fi films of the 1950s and early ’60s which it lovingly parodies. Much of it was filmed in Bronson Canyon and features that same cave in which Ro-Man made his lair in Robot Monster, the giant space-brain Gor hid in Brain from Planet Arous, and Roger Corman used in a half-dozen other movies of the era.

What impressed me most was Blamire’s talent as a writer for mimicking the stilted, overblown, and frequently inane dialog of such movies. You have only to watch The Lost Skeleton in conjunction with Plan 9 from Outer Space to appreciate it.

The Lost Skeleton was eventually followed by a jungle-adventure sequel, The Lost Skeleton Returns Again and Dark and Stormy Night, the latter of which has become one of my favorite films; it started me off on a search for the Old Dark House movies it parodies and eventually led to my addiction to Dark Shadows.

But something was missing.

Coming Soon,,, Trail of the Screaming Forehead At the end of The Lost Skeleton is the promise of the next film, Trail of the Screaming Forehead; in the DVD commentary, Blamire assured the viewer that this wasn’t a joke, but a real movie he planned to make.

I learned later that it had indeed been made, but that there was trouble with its distribution; a cut version had been shown, but no DVD released in the United States. Only in this past year, I found that a director’s cut was available from the UK and pounced on it. (It’s also available in several places online if you care to search.)

So here we are at last!
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DVD Review: Quatermass II, Part 6

Episode 6: The Destroyers

"All your rocket base are belong to us."At the end of Part 5, Captain John Dillon, missing since the second episode, returned under the aliens’ influence. He and a group of zombified soldiers have taken over Quatermass’s rocket base to stop the rocket from being launched.

Quatermass wants his daughter to leave the Rocket Group offices right away, but Paula refuses to go and abandon him.

They’re too late in any case, since Dillon comes up from the base just then. He shows them his written orders to take over–“from the very top,” which shows how high the alien influence has reached up into the British government at this point.

Leo notes that these orders were issued before the explosion at the plant and tells John to send the soldiers with him away. And John does.

Quatermass and Paula try to reach the man they knew before the aliens got to him. Quatermass brandishes a fragment of that first meteorite at Captain Dillon, reminding him of how this all began only four days ago. He explains what happened to Dillon… and what will happen to the rest of humanity if the ammonia-breathing aliens succeed in taking over their world: submission first, then suffocation as Earth’s atmosphere becomes more noxious to accommodate the invaders.

As he appeals to Dillon to find whatever’s left of the individual human being, the scene recalls the lost ending of the original BBS version of The Quatermass Experiment, in which the professor talked to the monster Victor Carroon had become and brought him back to his humanity.

It does seem as if John Dillon struggles with his identity as Paula and her father plead with him, but it isn’t until Leo Pugh tells him bluntly “The rocket must go” that Dillon is really influenced. After a moment of confusion, he agrees to speak to his men down at the base and tell them there’s been “A change in plans. Withdraw all troops. Stand down.” However, he hasn’t shrugged off the aliens’ control over him.

Astute viewers may have noticed that Leo’s been a bit odd since Quatermass found him sitting outside the destroyed factory, but Quatermass himself won’t notice for awhile.
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DVD Review: Quatermass II, Part 5

Episode 5: The Frenzy

Professor Quatermass stands stunned by the ammonia-breathing alien he saw at the very end of Part 4, when one of the guards finally notices him and demands to know why he opened the “investigation window.” When he doesn’t answer immediately, other guards with guns drawn converge upon him… but before they surround the professor and shoot him down on the spot, they are abruptly called away. There’s an emergency situation at the entrance gate.

Villagers storming the factory.

Remember the men from the pub in the pre-fab village, who were at last convinced that they’d been duped into assisting the aliens? Well, they’re out there now.

They don’t have pitchforks, and the only torches they carry are the kind that Americans would call flashlights, but they’re angry and determined. They want some answers about what’s really going on at the plant. The union shop steward, the elderly man who was celebrating his 25th anniversary, wants to see the manager. The others want to know what the projectiles they call “overshots” actually are and if the things are dangerous.

When the guards try to clear the gate and force them back, a fight ensues. Men on both sides are killed, but the workmen get hold of a couple of guns and make their way into the central control room for the plant.
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DVD Review: Quatermass II, Part 4

BBC Logo Before this episode begins, the BBC warns us that what we’re about to see may not be “suitable for children or those of you with a nervous disposition.”

So brace yourselves!

Episode 4: The Coming

The story picks up where it left off at the end of Part 3, with Dr. Leo Pugh locating the asteroid in its hidden orbit; it’s coming closer to Earth and will be at its nearest point in about 3 hours. Everybody expects that more of those fake meteorites containing ammonia-breathing entities will be launched then.

Quatermass expounds further on his theories about the “colonial minds” of these creatures and what they’ve been up. The UFO scare/meteorite shower a year ago tells him that this invasion has been going on for at least that long. The first “showers” to hit Earth were more-or-less at random, but the creatures in the little projectiles took over enough of the local population in places like Winnerden Flats to get themselves organized. Their plans are moving into the final phase now.

He tells Fowler that the secrecy surrounding Winnerden Flats must end and the danger it presents be made known to the public. Fowler heads back to the Ministry to do what he can.

Paula has also been speculating about the asteroid that’s on its way toward Earth. It’s too small to hold any kind of atmosphere, so it can’t be natural. Her dad has also figured that much out. The Quatermasses agree that the source of the asteroid and the creatures on it must be one of the outer planets; the professor favors Saturn’s moons.
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DVD Review: Quatermass II, Part 3

Episode 3: The Food

At the end of Part 2, one of the men on the Winnerden Flats synthetic food project committee was revealed to have been marked by exposure to the so-called “meteorites” that have been falling in the vicinity of the top-secret factory. It’s assumed by Quatermass and the viewer that the other committee members are also under the influence of whatever’s inside those objects, even though the marks on them aren’t in such obviously visible places.

Member of Parliament Vincent Broadhead, who’s called this committee meeting, mentions the objects and calls them “missiles.” He’s afraid that these things are an attempt to sabotage the delicate food cultures at the plant by some means of infection.

The marked man Quatermass takes the plastic model of a “meteorite” out of his briefcase and shows it to them. The reaction is dead silence. He shoves it toward the man with a mark on his face and asks him if he’s ever seen anything like it before.

The marked man seems to struggle with himself and tries to answer. “If I could tell you–” he begins, but he’s shouted down by one of the others, who insists there is no infection and the project will go forward. These questions must not continue.

Quatermass is asked to leave the room.

He returns to Fowler’s office, where he declares that he felt real menace from the men around that table in the last few minutes he was there.

Fowler finds this incredible. “Menace? In the Ministry?” About 20 minutes have passed since Quatermass left the meeting, and he and Fowler return to the conference room to see what’s going on.

The room is now empty, except for Broadhead, who sits slumped over in his seat at the end of the table. There is a faint, lingering smell of ammonia in the air.

Broadhead is at first woozy and disoriented, but as he recovers he tells them, “Inquiry’s over. Nothing to find out. Everything’s in order.” He also has the beginning of a double-circle mark on the side of his neck.

A doctor arrives, and doesn’t answer Fowler’s question about who sent for him. The doctor has that same stilted speaking voice that the security guards and committee members displayed, so he’s obviously One of Them.

While the doctor tends to Broadhead, Quatermass and Fowler quietly confer on the other side of the room. Quatermass whispers that he must get inside that top-security facility and see what’s going on.

They meet up a little later in an espresso bar with a cheerfully vacuous young man named Rupert Ward. Rupert’s job is Public Relations, and one of the things he does is escort important people to see the Winnerden Flats factory. Politicians, mostly, and members of the press. He only takes them there; he assumes someone else brings them back.

For the first time, Rupert seems to think this odd. But nothing’s happened to anyone he’s taken to the plant, he assures Quatermass. “They all turned up again. You see their names in the papers.”

At this point, you might be thinking that this story is similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers–but that film didn’t come out until the following year.

Rupert still has his security pass, so he agrees to escort Quatermass and Fowler to Winnerden Flats for an official tour.

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DVD Review: Quatermass II, Part 2

Episode 2: The Mark

At the end of Part 1, Quatermass’s prospective son-in-law Capt. John Dillon got a face full of whatever’s inside those meteorites. Quatermass said there was something on Dillon’s face, but as this episode begins, it’s already disappearing.

Examining his companion’s face, Quatermass observes that’s there still some discoloration near the hairline, but Dillon is behaving weirdly. Like the old farmer, he’s woozy and disoriented, and he’s hostile to Quatermass touching him.

Guards from the super-secret research facility arrive then and take Dillon away. They tell Quatermass that he must leave—now. Dillon will be looked after. They speak in oddly stilted and atonal voices and I don’t think it’s just bad acting. Quatermass wants to come with them to be sure his friend is all right, but they all–Dillon included–refuse this request. Dillon snarls that Quatermass mustn’t follow. The guards put him into their truck and return to the facility.

Quatermass stands alone–no, wait, not alone. A homeless man who’s been hiding himself in the ruins of a cottage emerges now that the guards are gone (Wilfrid Brambell, not to be confused with Wilfrid Brimley; this guy would later star in the British comedy Steptoe & Son and play Paul McCartney’s “clean” grandfather in A Hard Day’s Night.) Wilfrid Brambell

The old man, who isn’t very clean at the moment, tells Quatermass that he used to travel this way regularly on his vagabond rounds and didn’t believe the whole village could be wiped out so completely since his last visit about a year ago. He was informed of the village’s destruction by the inhabitants of the new, pre-fab town a few miles down the coast on the other side of the secret facility; the workmen for the place and their families live there.

As Quatermass looks over the bulldozed rubble of the former village, he notices something more disturbing. Among the ruins are many, many broken fragments of meteorites similar to the one that just landed, only these are crumbled and weathered, having been exposed to the elements for some months.
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DVD Review: Quatermass II, Part 1

This is the second of the three Quatermass stories that aired on the BBC. After the great success of the The Quatermass Experiment in 1953, this sequel followed the further adventures of Professor Bernard Quatermass and his Experimental Rocket Group in 6 episodes in the autumn of 1955.

Episode 1: The Bolts

Before we catch up with the professor’s activities, the first episode opens at a military radar station somewhere out in the English countryside. They are picking up a weak signal–something too small, too low, and too slow-moving to be an airplane.

“Another one of them,” says the sergeant watching the radar screen, and tells the officer in charge, Captain John Dillon, about it.

They continue to track this mysterious object until it comes down about 2500 yards from the radar station.

An elderly farmer is out riding a tractor across his field nearby, when a meteorite lands in front of him. He gets off the tractor to go and have a closer look.

A Farmer out sitting in his fieldPeople in science fiction stories should already know instinctively: Don’t put your face near that thing!

John Hurt could tell him why this is unwise. But put his face near it he does.

Unaware of the farmer’s discovery, Dillon and the sergeant have gone out in a jeep to try and find the object themselves. As they drive along, their conversation informs us that this is the third such object they’ve tracked since they set up their radar base, though they weren’t able to find the other two. There was also some sort of UFO scare about a year ago, perhaps explained by a large meteorite shower in the area. Since then, the army has orders not to discuss any UFO-type sightings with the general public to avoid further panics.

The farmer’s anxious wife is standing at the roadside ahead of them; she flags down the jeep, asks for their help with her husband, and takes them to where he’s still sitting in the field. On the ground beside him are the broken remains of the meteorite. At least, there’s no sign that a crustacean-like, alien face-hugger or similar creature was inside it, but whatever was has caused him to become woozy and disoriented.

When asked, the farmer reports that the meteorite broke apart after it hit the ground, and that there was a funny smell. “Like old stables.”

He seems well enough not to need medical help. Dillon gathers up the broken meteorite fragments. He and the sergeant feel as if they ought to contact some about them. But who?

“There’s a man I know named Quatermass,” Dillon tells the sergeant.

The sergeant knows just who he means. “The Rocket Man?”
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BluRay Review: The Quatermass Xperiment

a.k.a. The Creeping Unknown.

It Creeps. It Crawls. It Kills!

Soon after the BBC version of The Quatermass Experiment had finished airing in the summer of 1953, Hammer film studios obtained rights to make a movie version and started planning. Prior to this point in Hammer’s history, the studio had primarily made comedies and crime dramas; to market their films in the United States, they often used American actors in starring roles.

Hence Brian Donlevy’s being cast to play a very un-British Bernard Quatermass in this particular film. Quatermass’s creator Nigel Kneale did not like this at all.

In compressing the 3-hour BBC series into an 80-minute film, director Val Guest, who co-authored the revised script, also took other liberties with the story. Kneale didn’t like these either, especially the altered ending.

But we’ll get to that part when we come to it.

This film version begins with what would become a horror-movie trope: a couple necking. Not being American teens, they aren’t parked in a car in some Lover’s Lane, but have made themselves comfortable in a haystack on the farm belonging to the girl’s father. A deafening roar like a jet engine interrupts their kissing and they run like hell for the inadequate shelter of the farmhouse.

The next thing you know, there’s a rocket sticking nose-down into the pasture like a giant lawn-dart. The QI Rocket

We meet Quatermass and the key members of his Experimental Rocket Group–Judith Carroon, Dr. Gordon Briscoe*, and Marsh–along with a querulous guy from the government office funding them, as they drive up to the crash site together in a VW minibus.

Their conversation covers the basic info from the first episode of the series: the rocket was missing and out of contact for 56 hours. They don’t go into why an American is heading Britain’s space program, but it’s obvious right away that the character of Quatermass has changed in more ways than his nationality can account for. This is a man who goes ahead and does whatever he decides is right and doesn’t listen to anyone else once he makes that decision. He launched his rocket, the QI, before he received final approval because he got tired of waiting for the bureaucrats to make up their minds.

After the exterior of the rocket has cooled down, the hatch is opened and Judith’s husband Victor emerges to collapse once he’s outside. His only, whispered, words are “Help me” before an ambulance takes him away. He reflexively clenches and unclenches one fist.
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