Dedicated scientist Dr. Paul Armstrong (Larry Blamire) packs his wife, Betty (Fay Masterson), into his Ford Thunderbird and heads deep into the California hills for a vacation. Dr. Armstrong is thrilled when a meteor lands near their secluded cabin. He's been hoping to secure some useful outer-space rock called "atmospherium." Meanwhile, an equally dedicated, but nefarious, scientist named Dr. Fleming (Brian Howe) is also on an atmospherium hunt; he's trying to re-invigorate a trash-talking skeleton and then rule the world. And just down the road, two aliens from the planet Marva, Kro-Bar (Andrew Parks) and Lattis (Susan McConnell) have crashed landed their spaceship. Guess what they need to fire up the disabled craft?
If the silly premise of the film sounds familiar, it should. The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, a first effort from director Blamire (who also penned the script), is a straight-faced homage-cum-spoof to ridiculously plotted, Z-grade monster flicks of the late '50s and early '60s. From the cardboard spaceship to the rampaging space mutant who resembles the unholy love-child of George Clinton and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, fans of the genre will chuckle appreciatively.
Blamire's attention to detail is impressive: The black-and-white film stock changes noticeably; the dialogue is typically leaden, with special emphasis on repeating obvious facts ("I fear I'm afraid we're dreadfully lost, I'm afraid."); static two-shots make the film feel as if the camera were nailed in place; and Blamire shot his film in the same environs west of Los Angeles that served as the location for countless B-reel adventures, so even the wooded hills look appropriately familiar.
Ironically, Blamire's dedication to faithfully recreating the poorly paced flat vibe of the classic films means that his own work suffers the same pitfalls. (There was a reason people necked at the drive-in, watched movies on the late-late show with a bong handy, and invented Mystery Science Theater.) And while Blamire and his cast are to be commended for playing it straight, such a rigorous approach does mean long stretches of stiff acting. Particularly through its middle, Lost Skeleton feels almost as if you're watching an experimental actors' exercise -- "portray the dumb sheriff, badly." Once the ribbing is noted, repetitions of the jokes grow stale.
But Lost Skeleton is not without its inspired moments. An awkward dinner party where all the characters -- including the super-slinky sexy part-woman-part-four-different-animals "Animala" (Jennifer Blaire) -- come together is good fun. Some of the "special effects" are so wonderfully low-budget you can't help but laugh. And like its progenitors, the film does relate a positive message about how decent Americans, with a solid background in science, can thwart evil colleagues, befriend intergalactic allies and neutralize rogue skeletons.