'Lost Skeleton' keys in on sci-fi spoofery

"The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra" may not be for everyone, but for those who appreciate spot-on spoofs of the cheesiest of '50s sci-fi monster movies may find it an inspired delight. What's more, the film's writer-director-star, Larry Blamire, has a sharp ear for the clichés of old serials, radio shows and B-movies and their motifs that reaches back at least to "King Kong," from which it makes a direct steal. Some may find the film as flat as the pictures its spoofs — "King Kong" excluded — but for others that will be part of its pleasure. As deliberately silly as the film is, it is very knowing and carefully thought out.

Blamire's Dr. Paul Armstrong is a dedicated scientist who, with his devoted wife, Betty (Fay Masterson), has rented a cabin in the mountains as he searches for a fallen meteor containing the rare element "atmosphereum." As it happens, nearby is Cadavra Cave, home to a legendary "Lost Skeleton." The Lost Skeleton may be dead, but somehow his brain still functions, and all he needs is a dose of atmosphereum to bring him back to sinister life. Betty is actually hoping that in the mountains Paul will get a much-needed rest.

Meanwhile, a spacecraft from the planet Marva crashes in the woods and out step aliens Kro-Bar (Andrew Parks) and his wife, Lattis (Susan McConnell). They travel with their pet, a huge, monstrous-looking Mutant (Darrin Reed), who promptly runs off. Searching for the Lost Skeleton is evil scientist Dr. Roger Fleming (Brian Howe), who believes that bringing it back to life will make him powerful. In short, if the atmosphereum falls into the hands of Fleming, and he administers it to the Lost Skeleton, they will be able to rule the world. If the aliens get hold of it, they will have a power source that will enable them to return home. In yet another plot wrinkle, Fleming gets his hands on the aliens' Transmutatron and turns it on four forest animals to transform them into the single, seductive Animala (Jennifer Blaire), clad in black tights with clawed paw hands and capable of casting spells.

The fun begins in earnest when first Kro-Bar and Lattis, who recite their dialogue as if it had been written by Shakespeare, descend upon the Armstrongs' cabin, soon followed by Fleming with Animala in tow. The perfect '50s wife, Betty graciously invites them all to dinner and remains unflappable even when Animala chows down on the food on her plate like a cat or dog — and the aliens promptly copy her.

Right through to its fade-out, the seedy-looking, black-and-white "Lost Skeleton of Cadavra," with its two-bit props and special effects, provokes laughter, and everyone involved in all aspects of its making gets into the zany high spirits of the occasion. Playing with it is the 1937 Ub Iwerks cartoon "Skeleton Frolic," in which a bunch of skeletons indulge in lively high jinks against rich-hued natural settings rendered in the style of such classic illustrators as Maxfield Parrish.

'The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra'MPAA rating: PG, for brief mild languageTimes guidelines: Suitable family fareLarry Blamire...Dr. Paul ArmstrongFay Masterson...Betty ArmstrongAndrew Parks...Kro-BarSusan McConnell...LattisBrian Howe...Dr. Roger FlemingJennifer Blaire...AnimalaAn NHK and leBrocquy Fraser Ltd. co-production of a Barmak Films production, released by United Artists. Director, editor, writer Siddiq Barmak. Cinematographer Ebrahim Ghafuri. Sound Behrouz Shahamat, Farokh Fadai. Set designer Akbar Meshkini. Music Mohammad Reza Darwishi. In Dari Farsicq with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes.Exclusively at Landmark's Westside Pavilion Cinemas, Westside Pavilion, 10800 W. Pico Blvd., West L.A., (310) 475-0202, and the ArcLight, 6360 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 464-4226.

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