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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Lobster' Launches Midnight Film Policy

February 09, 1990|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With "Lobster Man From Mars," the Royal Theater, long noted for its distinguished programming, this weekend launches a new Saturday midnight-movie policy with a winner.

Director Stanley Sheff and the late writer Bob Greenberg have lovingly sent up the tacky '50s sci-fi/horror drive-in flick with the help of a good cast that gets into the spirit of the occasion.

It seems that Mars is fast running out of air, and the hideous Lobster Man (S. D. Nemeth) is dispatched by the King of Mars (Bobby (Boris) Pickett of "Monster Mash" fame) to Earth to steal its air. (Never mind how he's supposed to manage it). In any event, the Lobster Man menaces a nice young couple (Deborah Foreman, Anthony Hickox), and Hickox's scientist uncle (ever-stalwart Patrick Macnee) gets into the act. So does a weird psychic, played by Billy Barty, and Tommy Sledge, who as a vintage private eye wrote his own dialogue, a veritable dictionary of dated, hard-boiled detective slang. (He even carries around his own taped film noir theme music.) Dr. Demento narrates the film.

Making a virtue of the presumed necessity of a minuscule budget, Sheff and Greenberg have no end of fun with cheap special effects and familiar outdoor locales (e.g., Malibu Canyon, much used by Roger Corman). Carrying off such a picture is not as easy as it seems: A good parody of bad genre pictures requires more than a passing acquaintance with such films, which are already self-parodies. It is also a challenge to sustain and control such spoofery, and Sheff uses a film-within-a-film device that masks both budget limitations and allows him a breather from the tongue-in-cheek stuff.

This framing story has a nerdy fledgling director (Dean Jacobson), who looks to be still in his teens, showing his magnum opus, "Lobster Man From Mars," to a slick Hollywood producer (Tony Curtis, in top form) in desperate need of a terrible picture to release for tax reasons. From time to time Sheff cuts to Curtis, who ad-libs a series of amusing reactions to the film. "Lobster Man From Mars" (rated PG) is an instance where cornball antics has required considerable sophistication.

Sheff has set off his film with the perfect curtain raiser, "Kimbar," which is Chapter 1 of an old serial so bad that Chapter 2 was never made! A hilariously tacky rip-off of Tarzan, it stars bodybuilder Steve Reeves as the loin-clothed King of the Jungle. To complete the program, Sheff has a couple of laughable vintage house trailers, one a severe admonition--i.e., banishment for life--against talking during the movie and the other the offer of a six-month pass to anyone who reports vandalism of theater seats.

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