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Science Fiction and Social Frictions

'Lost Skeleton of Cadavra' has fun with Z-grade sci-fi horror films of '50s, '60s.

January 24, 2002|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The American Cinematheque's Alternative Screen showcase presents tonight at 7:30 Larry Blamire's "The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra," one of the funniest and most accurate spoofs of Z-grade sci-fi horror pictures of the '50s and early '60s.

Blamire, who also stars as scientist Dr. Paul Armstrong, has the cornball dialogue down so perfectly that it's hard to resist quoting swaths of it. He and his admirably professional cast manage to keep straight faces, even in the most deliriously silly moments. Paul and his pretty wife, Betty (Fay Masterson), are off to a vacation in the mountains, where he hopes to locate a small meteor that looks like a radioactive plum pudding and is potentially such a great source of power that one teaspoon of its "atmospherium" can fuel six round-trips to the moon.

Also eager to get his hands on this meteor is evil Dr. Roger Fleming (Brian Howe), who figures that with a dose of atmospherium he will be able to bring back to life "the lost skeleton of Cadavra," whose genius brain lives on, and in cahoots with the revived skeleton, rule the world. In the meantime, a pair of amiable aliens (Susan Connell and Andrew Parks) arrive from outer space with a mutant creature, who immediately runs away. They carry with them a ray gun that can transform creatures into humans--at least partway--and that is how the sultry Animala (Jennifer Blaire) comes to life.

What keeps "The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra" from being a carbon copy of vintage drive-in flicks is that its dialogue is so consistently hilarious. It also offers an implicit commentary on how easily women could be patronized in the pre-feminism era and how sexually repressed the '50s were.

Playing with this deliberately schlocky gem is Efram Potelle and Kyle Rankin's short, "They Came to Attack Us," a bravura spoof of trailers that also deliriously sends up the space invasion genre. It's seven minutes long and is a nifty industry calling card for its filmmakers. 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 466-FILM.

Hungarian films surface so rarely in local theaters it's a shame that Robert Koltai's "May Day--Mayhem," a big hit on home ground, doesn't travel better. Koltai takes a humorous look back at Hungary's grim Stalinist era of half a century ago. He celebrates the irrepressible spirit of the Hungarian people in the figure of a colorful, easygoing guy in a new industrial community, Steel City, constructed alongside the Danube.

Koltai casts himself as the warmhearted, good-humored Csocso, a burly, middle-aged man who teaches high school Russian despite having only the slightest grasp of the language. He also coaches the local soccer team and organizes the Communist holidays. He therefore has a major assignment in planning Steel City's first May Day celebration, which will be attended by top Communist Party officials from Budapest and delegates from the USSR.

Unfortunately, Koltai as a filmmaker succumbs to the heavy-handedness that characterized the Stalinist era, which demanded of the Hungarian citizenry patriotic fervor and public displays of gratitude for Soviet "protection." The film abounds in a verbal, broad humor loaded with insular references that are largely lost on foreign audiences. It's easy to see how "May Day--Mayhem," which opens Friday at the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, connected with Hungarian audiences, especially older audiences who lived through the period. It's equally easy, however, to predict that American audiences will find it lacking universal appeal. (310) 274-6869.

The amateurish and unfunny "Jane White Is Sick & Twisted," about the misadventures of a young woman addicted to a Jerry Springer-type show, has a Friday and Saturday midnight run (12:15 a.m.) at the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500. It's also playing at the Village, 1140 N. Tustin Ave., Orange, (714) 538-3545.

Outfest's Wednesday 7:30 p.m. film series at the Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood, continues with Michael Selditch's powerful film of Ken Hanes' play "Fixing Frank," an effective adaptation of a work from the stage to the screen that bristles with intense portrayals. A gay psychotherapist, Dr. Jonathan Baldwin (Paul Provenza), becomes outraged at the damage that psychiatrist Dr. Arthur Apsey (Dan Butler) has done to gay men (he claims he can make them straight). So Dr. Baldwin enlists his lover of more than six years, Frank Johnston (Andrew Elvis Miller), a freelance journalist, to go undercover as a patient and expose Apsey as a dangerous fraud.

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