Judge Ike Oden doesn't think runaway skeletons are a laughing matter.
"The jungle is every place for bitterness. It sows and reaps it like so much cane sugar. It gets into your blood and builds tiny little houses of pain, and you better not be there when the rent's due, cause, funny thing, the Anacondas, they don't know how to read a lease…"
Since the events of The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, Jeranium 90 (a "little rock" that made all the papers) has become the next geological asset to the United States government. General Scottsmanson (H.M. Wynant, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes) sends Reet Pappin (Frank Dietz, Black Roses) on a clandestine mission to the land of the coveted rock—the Amazon Jungle. He teams up with Cadavra-survivor Betty Armstrong (Fay Masterson, The Man Without A Face) to find her husband, a now-embittered, alcoholic Dr. Paul Armstrong (writer/director Larry Blamire, Trail of the Screaming Forehead).
The trio meets up with Dr. Peter Fleming (Brian Howe, Gran Torino), the twin brother of Lost Skeleton baddie Dr. Roger Fleming. Seeking to make amends for his brother's sins, Peter agrees to join the team along with guide (and twin brother to a different character from Cadavra) Jungle Brad (Dan Conroy, Dark and Stormy Night).
What the group doesn't know is that they're being tailed by a rival team led by Dr. Ellamy Royne (Trish Geiger, Dark and Stormy Night). What Royne doesn't know is that she's been infiltrated by everyone's favorite bickering alien couple, Lattis (Susan McConnel, The Rosa Parks Story) and Krow-Bar (Andrew Parks, The Mirror Has Two Faces), as well as the sultry, jungle animal humanoid Animala (Jennifer Blaire, The Majestic). What no one but Fleming knows is that the Skeleton himself (voiced by Blamire), now merely a floating skull, is pulling the strings behind the scenes for his own nefarious reasons. Or so the Skeleton thinks!
The plot is every bit as convoluted as it sounds, and not in the delightful way of its predecessor. While I appreciate Blamire's movement away from the Ed Wood-ian poverty row trappings of Lost Skeleton of the Cadavra, The Lost Skeleton Returns Again bites off more than it can chew on almost every level. Going for more of a Saturday Matinee jungle monster movie vibe (think The Lost Continent) creates a more high-concept sequel, but unintentional technical shortcomings and a dearth of fan service derails any chance of a separate identity.
As evidenced by the obscenely long plot synopsis above, there's way too many ancillary characters at play. Some I've not mentioned, like the evil scientist team's backer, Gondreau Slykes (Daniel Roebuck, Halloween II (2009)), feel like glorified cameos, while others, like thug Carl Traeger (Kevin Quinn, The Salton Sea), walk in and out of the film as dues ex machinas, and not particularly funny ones at that. While the overwrought cast of characters is a tradition of the genre being parodied, there is no balance between these new characters and the returning cast, whose confidence and understanding of the material clearly blows their new co-stars out of the water.
The cinematography is a major issue. The film, shot-on-digital, divides it's running time between black and white and computerized pseudo-Technicolor. The film was clearly shot in color and converted into black-and-white for its first half, and it shows. Everything's drenched in shadows, even when the characters are outside, making for a kind of bewildering, film-noir-shot-by-18-year-olds-with-desk-lamps look. I'm no comedy expert, but "Are they doing this on purpose?" "Is this supposed to be funny?" "Who is that?" and "What's going on?" are not the sort of questions you want to be asking yourself during a wacky horror movie spoof. Cinematography nerds take heed, Citizen Kane or even The Skeleton of the Lost Cadavra this isn't.
The film also feels dated. Not dated in the sense that it believably replicates the type of movies it's making fun of (it doesn't), but dated in the sense that the film isn't giving us anything we haven't seen before. In the wake of such masterful spoofery as Planet Terror and the more recent Black Dynamite, the film feels sloppy and inconsistent; shifting back and forth between broad self-aware laughs and intentionally clunky dialogue and special effects that could only play out in the sort of Saturday matinees it's making fun of.
These knocks aside, the film can be a lot of fun in snatches. The returning cast plays the hell out of the movie, from Blamire's ingenious turn of the once wholesome, naïve Paul into an alcohol fueled demon, to Betty's complete lack of concern for her husband's newfound case of "the grumpys." However, it's the returning monsters, The Skeleton, and Animala, who own the film's most inspired moments. There's a beautiful simplicity to be found in a pompous floating skull and a woman/animal hybrid whose chief interests include seductive dancing, a tight fitting black outfit, shiny things and the catchphrase "Rowr." And the final showdown between the Skeleton and the rubber suited, cycloptic monster guardian Gralmanopidon must be seen to be believed. It's an ingenious inverse of 'versus' monster movie finales that will have you rewinding and playing the scene over and over again.
Barring the film's contrast issues, the transfer is passable for a pixilated shot-on-video joint of this type. The audio is a clean mix, impressively showing its stuff when the film's rousing, generic 'adventure movie' score kicks into high gear.
The extras are meager in comparison to The Skeleton of the Lost Cadavra DVD. There's a fun, informative commentary with skeletal auteur Larry Blamire, actors Andy Parks, Alison Martin, Dan Conroy, Trish Geiger and production designer Bill Russell. It's the kind of commentary that adds layers of endearment to what is merely a so-so movie and is worth checking out on a rainy day. "The Making of the Lost Skeleton Returns" featurette compiles three short documentaries covering special effects, art direction, and casting. Why they aren't presented separately is an odd choice from a DVD producing standpoint, but they give a pretty good idea of the creative process fueling Blamire's bony vision. Rounding out the disk is a gag reel that I'm sure amused the cast, but will do little for anyone not involved in the production.
If you're a fan of the original Lost Skeleton you'll be right at home
with this one, though not without some frustration. As for everyone else, be
warned—this skull's got no body to sit on.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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