Friday, July 11, 2014

Larry Blamire plots the last stand of THE LOST SKELETON

The road to hell is paved with B-movie pastiches. Outside of trying to stretch the premise of a "Saturday Night Live" sketch into a feature-length film, there's no greater opportunity for failure in Hollywood than intentionally trying to make something so-bad-it's-good. Unless your intentions are pure, you're almost certainly going to come across as crass, callous, wasteful or downright offensive.

Which is where THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA enters the picture. Written in five days and shot for less than $100,000 at the start of the millennium, the movie found an almost-perfect Venn diagram of nostalgia, kitsch, stealthy film criticism and, of course, comedy. Even the most jaded film fans have a difficult time dismissing it, thanks largely to its earnestness.

Writers/director/actor Larry Blamire followed that film in 2007 with TRAIL OF THE SCREAMING FOREHEAD, before reviving his most popular protagonist in THE LOST SKELETON RETURNS AGAIN two years later.

Now, Blamire is plotting the final demise of the Skeleton with THE LOST SKELETON WALKS AMONG US. And he's turning to Kickstarter to help fund the assassination attempt. I spoke with Blamire about the series this week for an episode of our podcast. Scheduling conflicts have forced a delay in editing and publishing that interview, and the clock is ticking on the Kickstarter campaign, which ends July 29. Below is an abridged transcript of our interview, for you impatient types. (I've polished my rambling questions a little to make them less ... rambling.)

Larry Blamire
Where were you and what were you doing when you had the germ of the idea that would become THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA?

Larry Blamire: I was in L.A. with my wife ... we had moved there with an Internet company and, when the rug got pulled out during the dot com crash, I was trying to raise money for it. After a couple of months of trying to raise money and nothing happening, being in L.A. I figured, "This is a good time to make a movie." I just drew upon my love of B sci-fi/horror movies from the '50s, and it seemed like a movie that could be made cheaply because it's supposed to look cheap. It became THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA.

How did you settle on a plot for it? When you had the idea of doing a B-movie, what kind of movies did you gravitate toward?

Larry Blamire: I wrote it in around five days. You know, when they say "It wrote itself," that's kind of (how) it was. If you look at the structure of it, it's kind of like a drawing room comedy, with all these characters after the same thing, everyone's secretive about it and nobody knows what the others are doing. It's almost a classic comedy structure, although it's modeled after a classic B-movie. And, of course, the skeleton being the central figure, was absurd to me because he just sits there for most of the movie. It's the same shot for most of the movie, and it seemed like the cheapest horror monster that you could come up with.

I think the tone of these movies is really interesting. I almost tell people they're "comedies without jokes," but that makes it sound like they're comedies that aren't funny ... which is not the case.

Larry Blamire: I know what you mean. They're not jokes, per se, and that's a pretty apt description, I think.

Did you turn to any particular films for research when you began sketching out the look for these movies? 

Larry Blamire: You know, I had inundated myself so much with those movies ... I grew up watching them as a kid and watched whatever monster movies I could. I didn't really do anything like research. However, about half the cast — and it wasn't a big cast, maybe eight or nine of us — was familiar with these kinds of movies, and about half of them weren't. So we did have these fun marathons where we'd screen different movies like BEGINNING OF THE END, the one with the giant grasshoppers attacking Chicago ... things like that. We did some marathons and had some fun screening these movies to give the cast members that weren't familiar with them a taste of what they were getting into.

Beware the Magraclops!
The first film didn't really lend itself to sequalitis, so to speak. What was it that inspired you to do the second film? What kind of story did you want to tell the second time out?

Larry Blamire: I've mentioned before how much I don't like sequels. It's rare that a sequel brings something new to the table, and I'd resisted the idea. But, I was watching a jungle adventure on TV when I had the absurd notion of Dr. Paul Armstrong, who's such a white bread, square scientist from the '50s ... what if he were bitter and living in the jungle and no one knew where he was? It seemed so ridiculous. From that one plot point, everything kind of built up naturally and I suddenly had this idea for a movie. But, I didn't want to make a similar movie, except for the tone of the humor. It's got more of a Saturday matinee feeling to it.

I thought the use of color in THE LOST SKELETON RETURNS AGAIN was really interesting. The first time I saw the color pop, I kinda rolled my eyes and thought you'd lost interest in doing black and white ... or it's going to be a gimmick. But I felt like I was watching THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY or the old TARZAN series from the '60s. It was overly saturated and desaturated at the same time.

Larry Blamire: The ultimate use of  "over saturated" was the movie I made before that, THE TRAIL OF THE SCREAMING FOREHEAD, which had a widescreen, eye-popping palette. As producer Mike Schlesinger called it, it was like Douglas Sirk meets INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS ... really, really vivid candy colors popping out at you. That was a different feeling, too.

What does it feel like to make that transition from audience member to filmmaker?

Larry Blamire: I try to make something I'd want to see. I feel like that's a good gauge. Every filmmaker should probably do that, I suppose: Make the kind of thing you'd like to see. Which includes something like STEAM WARS, which is a totally different project for me. That's an epic sci-fi action/adventure in a steam punk world. I want to make that because I want to see it.

There's nothing like sitting in a theater and having the lights go down and a movie takes you somewhere. I don't think that happens quite enough these days. Sometimes it happens, but a lot of times I feel myself stepping out of the movie and being critical, not buying something or other. Especially horror movies. There's so many horror movies made these days and I'm too often disappointed. But I do have trouble watching my own movies. It's hard for me to sit down in the theater and watch them without being critical.

I've always been curious about whether becoming a director impacts your ability to enjoy movies, of if it enhances it. I don't know if you looking at the technical aspects and if that naturally disengages you from a story ...

Larry Blamire: I think it's not so much technical. Although I will get driven crazy by overly busy camerawork. Especially the kind that doesn't tell a story, but makes storytelling difficult. I don't want to come out of the story; I want that story to hold me, pull me into the screen ... and I want to stay with it. When that happens, that is the best. That's really cinema going at its finest. I think it comes down to that.

So, the technical aspects like direction and camerawork that's overly drawing attention to itself, that can get in the way of story. In that case, technical issues do apply to story.

You're turning to Kickstarter for the third SKELETON film.

Larry Blamire: The third and final SKELETON movie would be THE LOST SKELETON WALKS AMONG US. After having the first movie in the woods and a cabin in Bronson Canyon, and the next one in the jungle, this one is in suburbia. The aliens Cro-Bar and Lattis (are) living next door to Dr. Paul and his wife Betty, and everything's nice and OZZIE AND HARRIET ... then things start happening. And then the Skeleton returns and, does indeed, walk among us.

I've leaked a little bit about that. He's basically just a skull now that's been patched together, because he got crushed in the last movie. This skull has been placed inside an automaton, so he's walking around in a suit and tie and is part of the public. It allowed me to take the Lost Skeleton to complete heights of absurdity. To me, that's the most fun: How absurd can you get? How ridiculous can you get?

Are we going to get a close look at the Skeleton in the next film? Maybe get a sense of ennui about him?

Larry Blamire:  You're not going to get a backstory, I'll tell you that right now. It's part of the silly fun of it, I think. He was lying in a cave ... how long was he there? How did Dr. Roger Fleming know about him? Why did he want to revive him? Who put him there? None of that is answered. But the Skeleton gets into more ridiculous situations in this film than ever before. I don't want to say too much about that, but be definitely becomes a part of mainstream America ... before all hell breaks loose.

(NOTE: Look for the full interview later next week in The Collinsport Historical Society podcast! Meanwhile, visit the Kickstarter page for THE LOST SKELETON WALKS AMONG US to learn how to get involved with the film.)

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