Cult nonsense filmmaking finds its Ultimate in Larry Blamire’s pair of monster-rally comedies, that parody classic cheapo sci-fi thrillers. The spot-on spoofery nails the genre’s hyper-earnest characterizations and affectionately stilted acting. The only disconnect are the high production values lavished on these personal films: remastered for reissue, they look and sound almost too good for authenticity’s sake. Separate purchases, each with bounteous extras, including Larry Blamire’s weird ‘reanimated movie classics.’
Trail of the Screaming Forehead
The Lost Skeleton Returns Again
Separate purchases available at Hydraulic Entertainment
Produced, Written and Directed by Larry Blamire
Who began the fan-cult monster film sub-genre? Is it Arch Hall with his barely-watchable backyard production Eegah? Or maybe Ray Dennis Steckler, and his marginally more polished The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? Those pioneers in semi-professional moviemaking inspired plenty of aspirants (with cash to burn) to try and make their own movies.
Since the advent of made-for video productions in the 1980s, many more ‘alternate source filmmakers’ have been reaching for immortality, grinding out zombie movies and vampire epics on video, 16mm and even 8mm. Every once in a while an opus like The Blair Witch Project smashes through the celluloid ceiling. But these days it’s no longer easy to tell a low-budget independent from a major release — modern equipment has raised newer cult-aimed pictures to professional levels. Of course, what’s always most important is the quality of the screenplay, performers, and direction.
On the quality end of this industry margin is Larry Blamire, an accomplished illustrator, writer, stage actor and director. His best-received theater work involved absurd and surreal subject matter both serious and comedic, and by the mid 1980s he had written a stage play take-off on Ed Wood- style camp filmmaking. Although he spent most of the ’90s in serious playwriting, by the new century Blamire was again pursuing genre takeoff comedy. Digital video made possible the production of the original The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, an elaborate spoof of horror tropes and ‘lost civilization’ non-epics. The ‘zany’ feature tickled Sony acquisitions executive (and comedy devotee) Michael Schlesinger, who promoted its distribution by Sony in 2004. Lost Skeleton made Blamire a household world in fantasy fan households. Many of us first became aware of the writer-director-actor through his contributions to Video Watchdog magazine.
This month sees the Blu-ray release of two Blamire Pictures, Trail of the Screaming Forehead and The Lost Skeleton Returns Again. Filmed in beautiful widescreen, they cast a spell of silly, giddy fun. A major part of the films’ appeal lies in Blamire’s talented stock company, that constructs a precise Fun Zone somewhere between faux- Ed Wood stiffness and inspired satire. Most of the pro cast have interesting, impressive credits on both sides of the camera.
Trail of the Screaming Forehead
2007 / 100 min.
Street Date February 2020 /
Starring: Daniel Roebuck, Susan McConnell, Fay Masterson, Andrew Parks, H.M. Wynant, Brian Howe, Dan Conroy, Alison Martin, Trish Geiger, Jennifer Blaire, Larry Blamire, Dick Miller, Robert Deveau, Betty Garrett, James Karen, Kevin McCarthy.
Cinematography: Kevin F. Jones
Film Editor: Bill Bryn Russell
Original Music: Chris Ainscough
Blamire takes a comedic approach to the old tale of alien creatures that mount an invasion by possessing the brains of human beings. The aliens themselves are odd ‘forehead’ creatures, that take residence between their victim’s eyebrows and hairline. As in certain sci-fi classics (and a famous late-nite TV comedy spoof), nobody notices the all-too obvious ‘extra’ foreheads until it’s too late. Husband Amos (Daniel Roebuck) is the first to be possessed, and the dreaded terror soon spreads through the entire community. By a really, really coincidental coincidence, Drs. Sheila Bexter and Philip Latham (Fay Masterson & Andrew Parks) are experimenting with ‘forehead enhancement,’ as Sheila is convinced that the forehead is where human intelligence resides, not the brain. Philip has volunteered for a radical forehead enhancement experiment, which he hopes will make him smarter. Bar owner Nick Vassidine and his singer Droxy Chappelle (Larry Blamire & Jennifer Blaire) are ‘forehead snatching’ for Sheila, stealing human tissue from the morgue. The only opposition to the parallel forehead invasion and forehead augmentation horrors is a trio of slap-happy good folk: sailor boys Big Dan Frater and Dutch “The Swede” Abercrombie (Brian Howe & Dan Conroy), and the mirthful librarian Millie Healey (Alison Martin).
Trail of the Screaming Forehead stretches its skit material to feature length, sustaining itself through clever writing and the utter charm of the performers. Skit humor can easily break down into disconnected gags, and even an Abbott & Costello movie can sag after a couple of jokes that aren’t funny. But Blamire’s writing holds together by virtue of its own self-awareness. The silly direction, blocking and strangely-timed pauses between dialogue lines find fun in low-budget film silliness. Even the simplest expository statement can be expressed in some tortured syntax, as unnaturally as possible. Old pictures from Poverty Row studios avoided entrances, exits and extraneous moving-around of characters, simply because those things needed rehearsal — the directors could only afford to have the characters stand in one place to read their lines. Thus a scene in one of these pictures begins with a character already sitting in a woman’s living room; he then explains how he was greeted at the door and entered.
The actors are performing on three levels at once: direct comedy, a sideways awareness of camp absurdity, and complete earnestness. Dan Conroy’s sailor is an idiot, but he also radiates warmth and sincerity. The housewives project the unguarded, poised openness of women in vintage TV commercials, whose brains seem pickled in the household detergents they are selling. Authority figures display sober integrity even when they don’t know what they’re talking about, and Larry Blamire’s criminal sharpie Nick Vassidine trips over his own hardboiled tough-guy talk. Weird ‘cultural recognition’ irony is as important to Blamire as a simple laugh: a broad comedy gag will be followed by something more esoteric than ’80s spoof shows like Airplane!
Injected into the proceedings are some good visual effects: foreheads crawl like inchworms, phantoms fly, and we see a death ray or two. Jennifer Blaire’s sultry bar girl Droxy warbles a tortured title song. Guest star turns are contributed by James Karen, Dick Miller, Betty Garrett and Kevin McCarthy.
Note that I haven’t done my usual thing of precisely identifying the exact genre references that I think are being tapped in Screaming Forehead. The viewers that will connect with the show don’t need those signposts, and knowledge of those Psychotronic connections is not needed to enter into the comic spirit. The best quality of Blamire’s film is its overall good cheer. Everybody on screen seems to be having a terrific time, and their party spirit is contagious.
The releases are separate. Trail of the Screaming Forehead is presented in a director’s cut, with the original theatrical version viewable as an extra. Judging from the first couple of scenes, the two versions are very different, with different special effects.
The extras begin with behind-the-scenes videos, one of which gives us off-the-cuff, non- epk-ish interview material with the film’s four name stars. Each joined in for the sheer fun of a low stress shoot with friends; the more anecdotes they recount, the better. Forehead also carries one of Blamire’s bizarre ‘reanimated movie classics,’ a vintage industrial or public service film that has been re-scripted and re-voiced in a bizarre deadpan/goofball manner. The effect is amusing/unnerving. The reanimated film on this disc takes the grand prize for Least Self-Explanatory title of the year: Tale of the Moist Apostrophe.
I’m pretty sure that the filming location for Screaming Forehead’s invasion showdown finale is the Veterans’ Administration campus in West Los Angeles, which at some point in time fell into disuse (?). The film’s party atmosphere allows for bit-part appearances by various producers and friends. I see a ‘Cinecon’ connection worked into the proceedings — my late friend Robert S. Birchard goes un-billed (even in the IMDB) as one of the possessed forehead folk in the final confrontation.
The Lost Skeleton Returns Again
2009 / 92 min.
Street Date November 2019 /
Starring: H.M. Wynant, Frank Dietz, Christine Romeo, Brian Howe, Fay Masterson, Robert Deveau, Kevin Quinn, Larry Blamire, Daniel Roebuck, Susan McConnell, Andrew Parks, Dan Conroy, Trish Geiger, Jennifer Blaire, Alison Martin.
Cinematography: Anthony J. Rickert-Epstein
Film Editor: Bill Bryn Russell
Production Design: Antony Tremblay
Original Music: John Morgan, Bill Stromberg
Produced by Michael Schlesinger, Mark Allen Stuart, Sara Van der Voort
Not having seen the original The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, a B&W 2001 feature, I read that it was filmed partly in the exotic Bronson Caverns, the ubiquitous distant location that’s about two minutes away from Hollywood restaurants, grocery stores, and the headquarters of Scientology. Hmmm. This Lost Skeleton film shares major characters (or twin siblings of characters killed off in the first film) so it is indeed a direct sequel.
The Lost Skeleton Returns Again is even more fun than Screaming Forehead in that its jungle trek / lost civilization framework offers more possibilities for silly ‘B’ Movie schtick, or at least more variety. The ensemble cast includes most of the folk from Forehead. My subjective response to seeing these actors again was, great, I like these people and am ready for more silly clowning and spoofing.
When we last saw the Lost Skeleton … no, I have no idea how the first film ends. The amusingly redundant Returns Again sees two groups of explorers rushing back to the Amazon. Sleazy opportunist Handscomb Draile (Robert Deveau), Sydney Greenstreet-ish Gondreau Slykes (Daniel Roebuck), crooked Carl Traeger (Kevin Quinn) and corrupt scientist Dr. Ellamy Royne (Trish Geiger) are after Jerranium 90, a miracle element worth a fortune. The other somewhat less venal troupe has convened to help Betty Armstrong (Fay Masterson) find her lost explorer husband Dr. Paul Armstrong (Larry Blamire): hearty Jungle Brad (Dan Conroy), Peter Fleming (Brian Howe) brother of the lost Roger Fleming (it’s apparently a long story) and Reet Pappin (Frank Dietz).
Along the way they’re joined by quaint helpers from the first film. Animala (Jennifer Blaire) is a playful jungle pixie in a Salome Jens-like leotard. And the extraterrestrial cut-ups Lattis and Kro-Bar (Susan McConnell & Andrew Parks) soon arrive in a shiny flying saucer. This second squad of jungle trekkers is also after the rare Jerranium 90 , but they’re nice. The element is jealously guarded by The Cantaloupe People, a lost civilization with their own pyramid and everything. Their leader Chinfa (Alison Martin) is driven to distraction by the explorers’ habit of illustrating their speech with meaningless hand gestures. The devious Dr. Royne succeeds in tricking Chinfa into forking over the priceless mineral, through the use of double-negative doublespeak. Meanwhile, the forest is creeping with not one but several horrible, deadly, really inconvenient monsters!
Returns Again keeps its kettle boiling with a constant parade of goofy complications and accurate riffs on its source models. Some of the foolish speeches are pretty amusing, such as Paul Armstrong’s inane philosophical examination of the nature of his bitterness — a dime-store fatalism that’s countered by his wife Betty’s oblivious optimism in all situations.
Blamire and his production designer Anton Tremblay double down on the production values, finding locations in the expected So-Cal rural wilderness (Sable Ranch) but also The Arboretum, which at least makes the Amazon look less like Griffith Park (even though that’s the correct look for this spoof). The show taps composer-conductors John Morgan and Bill Stromberg for a Bernard Herrmann soundalike score that’s so good, it would work well on a straight adventure story. Previous Blamire pix utilized their share of creative special visual effects — animation, stop-motion animation, mattes. The coordination here is especially good, and stylized to a proper level of cornball artificiality. Clever foreground miniatures are used several times, as with the imposing Cantaloupe Temple Pyramid. Especially fun are several goofy monsters, foam rubber concoctions nonsensical in action and appearance, like the decidedly un-threatening Tabanga of bad movie fame. Blamire’s man-eating plant monster is better-looking than most in old Hollywood pictures. The intact skeleton of the first film has been reduced to a Freddie Francis- like skull, which explains its search for a body. When it flies we see the wires — as we are meant to.
The sequel introduces plenty of crazy names. I hope these spellings are accurate. The remote jungle destination is a place called Menalusía. ‘Bentivegitantus’ is Queen Chinfa’s major-domo. The menacing monsters are called ‘Gralmanopidon’ and ‘Monster Magracrop.’ And the magic idol forged from pure Jerranium 90 is called ‘The Delph of Anacrab.’ But the spot-on jungle trek spoofery is what keeps the show on its feet. After a lengthy montage of walking through the jungle, with the hikers collapsing in exhaustion, somebody asks Jungle Brad how far they’ve gone: “Oh, about half a mile.”
Cameraman Anthony J. Rickert-Epstein gives the widescreen picture a good look, overcoming the genre-accurate blah locations in a way that maintains a consistent comic-book feel. This is no rush job. In one shot, nice late-afternoon light falling on the hills beyond lends a dialogue scene added character.
Extras for The Lost Skeleton Returns Again include an overall making-of video piece, and a lengthy featurette dedicated to the fabrication of the rubber monsters. A music video for the not-bad title tune is present. An added bonus are three more of Larry Blamire’s ‘reanimated movie classics,’ Origin of the Making of the Lost Skeleton Returns Again transforms a dull institutional procedures film. Son of the Sword of the Dagger is a clever re-voicing of a dismal-looking sword and sandal picture. As the brainless hero is constantly obsessing about some curtains, Blamire essentially turns it into a mini-version of Minnelli’s The Cobweb. I can’t place the pouty, Fabian like muscleman hero, but others surely could. Who is Bill of Lading? is an even more esoteric Reanimated instructional film, in which a bureaucratic mixup causes an entire corporation to search for an employee named Bill.
The only downside to Bantam Street’s separate Blu-rays is a lack of English subtitles. The two discs look like shelf-ready retail items, with bar codes, etc., but they’re presently obtainable online only, at the Hydraulic Entertainment page. We’ve been told that Blamire’s other 2009 feature Dark and Stormy Night is due later in the year.
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Trail of the Screaming Forehead + The Lost Skeleton Returns Again
Separate Blu-rays rate:
Movies: Very Good +plus
Supplements: featurettes, trailers, making-of pieces, BTS pieces, Reanimated Movie Classics short subjects (see above).
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? N0; Subtitles: None
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed: March 10, 2020
Text © Copyright 2020 Glenn Erickson