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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Revenge of Dr.X

This review is a bit out of chronological order. The Revenge of Dr. X (RDX) was released in February of 1970. As such, it would have appeared at the same time as The Horror of Frankenstein, which is fitting. RDX is a variant on the Frankenstein trope, and a very low B-grade production that looks like a poor quality made-for-television movie. RDX went by many titles (see below). Some copies have the wrong credits. The film appears aimed at the drive-in market, as the topless pearl divers would obviously not have been television fare.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Dr. Bragan is an over-stressed NASA scientist. His rocket lifts off successfully, but he suffers a bit of a breakdown. His associate, Paul, suggests a summer vacation in Japan to dabble in botany, as a way to relax. Driving up to New York from Florida, he has car trouble. At the country gas station and snake pit, he collects a venus flytrap plant. He flies with it to Japan. Paul's niece, Noriko, will be Bragan's guide and assistant for the summer. She's a botanist. They travel to a remote abandoned hotel owned by her father. The caretaker is a creepy hunchback who like's to play Bach's Toccata in D on the pipe organ. Bragan sets up shop in the greenhouse, nurturing his venus flytrap. He also seeks a sea plant of similar habits. He and Noriko dive around but can't find one. Noriko enlists the aid of a group of topless pearl divers. They find one. Bragan packs it off to his lab. There, he grafts the two together surgically to create a human-sized plant man. He brings it to life with lightening from a storm. They figure out that it eats animals. Noriko worries about the monster, but Bragan sees it as his triumph. All it needs is the blood from a human heart. He sneaks into a sanitarium and withdraws a syringe of blood from a bare-chested patient. Once he injected the blood, the monster can move. It emits a sleeping gas which knocks out Noriko and Bragan. It escapes, terrorizes the village and kills some hapless villagers. The villagers turn out as a mob with torches. Bragan says he will destroy the monster, but really wants to rescue it and flee. He finds the monster in the rocky hills, but the two of them fall off a cliff and presumably die. Noriko carries the baby goat down the mountain. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
RDX is so low budget that it's almost fun to watch for its lack of production value. James Craig's manic over-acting can be amusing too. RDX is just bizarre enough to have a sort of eccentric charm.

Cultural Connection
The Frankenstein story was an easy sell (and easy to write). The market for really cheap second features for drive-ins was still there in 1970.

By Many Names -- RDX went by many names. Ed Wood Jr. is said to have listed a film called Venus Flytrap among his works. This film has also gone by the benign and cryptic title of The Double Garden. It has also appeared with the title Body of the Prey. The copy for this review carried the title The Revenge of Dr. X -- which doesn't fit very well, as Dr. Bragan is never called Dr. X, nor does he have any wrong to be avenged. He's just mad -- and angry.

Frankenstein Roots -- Much of RDX is a remake of Frankenstein, but with the mad doctor being a botanist instead of a biologist. Matching features include: The doctor sewing up various parts to make his man-like creation. The use of lightening to animate it. The creature is hoisted to the roof on a tilting table so the lighting can strike. It emerges off of a tilting lab table. Noriko says, "It's alive!" The doctor has a hunchback minion. The hunchback taunts the monster. The monster escapes and kills some villagers. The villagers assemble a mob with torches. The monster and its creator die.

Intriguing Loose Thread -- Nothing is made of it, but apparently Bragan was turning into a plant monster himself, after getting some plant juice in an open cut. He covered up one hand with a big black rubber glove, and put a mouse into it. The mouse never came out. His other hand is turning green. Curious that nothing was made of this thread.

In the Woods? -- The credits on some copies of the film are for a completely different film -- the Mad Doctor of Blood Island. Conventional wisdom says that Ed Wood Jr. wrote the story. The tale certainly has its bizarre quirkiness enough to have come from Ed.

Budget Gable -- James Craig, who usually played in westerns, looks vaguely like Clark Gable after a hard life. Craig plays his part with exaggeration and hamminess all the more obvious by the sedate acting of the japanese actors. His manic bouts of being a total jerk have a sort of morbid fascination to them.

Car Nuts -- There are many late 60s japanese cars on display. The nice red Honda S600 gets almost as much screen time to get third billing in the credits.

Bottom line? RDX is a deservedly obscure film with such low production values that early 50s TV shows look slick. The "music" is canned generic stuff that only occasionally fits. Most of the time is jarringly wrong. Fans of Ed Wood-style films will find plenty of what they like. Frankenstein fans might be amused at the parallel universe remake. RDX must be seen to believe such a film could exist.

1 comment:

Maurice Mitchell said...

I remember when it came out on Amazon a few months back. It seemed like harmless fun. The greatest monster since King Kong. LOL