The Revenge of Doctor X (1970)
News flash: Nate will not be working on this review after all. Intern Kelby broke into the MMT petty cash box, stole Nate's car, and was last seen speeding down the Interstate with a bottle of Thunderbird in his free hand and a bunch of hookers piled into the back seat. Nate's gone to find him, and since this might take quite a while, he asked me to take over the review. So onward, and everybody please keep an eye out for Kelby. It might be a good idea to stay off the road for a while...
Boy, oh, boy, do I have a treat for you! Today I'm reviewing a movie that has all of the usual characteristics of the movies we review (bad writing, bad acting, bad production values, bad special effects), but it also has oh so much more. To start with, nobody seems sure exactly where it was made, who made it, or who acted in it. As you'll see if you watch the version available on Internet Archive or Youtube, the opening credits are brief and look homemade. As many other reviewers point out, two of the actors listed in the credits, John Ashley and Angelique Pettyjohn, don't actually appear in the movie. James Craig, an actor who does appear and plays the lead, isn't listed in the credits at all. The print of this movie was found in a warehouse without titles or credits, and the best guess is that whoever found it got it mixed up with another movie and inserted the wrong title and credits. You'll find it on IMDb under the title Venus Flytrap, which is as good a name as any, since it seems to have been released under multiple titles. However, I'm going to keep on using The Revenge of Doctor X, since that seems to be the title under which it's best known. You can tell from this that it's the kind of movie MMT likes best, but there's a few more things that make it stand out from the usual MMT fodder. One thing is that it stars James Craig, or at least somebody who looks like him. James Craig was the actor described as "the sexiest man alive" by Myra Breckinridge, who should know. We last saw him in The Doomsday Machine. The second is that it's got a scene of four topless Japanese women divers, or some copies do. The Youtube version has been censored. And for an extra special bonus, it was written by Ed Wood (probably, there's some debate, but Ed Wood always said he wrote it). Can it get any better?
Well, I suppose it could have Bob Ross in it, that would make it 110% better.
The movie starts with the previously-mentioned cheapjack credits, and we see Myra Breckinridge's favorite actor sitting at a desk in what is supposed to be an office at Cape Canaveral but sure looks like a school classroom. This is Dr. Bragan, a scientist of some sort. You may be picturing scientists as detached and unemotional, but James Craig plays this scene in the most over-the-top scenery-chewing super-dramatic way possible. We saw him in The Doomsday Machine, and he played his scenes straight in that one. He plays most of his later scenes in this movie straight, too. Did the director of this movie, whoever he may have been, tell him to act this way, or was it something he thought would be fun to do and nobody stopped him, or did he honestly believe that this was good acting? Maybe he did it out of kindness, to avoid showing up the other actors too badly, for they're all dreadful, and as is typical of actors in this kind of movie, have few or no other acting credits. Questions that came to mind as I watched this scene: Did they even have a written script, or did the actors ad-lib their dialogue as they went along? And did James Craig or anybody else in the movie actually get paid? The other actors are so bad, I wouldn't be surprised if they were volunteers who acted in the movie just to see their faces onscreen. James Craig, by the way, looks a lot like Clark Gable in his older days here. And I don't mean that as a compliment, I never understood what women saw in Clark Gable. Now, Errol Flynn, that was a handsome man!
Our leading man, Doctor Bragan.
James Craig in his younger days (rakishly handsome, no?).
But getting back to our movie, a gray-haired man joins Dr. Bragan in his "office," and we learn via James Craig's window-shaking emoting that a rocket launch is scheduled to take place in a few hours. Dr. Bragan appears to be unwell; at one point he nearly faints, and the other man has to help him to a chair. However, all's well with the rocket: we're treated to some stock footage of a rocket launch, and in a quick cut back to Dr. Bragan, he assures us that the rocket took off as scheduled. He's not happy, though, and he seems to be depressed at the thought of the long wait time before the rocket reaches its destination. Didn't he already know it was going to take a long time? He seems to be the head of this project, whatever it is, so he must have known how long it would take the rocket to get to wherever it was supposed to go.
Pretty bare set, don't you think?
At some unspecified time later, Dr. Bragan is given bad news when a white-coated scientist informs him that there could be a possible error in their calculations. He doesn't say what sort of error, but being the good scientist he is, Dr. Bragan instinctively knows that it's an error that may send the rocket off-course. I have to sympathize with Dr. Bragan here, because this sort of mistake could cause the rocket to miss its destination completely and make the whole effort useless, but he does seem to overreact a little here, and by "overreact" I mean his yelling almost shakes plaster off the walls. In fact, he's overcome by the exertion and almost faints again. Instead of taking him to the nearest emergency room, his gray-haired colleague helps him back to his desk and gets him a glass of water, or maybe brandy. The liquid looks brownish (oh, to work in an office where liquor is kept on hand!), and Dr. Bragan's words get a little slurred after he drinks some of it. His colleague recommends a vacation, and Dr. Bragan finally concedes that it's as good a way as any to pass the time until the rocket gets to wherever it's going (the error doesn't seem to have been very serious after all, or else Dr. Bragan had so much to drink he forgot about it). It seems that Dr. Bragan was a botanist before he got into rocketry, and there's a rare plant he always wanted to investigate. It only grows in Japan, so that's where he goes.
The box office receipts have come in, and Craig realizes he's not going to get paid for this gig.
Rather oddly he drives to Wilmington, North Carolina to take an airplane, even though there are much larger airports much closer to Cape Canaveral. His car starts acting up, and all of a sudden the movie changes from science fiction to rural humor. The proprietor of the primitive little gas station Dr. Bragan stops at is straight out of Petticoat Junction, although this guy adds a little pepper to his characterization by carrying around two poisonous snakes in his bare hands. The man hospitably invites Dr. Bragan to enter the workshop and have a look at the rest of his collection, all of which are poisonous, while he gives Dr. Bragan's car a looksee. There are a lot of snakes inside, but what really catches Dr. Bragan's eye is a plant sitting in a pot in the middle of the floor. Dr. Bragan announces that this plant is a Venus Flytrap. The snakelover refuses to part with it but says there are lots more out in the swamp. Dr. Bragan duly helps himself to one and is soon winging his way to Japan.
This a completely inaccurate representation of rural Carolinians (except that it isn't, they're all hilljacksgoatlovers).
Dr. Bragan is carrying the plant with him in a cardboard box and has no trouble getting it past Customs. Once through, he's met by a Japanese woman who turns out to be the cousin of his assistant, the gray-haired man who was so prompt with the booze. Her name may be Noriko and she may be played by Atsuko Rome. She's pretty, but oh, boy, is she a bad actress, even by the low standards of this movie. She speaks all of her lines in the same monotone voice, and she has such a thick accent she's hard to understand. It's possible she can't speak English and is reciting her lines phonetically, or it's possible she's actually a robot, judging from the way she delivers her lines. Dr. Bragan is gallant toward her, which is kind of icky as he's old enough to be her father, if not her grandfather.
Dr. Bragan seems very fond of his plant, and he carries it with him when Noriko takes him to dinner. He tells Noriko that he must have a secluded lab in which to work, since he feels he's spent too much time around people lately (and the people he's been around probably agree). Fortunately Noriko knows of the perfect spot: a lab that's been abandoned for years, up in the mountains in the middle of nowhere. Immediately I picture a ruin with a collapsed roof and no electricity or running water, but maybe Dr. Bragan doesn't need such frivolities, because he immediately agrees that it sounds like just the place.
Love those Japanese-style sliding doors.
He and Noriko drive off to see it, in a nifty little red convertible (MG? Triumph? I could use some help, here, Nate) [Nate: Neither, it's a 1965 Honda S600.], and it looks like he's finally put his plant down. Unfortunately, driving in the mountains has certain risks associated with it, and one of these risks is rockfalls. Dr. Bragan is moving the rocks off the road (Noriko keeps her butt planted firmly in the car) when a more serious problem makes itself known: a nearby volcano erupts. This does nothing to discourage either one, and they keep on driving.
Right-driver, no less.
They soon arrive at the lab, which is the most impressive laboratory building I've ever seen. In fact, Noriko tells Dr. Bragan that her father actually intended it to be a hotel but changed his mind because the road to it was so bad. I suppose rockfalls and erupting volcanoes would tend to discourage those lesser souls who aren't scientists. Isn't a former hotel a little big for a lab? How did Noriko's father expect to get enough tenants in such a remote location? But it's not up to me to tell other people how to make good real-estate decisions. Fortunately, despite having been abandoned for quite a while, the building not only seems intact, the grounds around it are perfectly tended. There's a reason: it seems Noriko's father installed a caretaker, who introduces himself by dropping some roofing tiles that nearly hit them. Dr. Bragan looks a little disturbed, but Noriko is completely unruffled, lending further credence to my theory that she's a robot. Then, as though that wasn't enough, the volcano erupts again.
"Whoops, sorry I almost killed you!"
Dr. Bragan must really want to do research on plants, because he moves in without so much as a look of worry. In the next scene, there's something that seems totally out of place in an ultra-low-budget science fiction movie, which is a hunch-backed dwarf playing an organ. No, I did not make that up. I couldn't possibly have thought up something like that myself. The dwarf is the caretaker we saw drop the tiles, although in that shot you couldn't tell he was a dwarf. The organ music seems to make Dr. Bragan sleepy, and he goes to bed early.
Dwarves and organs make any scene spark, Film Making 101.
Next morning, Dr. Bragan is shown the greenhouse and pronounces it satisfactory. He begins his research and promptly reverts to his old nasty self, bellowing at Noriko when she makes a casual remark unconnected with what he's doing, which is something to do with a plant and a bucket. It seems Dr. Bragan needs electric current for his research, and the dwarf helps him with that. He also needs to feed his little plant, and Noriko and the dwarf seem surprisingly happy when he grabs up a lizard and drops it into the plant's lidded container. Don't Venus Flytraps need light, just like any other plant? Is there a botanist in the house?
Do American hotels have attached greenhouses?
We've had an organ-playing hunchbacked dwarf, and what else goes along with that? That's right, dogs howling in the night. Noriko gets up to investigate, sees Dr. Bragan walking in the dark, and goes back to bed, all without a trace of emotion on her face. For you guys, she's wearing a skimpy nightgown made of some flimsy material, and although she doesn't have much in the way of boobies to show off, her body is outlined by the moonlight coming in through the window. (You can also see she's wearing granny panties under her nightgown, and she may be wearing a bra under it, too.)
We'll take any skin we can, we're not proud.
Next day we see more of Mean Dr. Bragan, as Noriko tries to open the Venus Flytrap box and sneak a peek. Dr. Bragan catches her in the act and snarls at her to stop immediately. As he caresses the box lovingly, he looks up to see the dwarf peering at him through some foliage. This might not seem that notable to you, since the little guy has been snooping around ever since Noriko and Dr. Bragan got there, but a zooming closeup of Dr. Bragan coupled with a bar of organ music clues us in that something very significant just happened. Unfortunately the movie isn't going to tell us what that is.
It might bite her nose.
After that we get a sequence of shots of Br. Bragan puttering around, doing unexplained things with plants, and so some time must have passed. For some reason Noriko is still hanging around, even though Dr. Bragan isn't very friendly and she seems to be doing nothing related to his research. Not only that, now they’re both wearing red cardigans, white shirts, white pants, and white shoes. Will this have some significance, or does it just signify laziness on the part of whoever designed the costumes?
He looks like Bobby Knight.
Moved, I guess, by Noriko's silent devotion, Dr. Bragan finally breaks down and shows her his little pet. By the way, he has many close-ups in this scene as he gives us a boring exposition on the plant's characteristics, and you can see that his teeth are not so hot. He makes the rather incredible deduction that the plant can reason, based on the fact that it wouldn't eat an ant. Couldn't it just be that the ant was too small to trigger the plant's reflex? But Dr. Bragan knows better.
Oiy, so scary!
Once the ice is broken, Dr. Bragan makes Noriko his assistant, and we see them working night and day in the greenhouse. Incidentally, there seems to be nonstop thunder and lightning all night long every night here, and the dwarf continues to play the organ at random times. I imagine the thunder, lightning, and organ music was meant to add a spooky atmosphere to the movie, but the whole movie so far has been so cheesy that the sound effects make it seem almost like a parody of a horror movie.
He's got the standard Mad Scientist Crazy Eyes.
Dr. Bragan just can't seem to rest, and one night, after looking out the window into the thunder and lightning (but no rain, maybe it was too expensive to have rain), goes off to the greenhouse. He pauses near something we haven't seen before, a few tombstones set closely together. Oh, come on, a small cemetery on hotel grounds? And one of the tombstones is shaped like a Celtic cross? In Japan? Did whoever made this film forget where it was supposed to be set? Noriko again goes to the window, sees Dr. Bragan walking, and goes back to bed. Considering the way she's been dogging his footsteps so far I'm surprised she doesn't go outside after him, but maybe she's afraid the humidity will ruin her hairdo, which is still salon-perfect after sleeping on it for some time. I'm envious.
Shintos don't mutate plants, just dinosaurs.
Getting back to Dr. Bragan, he's now in the greenhouse and seems to be losing his scientific detachment. He looks at his plant and promises to make it the most powerful thing on Earth. What is going on here? When did he suddenly turn crazy? Did I miss anything? A quick look back at the last few minutes shows no, I didn't miss anything, he seems to have lost his mind just this abruptly. And by the way, the dwarf is still lurking in the shadows. Why does the dwarf lurk? Why does Noriko look out the window? Why would anybody want to make a plant the most powerful thing on Earth? How could anybody doubt this movie was written by Ed Wood?
He's got lots of sparkly electrical thingies in the lab, which is SCIENCE!
This is a very, very slow-moving movie. It's not even half over, and we still haven't seen anything really scary. We've learned that something may be wrong with Dr. Bragan, but for all we can tell, this could be the story of a man having a nervous breakdown. I'm tired of writing about lurking dwarves and women who look out windows, so I'm just going to hit the high points until the movie picks up a little. Dr. Bragan tells Noriko he's planning to cross his darling with a sea plant that also traps its prey. They're in the little red car again, and I can't help but notice James Craig seems to be having some trouble starting it. It jerks badly as he puts it in gear.
But he has a big box, that's something.
No more signs of craziness from Dr. Bragan. Now we have a long underwater sequence, with Noriko and Dr. Bragan swimming. I can't tell if it's James Craig or a stunt double. They don't find anything. Once back on shore, he still seems normal, he and Noriko are all kissy-face, and he seems to want a relationship.
Look out for sharks!!!
Correction: not all of the versions posted on Youtube were censored. There's one that does indeed contain footage of topless Japanese women divers. Not just a brief glimpse, either, but a couple of minutes, and they're not wearing so much as a pasty above the waist. They're going after the underwater plant, the one Br. Bragan plans to cross with his own. There's another extended underwater sequence, and they find the plant.
Gratuitous T&A is always welcome at MMT.
Back to the lab, and we see the Venus Flytrap is now much bigger. Dr. Bragan plans to change the structure of the plant's "glands." Glands? Since when do plants have glands? He wants to fuse the two plants together to make a new plant with human characteristics. Why?!? Why would anybody want a plant with the characteristics of a human? Is Dr. Bragan planning to make it do his work back at Cape Canaveral while he sits in a bar and drinks all day? He now has a bunch of odd pieces of equipment in the lab, and also for some unfathomable reason, a dog with a litter of puppies. Night again, thunder and lightning again, and the dwarf and Dr. Bragan hoist the Venus Flytrap to the roof, from which a piece of glass has been removed. How this will either alter the plant's glands or fuse the two plants together is not explained.
Bragan has been reading too many Michael Crichton novels.
Back to the lab. Nothing happens for a long while. It's night, of course, and a dog is howling, of course. Oddly, there's no thunder and lightning. Oops, there it goes -- there's a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder, right on schedule, but at least the volcano isn't erupting. Dr. Bragan's plant has grown to about six feet tall. It's covered with a sheet, but we can see it moving a little underneath. Off comes the sheet, and finally, something that allows this movie to call itself a horror movie -- we see a man-sized Venus Flytrap with a head, arms, and legs! I've been pretty hard on this movie up to now, but here I have to give it some praise. The giant Venus Flytrap is actually pretty well done here, certainly more care was taken on the suit than is often done in this kind of movie.
Another dull sequence which I'll summarize. There's more lurking by the dwarf, and now the plant-man is looking out the window at the storm outside, just kind of loafing around. Dr. Bragan attempts a sinister laugh and intones "I do not allow failures." He screams at the plant and does another sinister laugh. Dr. Bragan clutches his head and collapses, a dog barks, the dwarf runs into the lab, and he and Noriko manage to revive the doctor. Dr. Bragan requests brandy, which is quickly forthcoming, and he looks ruefully at his plant-man, which is just standing there, looking droopy. He's acting sane now. He, Noriko, and the dwarf go off to bed, leaving the plant-man in the lab. Oh, no -- there's a cute little puppy playing near the plant-man! We all know what's going to happen, and it does, although thankfully we don't actually see it. Two more questions: What was Dr. Bragan expecting the plant-man to do, anyway? And who lets dogs into a lab in the first place?
The puppy is the better actress, really.
Morning comes. The plant-man is much livelier now, and seems to be trying to talk. Dr. Bragan is pleased at the sight, and tries to feed it another puppy. There's a whole litter in the lab, and I ask again, why are there dogs in a lab? Noriko snatches the puppy away before it can be sacrificed in the name of science, but she does supply live rabbits, chickens, and mice. Finally Dr. Bragan reveals what this experiment was all about: he's trying to prove that men are descended from plants! For some reason he needs to feed it the blood of a human heart to prove his theory. Off he goes to suit the action to his words, and he walks to a local hospital, no security guards in sight, and jabs a large needle into a sleeping patient (we get to see another bare breast here), and extracts blood from her heart. This he injects into the heart of his creature, assuming the plant-man has a heart.
Make sure the patient's name isn't "Abby Normal"...
The sinister dwarf isn't just sinister, he's extremely stupid. He teases the plant-man and predictably gets his comeuppance when the plant-man grabs him and he's barely able to get away. He runs to Noriko to complain, and she informs Dr. Bragan of the attack and tells him he's no longer a scientist, he's a madman. This statement would have been dramatic if Noriko hadn't uttered it in her usual flat monotone. The fight peters out, and Noriko leaves.
Seriously, why is she still here? Can't she get another job?
Dr. Bragan cut his left hand earlier, and instead of a boring old bandage, he's sporting a black leather glove. All seems to have been forgiven between Dr. Bragan and the dwarf, since the dwarf helps Dr. Bragan move the plant-man outside for some fresh air. They learn the hard way that the plant-man can move when they find that the dog that's been hanging around the lab (and has been howling at night) has been injured. Noriko, who switches back and forth from advocate of killing the plant-man to Dr. Bragan's loyal assistant in the blink of an eye, first says the plant-man must be killed, then settles down with Dr. Bragan to watch the plant-man nonstop until they catch it moving. They both unfortunately fall asleep almost instantly, and it looks as though the plant-man is spraying some sort of gas out of its head. Where did that particular ability come from?
Bragan has lost his marbles.
The plant-man really can move, and he walks off stiffly as soon as the two witnesses are safely in the Land of Nod. He comes across a cute little child skipping along, and yes, you guessed it, the child becomes plant food. Well, the local villagers aren't taking this lying down. I'm not sure how they know what happened to the child, because we didn't see anybody else around, but maybe somebody was peeking out through a window blind and saw it.
Earliest appearance of the raggy sock puppets from those hipster Kia Sorento commercials.
As for their reaction...We've seen a hunchbacked dwarf lurking and playing an organ, we've seen a mad scientist in a sort-of castle build a creature and expose it to electricity, we've had a lot of thunder and lightning and howling dogs, so what are we missing? That's right, peasants carrying torches! This lack is now supplied, and they start off after the plant-man. This movie was made in 1970, didn't anybody in Japan have flashlights at that time? Apparently not.
The mob seems not to be in such a hurry, more just out for a leisurely stroll by torchlight.
Dr. Bragan and Noriko finally wake up and see the plant-man is gone. Noriko is concerned that the plant-man might hurt someone, while Dr. Bragan is concerned that someone might hurt the plant-man, but in agreement that they have to find the plant-man, they both hurry off. The torches clue them in on the likely location of their quarry, and they go after it in the little red convertible. Noriko's driving now, and she's a much better driver than James Craig.
Though in Craig's defense, he's well over six feet tall and that little domestic-market Honda was not made for Gaijins with long legs.
They reach the torch-carrying peasants, who tell them what's happened. Dr. Bragan announces nobly that he'll go after his creation and destroy it, and Noriko begs him not to, although this is what she's wanted him to do for some time. On account of James Craig's less-than-Oscar-worthy acting, I can't tell if he's sincere in thinking it has to be destroyed or if he's trying to get away so he can rescue it. He acquires a baby goat as bait and goes off alone to confront the monster, and from his calls to the creature, we learn that he's in fact trying to escape with it to a safe place. He's still sporting the black glove, but on his ungloved right hand we see green discolorations, suggestions that he's turning into a plant himself. This could be the explanation for his craziness, if we hadn't seen right from the start of the movie he was unstable.
Just like Wikus from District 9!
Remember the erupting volcano? It was mentioned for a reason. Dr. Bragan and the creature end up on the edge, and as Dr. Bragan is trying to coax the creature away, they both fall off the edge and into the molten lava. As an animal lover, I was relieved to see the goat was left standing on the edge, although Dr. Bragan was still clutching it when he went over and I don't see how it could possibly have escaped.
No one asked the goat how he felt about being the bait.
This is a really, really bad movie, and I suggest you don't waste your time on it. In case you hadn't noticed, it's pretty much a rip-off of Frankenstein. It might have worked if it weren't for the abysmal acting and the glacially-slow pace. James Craig is the only actor who wouldn't have been kicked out of a middle-school drama club, and even he can't manage to put on a credible performance of a man who is sane most of the time but goes crazy when his experiments don't work as planned. The science is beyond idiotic, but that's par for the course for this kind of movie. At 93 minutes, the movie is longer than this kind of movie usually is, which in view of the meaningless duplicate shots of such things as the dwarf lurking and Noriko looking out of a window, suggests that maybe the movie was never edited when whoever made it realized it was a pile of junk. Another thing that bothered me was the way the background music alternated between slow and spooky, and peppy and upbeat for no reason connected to what was happening onscreen.
But at least the goat got a properly heroic money-shot.
And where did Dr. X's revenge come in? As far as I can tell, Dr. Bragan didn't have any grievances at all. Was he planning to sic his plant-man on the assistant back at Cape Canaveral who made the mistake in the rocket calculation?
Written in October 2011 by Pam Burda.
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that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...