Apr 24, 2008

The Third Floor Drive-In: Season Four Episode Three

The April 22 installment of The Third Floor Drive-In featured the 1973 sci-fi thriller Clones, preceded by a trailer for the 1979 sci-fi horror film, The Dark.

Today I was in a headspace for lo-fi 70's sci-fi, upon thinking about those cheapo Schick Sunn paranormal documentaries that packed 'em in at the drive-in, as well as the discovery that I may finally have found a title belonging to a scene to a tawdry low-budget UFO picture I saw on the late show 25 years ago, and has since made me curious as to what exactly was on the tube that night (the film in question: James Flocker's The Alien Encounters).

In the 1970's, public fascination was on high with strange phenomenon, especially UFOs, which prompted countless zero-budget efforts to be made, for a fast buck in exploiting the curiosity of drive-in viewers. And despite how many of these films (the non-documentary ones, I mean) seldom delivered the goods (in terms of suspense, action or decent special effects), I think back on these pictures, and am fascinated to see them again-- perhaps because these films lacked so many frills, they instead were more character-driven, and as a result succeeded more than big-budget Hollywood glossy efforts in exploring that theme of how supernatural phenomenon would truly affect real people. With all this in mind, what could I have possibly chosen for the drive-in that night?

Well, The Clones turned out to be an excellent choice. This low-budget effort is perhaps more of a chase thriller with science fiction elements, and as such the scenes which attempt to explain the bizarre plot behind the cloning of these scientists are rather corny, doing a disservice to the otherwise unique feel of the picture.

Dr. Gerald Appleby (Michael Greene) escapes an accident at the lab, and then discovers that his daily routine is being filled by a clone. At first, this film is marvelously creepy, sustaining a mood with an idea that would have served Hitchcock proud. The concept of one's life being replaced by an exact duplicate is just one iron in the fire. Soon, Appleby is on the run from two FBI agents, Gregory ("Sanford and Son") Sierra and Otis (The Last Detail) Young, who are set to eliminate him. He learns that he is implicated in the plot of several of the world's top scientists are to be cloned, and then "the original" is to be killed, while the duplicates carry on the bidding of a diabolical mastermind who wants to control the world with the weather. The novelty of this premise in his quest for survival and to right the wrongs, he is being helped out by his own clone! (And the way that they overlap the two Michael Greene's in the same scenes, is simply but effectively done with over-the-shoulder shots, or using a double in long shot.)

Cinematographer Gary Graver (whose long list of credits is a Christmas wish list of 20 years of drive-in cinema) maintains the paranoid atmosphere with anamorphic lenses, hand-held camerawork and solarized colour. Further adding to the bizarre atmosphere is the casting of John Drew Barrymore, well past his glory days, as a hippie on the road, Angelo Rossitto banging on a telephone booth, and best of all, Stanley Adams (yes, Cyrano Jones from "The Trouble With Tribbles"!) as the villain.

Co-directors Lamar Card and Paul Hunt (both of whom have had spotty but interesting careers in the B-movie trenches) have concocted a memorable visceral experience. The Clones is truly is a great discovery.

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