For the last 48 hours, I’ve been obsessed. Not with anything new, mind you, but with a film I’d seen years before and forgotten all about. I’m not sure where to begin this whole thing, so let me just start with Saturday night this past weekend —
Working my way through the Mill Creek Chilling Classics DVD 50movie pack of public domain films (anybody else out there love these cheap-ass Mill Creek boxsets?), I came across a flick I’d seen one time previously on VHS, thanks to the late, lamented Discount Video here in Minneapolis — the 1970 US/Japan (I think — more on that later) co-production The Revenge Of Doctor X.
First off , let’s get some basics out of the way — this movie doesn’t have anything to do with the classic Universal title Doctor X , or its sequel. In point of fact, there’s no character in here named Doctor X — the title character is named Dr. Bragan — nor does the plot have anything whatsoever to do with revenge of any sort. The film was apparently released — to the extent that it was even released at all — under a slew of different titles, some of which make more sense than others, including The Devil’s Garden, The Venus Fly Trap, and The Double Garden (which I’m betting was just a butchered preliminary Japanese translation attempt of the aforementioned Devil’s Garden title, and they got it right later at some point). Confused yet? Hold on, it gets even more perplexing —
Apparently the only film print found for this to date was unearthed in an old warehouse someplace or other (reports of exactly where vary), and there’s a solid chance this thing was never shown on American screens at all. The print was without any opening or closing titles, and the guy who found it, whoever he might be, just cobbled some together quick based on who he thought was in the movie and who he thought made it. And that’s where the next level of confusion comes in, for behold! —
A fly-by-night outfit out of New York called Regal Video put out a movie called The Revenge Of Doctor X on VHS. Apparently the film cans the dude the who discovered this lost less-than-classic spooled up inside were labeled (probably with masking tape) The Revenge Of Doctor X, and he thought it was the same movie and just borrowed the credit information on VHS box (or rather some of it) when assembling the plain white-on-black credits reel that kicks this movie off. The problem is —
Okay, what’s the problem, you say, right? Looks like a perfectly normal back cover movie description from a VHS case, doesn’t it? Except — that’s not really a description of this movie at all. The flick we’re talking about today features no American journalist, no American adventurer, so search for a missing father, it doesn’t take place on an uncharted jungle island (it’s set in Japan, but might not have actually been filmed there — again, more later), and there’s no half-man/half-beast — although there is a walking plant monster.
You’d think the explanation would be simple enough — that there’s another movie with this exact same title, or that the film cans were just mislabeled, so that what the guy who found it thought he’d discovered, naturally enough, was this a print of this other movie that really was called The Revenge Of Doctor X, even though it was, in actuality, an altogether different movie.
That makes perfectly good sense. It would certainly explain why Angelique Pettyjohn is listed in the opening “starring” credits even though she’s not in the movie itself — see, she was (at least in theory) in this movie that really is called The Revenge Of Doctor X. Problem solved, right? Not so fast —
You see, John Ashley was listed as being the other star of The Revenge Of Doctor X on the VHS box alongside Pettyjohn, and not only is he not in this film, either, he’s not listed on the credits — the right actor, namely dime-store Clark Gable-wannabe James Craig, is! Some of the other names on the credits are apparently correct, as well. But that’s not the biggest head-scratcher here —
No, friends, the biggest head-scratcher here is that when your host rented a copy of The Revenge Of Doctor X years and years ago — and mind you, this was in the VHS box shown above that lists Ashley and Pettyjohn as the stars and contains the very description reproduced above — the movie on the tape was, in fact, the James Craig plant-monster movie I watched the other night on the Mill Creek disc!
How to explain all this? I really can’t do anything of the sort definitively, but here’s the only plausible theory I can come up with —
There is, in fact, another movie called The Revenge Of Doctor X that does, indeed, star John Ashley and Angelique Pettyjohn. And the plot of this film is, in fact, more or less in line with the box description reproduced above. It’s gotta be a very osbscure flick, since there’s nothing about it whatsoever on IMDB, but maybe it’s better known, and therefore listed, under another title (and in fact some research does show that the two of them appeared together in a movie called The Mad Doctor Of Blood Island — which was directed by Eddie Romero, a fact that will be of significance momentarily). Next up, the guy who found the print he thought was The Revenge Of Doctor X really did just find a mislabeled can (or set of mislabeled reels). He actually watched the movie and recognized that the leading man was not John Ashley but was, in fact, James Craig, so he put the right actor’s name in the opening credits. He didn’t recognize anyone else, though, so so he just stuck with the VHS box credits for the others. At some point, then, this movie went into circulation on VHS, also under the title of The Revenge Of Doctor X, and whoever put it out just stole the cover art from the other release for the other film, which was probably no big deal because the actual Regal Video was long since out of business by then. So at some point there were probably two entirely different films circulating on VHS with the exact same cover art and the exact same description on back, even though said cover art and back-cover box description applied to only one of the films. Or —
Maybe Regal Video released The Mad Doctor Of Blood Island under the title The Revenge Of Doctor X for some reason, and when the real print of the real movie called The Revenge Of Doctor X was unearthed (this assumes the cans and/or reels the guy found were, in fact, labeled correctly and it was the original VHS release that was either intentionally or unintentionally retitled), Regal, or whoever put the VHS of the actual film out, just kept on using the same cover art and never bothered to change the description on back even though it was wildly inaccurate.
Either of these theories — and mind you, I stress again that they’re only theories — go some way toward explaining some of the riddles surrounding this movie. But not all of them. For instance —
Who directed this thing? The plain white-on-black titles the guy who found it assembled lists the director was being one Eddie Romero, which makes sense if we go with the theory that this guy just copied the VHS credits, since, as mentioned a moment ago, Romero really did direct The Mad Doctor Of Blood Island and that movie really did star John Ashely and Angelique Pettyjohn. But a lot of knowledgeable folks out there in internet-land say that it was actually directed by Kenneth Crane, which makes sense owing to the fact that Crane had directed some US/Japan co-productions before, most notably The Manster.
Where the hell was this thing shot? For all the world it’s supposed to look like it’s Japan, but there’s nothing to actually definitely prove that. If it was, in fact, made in the Philippines it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. The big problem with that, though, is that the IMDB lists some pretty detailed Japanese locations that seem rather definitive, along with stating that it was originally shot in 1966 under the title of Body Of The Prey (I’ve also seen it listed under The Body Of Prey, so take your pick) and that an article covering its filming even appeared in the Japanese edition of Stars And Stripes, the magazine for US servicemen stationed overseas. Who submitted this info, though, and how the hell they would really know, I have no idea. Right now I’m leaning in this direction — if Romero was the real director, it was made in the Philippines, and if it was Crane, then it was made in Japan. But speaking of the IMDB, and getting back to the question of who really directed this thing —
IMBD lists the director (and screenwriter, for that matter) as being some guy named Norman Thomson, who was apparently a low-rent pulp novelist! And I have no fucking idea about anything else about the guy, since this is apparently his only film credit, ever. As for who wrote it—
Well, folks, apparently credit for this screenplay has been claimed by none other than one Edward D. Wood, Jr.! And it certainly has all the hallmarks of a Wood script (again, more in a moment). However, apparently Thomson asserted that he wrote the script himself, even though Wood listed it on his resume right up until his death. Of all the mysteries surrounding this flick, however, this might actually be the easiest to solve. Wood’s resume used the original title of The Venus Flytrap for the film, and he probably sold it to the Toei company (who apparently are the undisputed production backers of the movie) under that name. Then Thomson (or whoever) made some changes to it during production and took full screenplay credit.
So here’s my master theory that covers pretty much all the bases, and incorporates the previously-expounded-upon working theory about the VHS release and the bare-bones homemade title credits — Eddie Romero directed a movie called The Mad Doctor Of Blood Island that starred John Ashely and Angelique Pettyjohn. Regal Video released this movie under the name The Revenge Of Doctor X either because that’s what they thought it was or because they just thought it was a snappy title. Some guy working in a warehouse really did discover a print of the actual The Revenge Of Doctor X, which was just one of many titles this film was known by, he made the homemade title credit reel based on information he took from the VHS box, he recognized James Craig as being the star and put him in the credits rather than John Ashley, he left most of the other names alone because he didn’t know who the hell any of the other people were, and then he sold it, either to Regal or somebody else, and they kept using the same box cover art and back cover blurb and just replaced it with the “right” movie, even though at this point said cover art and box description had nothing to do with the film on the tape. The flick was directed by Thomson and pretty much entirely written by Wood, but when Thomson made a few editorial changes he took credit for the entire script. Kenneth Crane had nothing to do with any of it and his name just got mixed in with the whole discussion because it looks a lot like his other work, and he was an experienced hand at the whole American/Japanese co-production thing.
How does that sound?
Okay, enough of all that. What’s this flick actually about, you ask?
Dr. Bragan (James Craig —and that’s the only actor I’m going to mention by name because I’m frankly unsure as to the accuracy of the IMDB (last time I’ll mention it, I promise) credits for anyone else) is a burned-out NASA scientist who has a nervous breakdown on the job and decides to take an extended holiday in Japan at the behest of one of his colleagues, who just so happens to be from there and can set the overworked doctor up with his cousin as a tour guide. Bragan is a botanist at heart who just sort of got side-tracked into the whole aerospace thing (hey, shit happens) and dreams of resuming his plant studies in a secluded environment. He picks up a Venus Flytrap at a gas station while his car is being repaired (it’s a long story, suffice to say the station attendant is also a snake handler) and brings it with him to Japan (even though the plant doesn’t apparently grow there, at least not according to the script, he has no problem getting it through customs) where he plans to crossbreed it with some Japanese underwater carnivorous plant and therefore prove his long-held thesis that because all life originally came from the sea, then mankind really evolved from plants (I told you this was a Wood script! Who else could make that little sense?). With his scientist buddy’s charming female cousin, Naruto, acting his his assistant, he sets up shop in a huge greenhouse located on an abandoned property owned by her rich dad that’s way up in the mountains and just happens to be in the shadow of an active volcano (“another reason for the decline of my father’s property” — I kid you not) and is tended to by the Japanese equivalent of Igor (he even plays the classic Igor Bach music on the organ — the entire soundtrack, by he way, is composed of a series of wildly inappropriate and totally overbearing library tracks).
Along the way, we’re treated to countless loops of the soon-to-be-mad doctor and his fetching (and very probably lovestruck — he keeps treating her like shit and she keeps coming back for more, talk about taking the stereotype of subservient Asian women to the extreme!) assistant driving up and down treacherous mountain roads (or, more likely, the same treacherous mountain road), and even more scenes of her waking up to the sound of a dog barking at night, whereupon she invariably goes to the window to see Dr. Bragan sneaking off to his greenhouse under the cover of darkness (his white lab coat tends to stand out). The dynamic duo eventually decide to go to Tokyo to get some lab equipment they need and to try to locate the underwater-flytrap-thingie off the coast somewhere, and when they can’t find it on their own diving excursions they enlist the aid of four topless female Japanese divers who find it no problem. Dr. Bragan cuts the giant plant down, brings it back to the greenhouse, and soon they’re in business.
There’s just one problem, though — by this point, Bragan, who has been phony-ass charming and out-and-out abusive in equal turns throughout the picture (and Craig always chews up and spits out ample amounts of scenery no matter what) is by this point stark raving mad, and after splicing the two plants together he, Naruto, and Japanese Igor hoist his still-covered plant creation up on a wooden slab into the opened greenhouse roof during a violent thunderstorm, which gives Wood the opportunity to pen lines like “The earth was your mother — the rain your blood — the lightning your father!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” All that’s missing is the “BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!!!!!!!!!!!” but Craig’s unintentionally comically explosive delivery more than makes up for its absence. The next morning he removes the bedsheet covering his Plantenstein monster and what we get is —
A guy in a rubber rubber suit with boxing gloves and Venus Flytraps for hands and feet that Bragan names “Insectavorus” for some reason or other. Oh, it’ll all end in tears, won’t it?
Actually, it’ll end just like Frankenstein — albeit with a few twists. Bragan, now completely off his rocker, decides he wants his plant creature to start walking, so he goes to the local lunatic asylum, steals some blood from one of the sleeping patients(insert another gratuitous though not unwelcome boob shot here), injects it into Insectavorus, and soon the plant creature is up and moving around, terrorizing a local village, killing a kid (don’t worry, they don’t show it — to save on special effects, whenever Plantenstein kills, they just show him extending one of his flytrap hands and then the screen goes completely red), and then getting chased out of town, and high into the mountains, by a mob of torch-wielding local peasants. Bragan finds his creature the next morning, lures him out with the promise of a goat to eat, Insectavorus attacks his creator, they both go plunging off a cliff to their deaths — and a totally unnecessary and completely incongruous (that’s putting it kindly — frankly it’s laughably jarring) piece of stock footage showing a volcano erupting is added in just in case we didn’t get the point that they’re good and dead.
If I were sane, I’d hate this movie, wouldn’t I? Good thing I’m not, then — because God help me, I loved The Revenge Of Doctor X. Maybe it’s just the obvious Wood-isms peppered throughout the dialogue (like when his long-time colleague and apparently closest confidant prefaces his initial suggestion that he go to Japan by saying “Dr. Bragan, old friend” — leading one two wonder “does nobody call this guy by his first name?”, or Bragan waxes enthusiastically about the long drive up from Cape Canaveral to the airport in Wilmington, North Carolina (what, he couldn’t get a local flight?) where he’ll catch his plane to Tokyo by positively beaming when he says “maybe there’ll be some interesting flora and fauna along the way!”), or the whole Larry Buchanan-on-an-even-lower-budget feel to the positively subhuman production values. I find myself wishing that somehow, some way, Wood himself could have directed this thing, as it;s definitely missing the frenetic and undeniable (if completely misplaced) energy he brought to all his work, but somehow the listless, lackadaisical directorial style of Thomson (or whoever) only heightens the atmosphere of sheer incompetence here. I mean, there’s some actual breathtaking scenery on display here on many occasions, and it still seems fucking dull! That, folks, takes some serious determination!
Mostly, though, I think I love The Revenge Of Doctor X because there’s just no way it could be anything other than what it inevitably became. I mean, no one could look at this script and think it was any good or made anything like sense in the conventional — errrmmm — sense. this movie just has an internal logic all its own — that being, of course, one of complete and total illogic. The story sucks, the acting’s even worse, the cranked-up -way-too-high library soundtrack is atrociously invasive, the pacing is horrendously dull and plodding, the plant-man costume is beyond silly, the special effects are so poorly-realized as to border on the surreal, the direction is uninspired in the extreme, the ending is as derivative and uninspired as anyone could possibly imagine — and yet it all feels hopelessly right, Not good, mind you — just right. Like this is a film that knows its spot in the vastness of the space-time continuum exactly, and proceeds to occupy just that precise location and nothing more.
As mentioned waaaaaaaayyy earlier in this post (that took about twice as long to write as the movie it’s about takes to watch), The Revenge Of Doctor X is a public domain film, and is therefore available from tons of DVD and DVD-R releasing outfits. I recommend getting as part of Mill Creek’s Chilling Classics 50-flick boxset since the every single release of it that I know of is struck from the same shitty-looking print with the same violently unpleasant mono soundtrack. Nobody’s ever done any video or audio remastering on this, and nobody’s ever gonna — frankly, that’s exactly as it should be, since this is a movie that deserves no better — a fact which, strangely enough, I don’t mean as an insult. It would just be a betrayal of everything it stands for to give it anything like a high-quality working-over, in my view. It should be experienced for what it is — nothing less, and certainly nothing more.
While some films are just plain bad, and some transcend that to become so bad they’re good, The Revenge Of Doctor X doesn’t pass go, it doesn’t collect $200, nothing — it’s so bad it’s beyond good and all the way back to bad again. In other words, for what it is — and that certainly ain’t much — it’s downright perfect.