The Revenge of Doctor X (1970)
Director: Norman Thomson
Cast: James Craig, Tota Kondo, Lawrence O’Neill
Synopsis: A mad scientist uses thunder and lightning to turn carnivorous plants into man-eating creatures.
An overwhelming air of incompetence pervades every aspect of The Revenge of Doctor X (known also as Body of the Prey, The Double Garden and Venus Flytrap, which is also a sign of a movie’s dubious quality in my book. Like people, the more aliases a movie has, the less reliable they are). Incredibly, the existing print of The Revenge of Doctor X actually has the wrong opening credits tacked on. The credits we see are actually for a Filipino horror movie from 1968 called The Mad Doctor of Blood Island, with which it was once intended to form half of a double bill. It’s perhaps no surprise then to discover that the infamous Ed Wood, writer and director of the notoriously bad SF movie Plan 9 from Outer Space, is attached to this rubbish as writer. The director, a chap called Norman Thomson, is a complete unknown whose only film credit this was to be.
The movie stars James Craig, who was once a fairly respectable Hollywood actor, appearing in the likes of Kitty Foyle (1940) and All That Money Can Buy (1941) before the A-list roles began drying up. He plays Dr, Bragan, an eminent scientist who, feeling the strain of launching a rocket into space, decides to indulge his love of botany during the free time he has while it takes the rocket to reach wherever its destination might be. If, in fact, it ever actually does reach it, because prior to Bragan taking off for some much-needed R&R, he’s informed by an understandably nervous-looking scientist that they’ve made an unspecified mistake in their calculations which could result in the rocket missing its target. Bragan throws a right wobbly upon receiving the news, but appears to immediately forget about it as the incident is never mentioned again.
Bragan nabs himself a cute little Venus Flytrap from some redneck car mechanic (don’t ask) and decides to take it to Japan where he intends to investigate a very rare plant that has always fascinated him. It’s generally believed that it’s strictly forbidden for passengers to transport plants from one country to another, but that kind of thing doesn’t bother Doc Bragan and he spends the entire flight with his new flytrap sitting on his lap. In Japan he’s greeted by Noriko, the cousin of a work colleague of Bragan’s. Noriko is played by Atsuko Rome, and it has to be said that, as cute as she is, Atsuko can’t act for toffee, and delivers all her lines in the same high-pitched monotone regardless of the dramatic intent of the lines she is reciting. When Bragan informs Noriko that he needs a secluded lab in which to ply his trade, she takes him to a remote, hilltop lab which is occupied only by the caretaker, who just happens to be a hunchback dwarf who is a few pennies short of a shilling. The place is perfect, though and, with the assistance of Noriko, Bragan immediately begins his research.
He’s a grumpy old coot when he’s working, though, and it’s clear that he quickly becomes obsessed with a hare-brained scheme to prove his theory that all men are descended from plants by combining a Venus Flytrap with that rare plant that only grows in a certain region of Japan. As far as we, the audience, are concerned this research consists pretty much of endless shots of Noriko and Bragan looking intently at the Venus Flytrap, interspersed occasionally by scenes in which Bragan barks angrily at Noriko. Then we’re off to the coast to bag a sample of that rare plant. The problem is that Bragan and Noriko can’t find one, and therefore must rely on a bevy of topless female divers to help them out. As pleasant as it is to see them, the gratuitousness of their semi-nudity is quite astonishing. No reason is given for their state of undress, and no mention is made of it. In fact, Bragan doesn’t even seem to notice! At least it briefly brightens up a movie which has by now become almost unbearably dull.
Having finally obtained a sample of the rare plant, Bragan gets to work on his diabolical plan, under the watchful — but ultimately meaningless — secret gaze of the hunchback caretaker. As his plan nears completion, it becomes clear that what we’re watching is a cockeyed rewrite of the Frankenstein story, but with a new form of hybrid plant life substituting for the monster constructed from human spare parts. The Revenge of Doctor X — there is no Doctor X, by the way, and therefore no revenge — even has the lifeless plant raised to the skies so that a passing thunderstorm can breathe life into with a bolt of lightning. At last, we get to see the plant monster and, to be fair, as far as these cheap SF movies go, it isn’t too bad. I mean, it looks ridiculous, but less so than you’d expect, given the otherwise appalling quality of this flick.
The Revenge of Doctor X is one of those movies you watch simply to find out how bad it is. You expect it to stink, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint; in fact it stinks so bad, you should really watch it with a peg on your nose. There’s really no point in highlighting areas in which the movie is particularly poor because each aspect of the movie is of equal incompetence. And yet, despite the dullness of long stretches, it is strangely watchable, and it’s kind of fun identifying all the ‘references’ to those old Frankenstein movies.
(Reviewed 1st October 2013)