I love old sci-fi movies. Matt and I both do. The cheesier, the better, as exemplified by my Ed Wood DVD collection. I’ve never tried to quantify why, but there’s something about the sincerity despite limited resources (and occasionally talent) that draws me to them. Strange effects, bizarre costumes, incomprehensible movie logic, irrelevant stock footage…Individually they might make a project weaker but in the right combination what would be otherwise constitute weakness contributes to a strange irresistible charm.
One of my favorite films of the last few years is The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, not a B-grade sci-fi movie in itself, but rather a loving homage to the 50’s sci-fi flick. At the very start, the first thing you notice is that the dialog is slightly off. And repetitive. And then it slowly dawns on you that you’re in for something special. The Lost Skeleton is not a parody of the 50’s sci-fi film, it highlights the subtle things that make the genre so special and charming.
Creating such a clever movie takes a love of the genre and a keen eye for detail. It’s not as easy as picking up a camera and cracking a bunch of jokes because if it were, 2009’s Alien Trespass — a similar attempt — would have been successful. No, there is a craft involved more subtle than pointing a finger and saying “isn’t this ridiculous?”
I digress about The Lost Skeleton to make this point: when I call Black Dynamite the “Lost Skeleton of Cadavra of blaxploitation flicks” it is the highest compliment I can possibly give.
Shot on Super 16 film, with a score created using period instruments and recording equipment, everything about Black Dynamite screams authenticity. The opening scene, a meeting between drug kingpins, is dark and grainy, and utilizes a common split screen technique. If there’s a blaxploitation cliche that didn’t make it into the film, I don’t know what it is, and if you’re a fan of the genre you’ll recognize exactly how much care went into replicating the style and peculiarities without stooping to condescension or derision. There’s car chases (and crashes), boom mikes, actors replaced mid-scene, and even a musical number that gives the Black Dynamite Sound Orchestra time to shine. I won’t rehash the plot because if you’ve read this far you’ve seen enough of these movies to know it already, but much like The Lost Skeleton it is a loving pastiche of the films that came before it.
On a recent Nerdist podcast, it became especially clear exactly how much effort and thought went into recreating this world. The actors truly studied their source material. It’s not just the dialogue that gets copied, it’s also the acting style and delivery. In particular Byron Minns as Bullhorn mimics Rudy Ray Moore to an uncanny degree. (Seriously Byron, the world needs you in a Dolemite movie. We can make it happen!)
Last weekend I was fortunate to be able to attend a screening of the film here in Denver. Also there for a Q&A afterward were Adrian Younge and Loren Oden of the Black Dynamite Sound Orchestra. If that’s not enough for you, (and it should be, the score is an integral part of what makes the film work), Younge was the movie’s editor and Oden played Leon St. James (of the Anaconda Malt Liquor ad). They provided some exceptional insight into what it takes to put together such a spot-on homage. The key? If it isn’t obvious, it’s study. Know your sources inside and out, and then don’t go to copy it, but build something new and try to make it better. (See also: Jeff Parker, Jason Aaron)
Younge and Oden were both amazingly gracious in talking with us afterward, everything from how hard it is to rewatch your film over and over again (not as much as you’d think) to the musical score’s influences (Al Green, Marvin Gaye, and Italian cinema). One of the most interesting things I learned from them is that Black Dynamite was originally supposed to be an action film with comedy, but as Younge was cutting the movie he discovered that it was a comedy with action, which changed up how the pacing had to work. This was very telling because Black Dynamite: Escape From Slave Island hit comic shops this week. I have my copy ordered and will hopefully be picking it up today (expect that review next week!), but based on the 12-page preview I picked up, the comic will follow in those original roots: action-based, with elements of comedy. And I can’t wait, because BD is obviously a labor of love for everyone involved.
The preview looks solid: funny, and with an art style reminiscent of 70’s Marvel books. As the Black Dynamite media empire expands into comics, cartoons, and I’m sure a sequel, I hope the creators embrace each medium. For example, have the comic reference the cliches and stereotypes of black comic book characters, rather than continuing on exclusively with movie references.
If you’re interested in catching a Black Dynamite screening in your town, hit up the Black Dynamite page on Facebook, where announcements are regularly released. And if you happen to live in the Denver area, Paul Matthews of ASR Innertainment will be putting on a blaxploitation film series, so stay tuned.
And now I hope my comic shop is finally open. Because I have to know what happens on Slave Island.