Nov 15, 2014
Parts: The Clonus Horror (1979) (part 1 of 7)
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Updated on July 5, 2005!
Thanks to both the new DVD of Parts: The Clonus Horror, and the gracious cooperation of director Robert S. Fiveson himself, I’ve expanded and updated this recap with new images and additional personal commentary!
To read my exclusive interview with director Robert S. Fiveson, just click here!
If you’ve noticed all the similarities between Parts and the 2005 DreamWorks release The Island, you’re not alone! Click here to find out more!
Updated on January 10, 2006!
I finally got around to seeing The Island, and it’s even more like Parts than anybody could have ever imagined! Click here to read my review!
The Cast of Characters:
Richard (Timothy Donnelly). A confused young man living a sheltered life in the isolated colony of Clonus. He longs to go to a place called “America”, but soon learns that “America” is really a codeword for having his organs harvested (shock of shocks, considering the name of the colony). So he takes four days to hitchhike through Saginaw, all gone to look for “America”.
Lena (Paulette Breen). Literally stumbles over Richard one day, and her empty-headed musings cause a major epiphany for him. After Richard makes his escape from Clonus, he stupidly risks life and limb to go back for Lena, because they have the kind of real, lasting love that can only come about after a one-night stand on a camping trip.
Senator Jeff Knight (Peter Graves). Running for president, and appears to be doing quite well despite his reluctance to take a stand on any particular political issue. Unfortunately, he’s only alive today due to the magic of Clonus and its spiffy organ bank, and Richard’s escape might spell doom for him and his increasingly ambiguous campaign.
Dr. Jameson (Dick Sargent). The administrator of the Clonus colony. He pushes buttons, operates security cameras, and teaches clones that cans of cheap beer are a naturally occuring element found in the river. And somehow, the Clonus colony remains top secret and unknown to the public, despite his best efforts.
2005 Comments: Wow. Has it really been over three years since I first posted this recap? Parts: The Clonus Horror was only the second movie I ever recapped, right after Easy Kill. The reaction to my first recap was muted, but I got a lot of positive feedback about Parts, most of it from people who had seen this movie featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It wouldn’t be until much later that I realized the MST3k contigent on the web isn’t large, just very vocal. Still, the kind words were enough to convince me to keep going with this crazy hobby, and the rest is history.
For the very first time since I started this site, I’ve gone back and re-watched a movie that I recapped in the past; that movie, of course, being Parts: The Clonus Horror.
Usually, by the time I’m done recapping a movie, I’ve watched it so many times, and relived it so many times during the editing process, that I never, ever want to even look at a single frame of it again.
But late in December, I got an email from a familiar name, saying how much he enjoyed my recap of Parts. It was from Robert S. Fiveson, the director of Parts, and thankfully, he had a good sense of humor about everything I had written about his film. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard from someone involved in a movie featured here, but my recent involvement with a certain unnamed webzine doing interviews with filmmakers made me take the initiative this time, and ask Mr. Fiveson if he’d like to do a short interview, which you can read here.
Parts has just recently come out on an officially sanctioned DVD for the first time, after years and years of the movie floating around on VHS and DVD editions of questionable legitimacy. When I saw it had a director’s commentary and a new interview with Robert Fiveson, and with my own interview with Fiveson looming, I knew it was time to get reacquainted with Parts (or, as the DVD packaging now calls it, Clonus; Apparently, that was Fiveson’s intended title all along.)
The first thing you’ll notice about this updated review is that the screencaps look about a thousand times better. (As far as this being a good thing, your mileage may vary.) The crappy screencaps included before were a result of both A) the lousy quality of my twenty year old VHS copy, and B) my total inexperience with making screen captures. I’ve come a long way, baby, and the images should reflect that.
The second thing you’ll notice is new comments, like this one. After watching a cleaned-up print and hearing the commentary, there are a few scenes and lines in this movie that make a lot more sense, as well as a few that make a little less sense. So throughout the recap I’ve added comments whenever those come up. But despite my own opinion (or anyone else’s opinion) of the movie itself, that doesn’t take away the fact that simply getting it made was quite an acheivement for Fiveson and his co-producers. Their budget was less then $300,000, the movie was shot in under two weeks, and to produce a film under those circumstances that’s still being discussed 25 years later is an amazing accomplishment. And when you get right down to it, that applies to most of the movies here. It takes a lot of chutzpah and hard work and blood and sweat to make a movie, and I wish I could have half the courage to put my ass and money on the line as a lot of the “bad” filmmakers discussed on this site. However, it wouldn’t be much fun to praise their diligence for ten pages, which is why I stick to the mockery. And now, on with the original recap!
Ah, human cloning. The inspiration for a countless number of misguided sci-fi movies. Most films dealing with the concept of human cloning generally fall into three categories, based on the general public’s misunderstanding of how human cloning (if it ever becomes a reality) will be practiced and applied.
In the first category, we have films where a particular person (usually a historical figure) is replicated perfectly, down to the last detail (The Boys from Brazil, for example). The second category of cloning films are those where an evil super-villain/emperor longs to mass-engineer an army composed of exact duplicates of himself (This looks to be the most appropriate category for the upcoming Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones).
The third category, and perhaps the most feasible of the three, is where the rich and elite create clones to use as their own personal organ banks. This is impractical (not to mention completely illegal) for a number of reasons, but nevertheless the concept could, if handled well, make for an interesting sci-fi thriller. Needless to say, our current subject, Parts: The Clonus Horror, does not handle this concept well. If not for the idiotic dialogue, incompetent direction, horrific acting, non-existent budget, and relentless parade of goofy imagery, this possibly—possibly—could have been a decent movie.
Also adding insult to injury is the movie’s insistence on blatantly swiping ideas from classic novels like Aldous Huxley’sBrave New World andGeorge Orwell’s 1984. Suffice to say, this movie is doubleplusbad.
2005 Comments: Ouch. Man, this stuff sounds a lot harsher when you know the guy who made the movie read it.
Still, the stuff about 1984 was pretty much on the mark. Fiveson admits as much on the commentary track, saying that Orwell’s novel was “totally at the root” of this movie’s plot.
And while we’re on the subject, another pretty obvious source was Coma, the 1978 medical thriller directed by Michael Crichton and starring Genevieve Bujold and Michael Douglas. Watching that movie, it’s not very hard to see the inspiration for Clonus: Both movies begin with an incidental character being asked to count backwards from 100 and passing out.
Both movies feature a scene where bodies are hanging in plastic bags. Both movies feature bad guys named George. Clonus has Walker Industries Research, while Coma has the Jefferson Institute. And of course, there’s the whole organ bank angle. If you’re a fan of Clonus (or at the very least, someone well-acquainted with the film), I definitely recommend seeking out Coma if you haven’t already.
Before we get to the movie, I can see that it’s time for yet another installment of Video Box Idiocy. The description on the back of this particular box is deserving of immortality, mostly because the person who wrote the copy was quite enamored of a new device he apparently just discovered called “alliteration”.
Test tube terrors! Evolved from evil! Venture over the edge of eternity! Come face to face with a frightmare of frozen fear and pulse pounding paranoia!
Don’t drift into the dark domain of dreamless sleep where cryogenic creatures wait, suspended in space!
Imagine extending your life with spare body parts! Imagine being the body the parts come from!
An ear-splitting scream shatters the night! Squirming terror crawls at the base of your brain! Reality dissolves into a nightmare of surreal superscience [No arguments there] when you ask yourself “Am I real?” or “Am I really a clone?”
Don’t overdraw your account at the body bank! The only part they don’t use is the scream!
It almost boggles the mind that someone actually thought this would help sell more copies of the movie. (I mean, what the heck is a “frightmare”?)
The film opens on shots of supposedly “high tech” scientific equipment, including, inevitably, an oscilloscope. We hear excited watermelon, watermelon whispers in the background and cut to what looks like frozen bodies standing upright in big Ziploc bags. The “ominous” whispering grows louder. (For a bad movie reference, the whispering is similar to when Linda Blair comes close to jumping off a skyscraper in Exorcist II: The Heretic.) For an instant, we cut to a political rally, then back to the bodies. We cut back to the rally, then back to the frozen bodies. This is supposed to be “artistic” but mainly ends up being “confusing”.
At the political rally, people are holding up posters and big signs saying “Knight for President”. We cut to a podium, and I instantly got the impression that this is taking place in California. Maybe it’s the big California state flag draped around the podium.
Anyway, the “Knight” who’s running for president is Senator Jeff Knight, and as he steps up to the podium, we sadly see that he’s being played by Peter Graves. (Oh, Peter. How could you? Mission: Impossible to this in only five years? Of course, two years later he would star in Airplane!, which just goes to show that not all actors’ career paths are shaped like a bell curve.) Senator Knight addresses the crowd with a rather vague speech where he takes the controversial stance that he loves his country even though “we have some problems”. Mind you, we’ll soon find out this is supposed to be two weeks before the election. If I were a potential voter, I’d be seriously underwhelmed. You’d think he’d be talking about real issues by now.
Meanwhile, somewhere else, someone hidden from the camera is watching Senator Knight giving his speech on TV. “That’s our boy,” he remarks, while his aged, leathery hand switches off the TV. To all budding B-movie directors for future reference: It’s not a good idea to show someone switching off a TV during the first few minutes of your movie, lest you give your audience ideas.
The next thing we see is a group of young people in Adidas running shirts and shorts jogging though a park. Choral music starts up in the background (get used to this music, folks) as the opening credits roll.
We pan around the park and see a lot of young people strolling around, lying down, and jogging. All of them are wearing nothing but Adidas shirts and running shorts. Look, I know this was filmed a good five years before Adidas was fashionable (Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash weren’t household names yet), but that’s no excuse for their advertising their product in this movie.
Some of the youths are doing jumping jacks, and others are jogging around aimlessly. I guess this is supposed to be an idyllic community, but to my eyes, it looks a lot more like an idyllic community college.
2005 Comments: No coincidence there. According to the director’s commentary, most of these opening scenes were filmed at Moorpark College in the San Fernando Valley, just north of Los Angeles. All of the young people in running suits were actually Moorpark students taking a class taught by Fiveson’s co-producer Myrl Schreibman, and getting class credit for appearing in this movie.
A guy in an Adidas running suit and baseball cap walks into the shot, and he’s wearing an earpiece and a microphone. Pressing on his earpiece in that TV-journalist kind of way, he pronounces into his microphone that “Area 14 is clear.” Clear from what? We never find out. But if he means it’s clear of anything that could possibly be taken seriously, he’s absolutely right.
As the scene goes on, two distinct groups emerge. There are the young people in the shirts and the shorts, and then there are the sinister-looking guys in the running suits and baseball caps. We slowly start to “get” that the guys in the running suits and baseball caps are there to protect or watch over the young people in shirts and shorts. And when I say “slowly”, I mean it’s pounded into our heads with all the subtlety of a jackhammer on concrete.
We see two of the Running Suit Guys having a laugh together. A Shirt and Shorts Girl overhears them, and asks, “Can I laugh?” She’s informed she doesn’t have to, because, according to Running Suit Guy #1, “it’s only a joke.” [??]
As the scene progresses, I can’t help but wonder what twisted impulse took hold of executives at Adidas when they allowed their clothing to be used in this film. In addition to horribly dating this film, the Adidas running suits also have the added bonus effect of making any viewer in his late 20s or early 30s feel like they’re back in high school gym class all over again. Which is to say, one long, extended, 90-minute gym class.
Some of the Shirts and Shorts young people are lined up on bicycles, and all of them have their helmets on except for one busty blonde. This is Lena, and I’d say she’s going to be our heroine, but that’s stretching the definition of “heroine” beyond any reasonable meaning. Let’s just say she’s the female character who spends the most time onscreen.
Lena overhears a couple of the Running Suit Guys talking about a bet they had going on a football game. She turns to them and says, “What’s a bet?” [!] Geez. Just so you know, for the remainder of this film we’ll see Lena speaks American English more or less fluently. Even if you only have a rudimentary understanding of the language, how could you possibly not know what a “bet” is? As in, I bet the director of this movie hasn’t seen much work since.
2005 Comments: Oops! Another cheap shot at Fiveson. But in my own defense, there’s almost nothing on his IMDb filmography besides this movie. However, he also wrote and directed six episodes of In Search Of… as well as several award-winning documentaries for networks like A&E, the Discovery Channel and the Learning Channel. Also, he co-wrote a 1982 NBC special with Johnny Carson called Johnny Goes Home, where Carson pays a visit to his childhood hometown in Nebraska.
The two Running Suit Guys yell at her to put on her helmet so they can go. She complies and everyone rides off single-file. “What’s a bet!” Running Suit Guy #1 exclaims. “Oh, brother,” Running Suit Guy #2 says, speaking for many in the audience.
We cut to a guy with dark curly hair. This is Richard (played by Timothy Donnelly, best known for playing Chet the fireman on the 60’s TV show Emergency!), who happens to be our main character. Standing next to Richard is his blonde friend George. George is played by Frank Ashmore, who also played the alien Martin (and later, his identical twin brother Phillip) on the 80’s sci-fi show V. We see a small circle of spectators around them as someone fires a starter pistol. Suddenly, both men drop to the ground and start doing pushups [!] while the others cheer them on. Finally, Richard quits, and the gathered crowd cheers George’s victory. As a reward, a Running Suit Guy gives George a handful of peppermints, leading me to conclude that life in this commune is similar to when you get your bill at Denny’s.
Richard walks away, looking sullen. Nearby, a Running Suit Guy spots Richard and whispers into his microphone, “He has no interest in what we’re doing.” This causes most of us in the audience to immediately sympathize with Richard.
We cut to George and some other guy rolling around shirtless on a big mat while others stand around and cheer. Elsewhere, this gladiatorial combat is being observed on a monitor by two scientists. (We know they’re scientists because of the white lab coats.) One of the scientists is Dr. Jameson, who’s in charge of the facility. Sadly, he’s being played by Dick Sargent, AKA the Other Darren. (Oh, Dick. How could you? Bewitched to this in five years?) Jameson remarks to the other scientist (who I’ll be referring to as Bald Scientist Guy until they decide to give him a name) that George is quite strong and that he should be “ready” very soon. Then he asks for George’s “workup”. Just to let us know this is all very high-tech, the soundtrack is filled with lots of meaningless computer bleeps and bloops as they talk.
Jameson glances at the “workup” and finds no problems. Bald Scientist Guy comments eagerly that “All the tests were positive!” Someone should have told him that with most medical tests, coming up “positive” is not a good thing. Regardless, Jameson picks up a phone and tells someone named “Walker” that “it’s ready”.
Back out on the field, a Running Suit Guy gets word from Jameson and calls George over. Running Suit Guy has got good news: George has been “accepted”, and now it’s time to get ready. As George runs off to prepare, he bumps into Richard and informs him, “I just qualified. I get to go to America!” Now, up until now, everyone we’ve seen has spoken with a perfect American accent (more or less). So George’s assertion that they are, in fact, outside of America is probably supposed to make us suspicious. Instead, it makes us sleepy.
We cut to a cake topped with the words “Welcome to America” in frosting. George eats a slice of cake while his friends stand around applauding. Hey, guys, shouldn’t you wait until George actually gets to America before welcoming him there? Regardless, George delivers the following speech.
George: Thank you. It’s good to know that I have all of you as friends. And I know that soon, all of you will be joining me in America, for that is the land where good friends live. And are always happy. [Laughs.] Thanks!
America is “the land where good friends live”? Wow, sure wish I could see that motto on some license plates. It’s got that whole “Live Free or Die” thing beaten by a mile.
As they all cheer, we get a close up of one guy’s ear in order to make the audience fully aware that all the young people here wear different-colored tags on their earlobes. This will become important later. Well, not really, but just for the heck of it, let’s pretend.
After the party, George runs off to a remote corner of the campus—I mean, commune—along with a woman who appears to be his girlfriend. They kiss and she talks about joining him soon in America. “I’ve grown accustomed to you,” she says. “I… I like having you… touch me.” I think I saw those exact words on a Hallmark card once.
2005 Comments: As pointed out in the director’s commentary, the girl who plays George’s girlfriend is Eileen Dietz, whose claim to fame is as Linda Blair’s double in The Exorcist. Apparently, anywhere you see Regan MacNeil doing something that a little girl shouldn’t be doing (defiling the cross, spitting in a priest’s face, etc.), it’s really Eileen. Also, when the Exorcist was re-released in 2000 with added footage, Eileen’s other role was revealed. During several scenes, there are quick cutaways to a person in scary, Face of Death makeup, and that’s also Eileen.
George says he likes touching her too—fancy that—but he can’t turn down going to America. She says “But—” and then there’s almost a five-second pause before George shushes her and they go back to kissing. It’s almost like the actual line in the script was “But—” and the actress couldn’t improvise anything to fill in the pause. I’m not implying anything here, I’m just telling you what I see.
Another Running Suit Guy appears and tells George to come along so they can prepare for his trip to America. George waves goodbye to all his “good friends” and walks off. Richard strolls into the shot and stands next to George’s girlfriend. “Will it be alright?” she asks. “Of course it’ll be alright,” Richard says, immediately letting us know that things will soon go horribly wrong.