CLONUS (1979)
Director: Robert S. Fiveson
Mondo Macabro

Throughout the catalog of UK-based Mondo Macabro, fans of the bizarre will find a variety of kooky celluloid wonders spanning the globe. Most importantly, however, is the fact that all the films it has released never received their due until they appeared in lavish DVD special editions. Cult hits like ALUCARDA, THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN, THE NUDE PRINCESS and LADY TERMINATOR have languished in relative obscurity, enjoyed by a select few who seeked them out, until they appeared on the shelves of every Best Buy across the nation for all to enjoy (except for NUDE PRINCESS, which was an R2 release, but I digress). The latest addition to the Mondo Macabro Humanitarian Foundation is CLONUS, better known as PARTS: THE CLONUS HORROR, and is only the second North American production to be rescued by the company.

Living in an idyllic community isolated in the California desert are a race of unique people who spend their days jogging, biking, and indulging in all manner of exercises and sports to keep physically fit. Their ultimate goal in all of this is to be allowed to travel to "America," a virtual paradise where all their wildest dreams will come true. (However, since they're all revealed to be clones, their dreams must be pretty limited based on their current existence.) Richard, a handsome guy who discovers a beer can in a lake, begins questioning who he is, what is America and why are the doctors in the community so secretive? It all ties in to a political conspiracy to provide prominent political figures a way to cheat death and stay in office for years.

After an unsuccessful theatrical run the same year as ALIEN, PHANTASM and DAWN OF THE DEAD (showing the direction in which modern horror and sci-fi films were headed), PARTS: THE CLONUS HORROR was also virtually ignored when released on home video and only developed a second life after being lampooned by Mike and the 'Bots on the popular "Mystery Science Theater 3000." As much as I love the show, there were indeed a number of films which were just as good by themselves as they were with jokes flying left and right. CLONUS is one of these. After Watergate let Americans know that the government was not necessarily after their best interests, a "conspiracy science fiction" genre began spewing out flicks which have become popular over the years but didn't do too well at the box office at the time. In addition to CLONUS, you also got favorites like LOGAN'S RUN, ROLLERBALL, COMA, SILENT RUNNING and several other similar flicks. But Robert Fiveson's film is much more revolutionary and ahead-of-its-time than others of its kind. The topic of cloning for organ transplants has been a hotly debated topic of discussion in the past 10 years, but in 1979, it just wasn't considered intriguing cinema. But in 2005, this is a very captivating film with good production values (the photography is very good), a strong story with a few flaws (Richard's way too quick investigation of the doctors, for instance) and is interesting throughout the 90-minute running time.

The rigid performances by the majority of the cast are wholly intentional, considering they are supposed to be clones learning little by little the facts of life and how to behave with one another. The fireside love scene between Tim Donnelly and Paulette Breen is appropriately awkward, with partially hidden nudity and lots of groping without anything really happening. And the "straight" performances by Peter Graves, Dick Sargent, David Hooks, and Keenan Wynn are very good as the bad guys and the good guys, respectively. It's also worth noting that MA BARKER herself Lurene Tuttle plays Keenan Wynn's feisty wife. Look fast for Eileen Dietz (Linda Blair's stunt double in THE EXORCIST and one of the TEENAGE GANG DEBS!) as one of the clones at the beginning of the film (she's the cute girl making out with the blonde guy whisked off to "America")! Joe Blasco, the make-up man behind ILSA: SHE-WOLF OF THE SS, among others, provides the special effects and does his usual fantastic job. There's a suspenseful chase scene through a building and the tunnels beneath it, a gory dream sequence with a woman's scalp being sawed into before she bolts up and screams into the camera, Peter Graves impaled on a fire poker, a swimming pool electrocution, a really shocking house explosion, and a pretty grim ending for our clone lovers! In summary, CLONUS is not a lost masterpiece, but is definitely deserving enough of a second life through this DVD. It's a hard film to recommend based on its simple storyline alone, but it's a very engrossing little sci-fi thriller well worth your time and not nearly as bad as many would have you believe.

The healthy helping of extras on the disc puts the film into perspective beautifully and goes behind-the-scenes to reveal every aspect of production fans need to know. Most importantly is the audio commentary with one-shot director Robert S. Fiveson and moderated by MM head honcho Pete Tombs. Fiveson discusses the film sounding like a war veteran who really went through Hell to get the production finished. It's pretty amazing to think the film was filmed in 18 days and it appears to have been a pretty rough shoot for all involved, with lots of overtime, nervousness, anxiety and cost-cutting. Fiveson is a very engaging speaker and never runs out of great stories to tell, especially interesting because this was his only film! Accompanying the commentary is a very lengthy interview with Fiveson (who lives a stone's throw away from me!), who spends a lot of time discussing his lifelong fascination with the arts, his adventures through live theater, playing a part in a feminist lesbian radical's autobiographical book, directing his very first low-budget film, and the entire genesis behind producing and directing CLONUS. One fascinating story behind product placement (Huffy bicycles, Milwaukee beer) explains how the movie could be made on the cheap. Many of the stories can be heard in the commentary, but Fiveson is a very funny man whose tongue-in-cheek delivery and good sense of humor is displayed well on-camera.

The theatrical trailer is included and makes it pretty clear why the film didn't do so well: it's a hard one to sell! A nice production stills gallery features, among promo shots, posters and video art, an incredibly haunting photo of Paulette Breen resembling the demon from ONIBABA!! The Mondo Macabro promo reel now kicks off with clips from the two latest announced releases, Paul Naschy's PANIC BEATS and a Satanic nunsploitation epic called SATANICO PANDEMONIUM! Both are eagerly anticipated discs, especially from the juicy sneak peeks here! The requisite looks at previous killer platters like BLOOD OF THE VIRGINS and SEVEN WOMEN FOR SATAN are included, however the reel does not finish with the eagerly awaited GIRL SLAVES OF MORGANA LEFAY, which seems to have been postponed.

This is a real sleeper of a disc from Mondo Macabro and one which many fans may be unsure about purchasing. For what it's worth, CLONUS gets the DVD Drive-In Seal of Approval from me and is one of the most unjustly neglected sci-fi films of the 1970s. Recommended! (Casey Scott)