The Venus Flytrap (1970)

The_Venus_Flytrap_(1970)‘If it takes the blood of a human heart to prove my theory, you will have the blood of a human heart.’

A top rocket scientist suffering from severe overwork is persuaded to take a holiday whilst his latest mission is in flight. He decides to pursue his interest in botany, so he travels to Japan and sets up a laboratory to conduct experiments proving his theory that man is descended from plant life.

No budget atrocity that was originally shot in 1966 and sat on the shelf for a while before it was issued as the lower half of a double bill with filipino horror ‘The Mad Doctor of Blood Island’ (1969). In fact, the only surviving print of ‘The Venus Flytrap’ (1970) has the credits of the other movie attached to it instead and, as a result, was thought lost for many years. Considering what’s up on the screen, this probably doesn’t seem like a big deal. Actually, it was.

But, before we get into that, what about the film itself? Well, we open in the office of our rocket master, played by James Craig. The weather is messing up the launch of his latest space mission, whatever it is. His assistant (James Yagi) knocks on the door producing the sort of hollow sound you only get in a large, empty house, or a large, empty set perhaps. There’s some dull chat before the weather co-operates and the scratchy mission control stock footage kicks in. But it’s all a bit late for Craig, who collapses with the strain. Packed off to Japan to convalesce, he decides to create a man-plant monster in a remote laboratory helped by his assistant’s cousin, played by Atsuko Rome (sensibly hiding behind the pseudonym of Ako Kami).

What follows is a bizarre mixture of old fashioned horror movie tropes and low budget clichés. The remote lab comes with a caretaker who just happens to be a deformed mute who plays a spooky pipe organ. The Prof uses the lightning to animate his plant monster; raising it on a platform to the top of the greenhouse during a violent storm just like ‘Frankenstein’ (1931). There’s a volcano simmering away in the background and a nasty rock slide, both courtesy of stock footage. The action is scored with library music which seems added completely at random; a lengthy car trip accompanied by a tune that would have been more at home in a comedy Western. But, to be fair, perhaps it’s a comment on Craig’s driving skills as it looks very much like he was used to an automatic rather than a stick shift. Near the film’s climax, a group of torch bearing villagers appear as if from nowhere, although they aren’t involved in the final action. This does give rise to the unkind thought that it’s probably more old film from somewhere else. Then Craig blunders about a bit carrying a goat. Presumably to provide a character the audience actually cares about.

All of which brings us to the plant creature itself. Craig calls it lnsectivorus (stop laughing at the back!) and, being part Venus Flytrap, it’s a carnivorous beastie, and things look pretty black for the caretaker’s new dog and her litter of puppies. After a while, lnsecto starts walking about (who needs a root system when you feed on blood?) and makes a concerted bid to be the silliest looking movie monster of all time. It’s probably one of the cheapest. When it kills, the screen simply goes bright red, presumably to protect the viewers from the horror of it all. And the film is as slow and ponderous as old Insecto… at the halfway point pretty much all that’s happened is that the Prof has gone to Japan and acquired a couple of plants for his greenhouse!

The_Venus_Flytrap_(1970)

Kneel before Insectivorus!

Craig was a Hollywood veteran and does try to bring a level of conviction and authority to the proceedings, but is often derailed by the preposterous dialogue: ‘Your mother was the Earth, the lightning your power!’ and ‘Don’t tell me anything is impossible. l refuse the word impossible!’ In contrast, Rome seems rather wooden, but her performance isn’t assisted by some catatonic dubbing, which often renders her lines incomprehensible.

So, why is this an important film? Why were people looking for it? Well, let’s recap: empty, unconvincing sets, absurd, idiotic dialogue, no production values, library music, stock footage, dumb story about a scientist and his monster. All that’s missing is the undead and some flying saucers. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you’re right! It all points to one man and one man only: Edward D Wood Jr. This is a script which he wrote in the 1950s and someone inexplicably decided to film a few years later.

The film has been reissued on tape over the years under a number of titles, including ‘The Revenge of Dr. X’ and ‘Body of the Prey.’ The credited director is bit-part actor Norman Thomson, although some sources apportion the blame to Kenneth Crane, who had directed a similar US-Japan co-production ‘The Manster’ (1959). Comparing the two films, I think Crane’s participation unlikely, unless he was desperate for money, of course. Some have even suggested Wood had a more ‘hands on’ involvement than just providing an old script, and I guess that is possible. Filming does fall squarely between his last ‘mainstream’ directorial assignment ‘The Sinister Urge’ (1961) and the first of his pornos ‘Take It Out In Trade’ (1970).

Maybe this is a lost Ed Wood ‘classic’ in more ways than one!

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