Revenge of Doctor X

You might think that a movie called The Revenge of Doctor X would have something to do with Doctor X getting some revenge. Perhaps you'd think he would extract a cunning vengeance on the small-minded fools who laughed at his work... who called him a madman... who denied him the glory his achievements deserved. Why, he'd make them pay: pay, I say!

You might even add "MWA-HA-HA-HAAA!", though I'd understand completely if you didn't.

Anyway, that's what you'd expect. And you'd be wrong. Nobody gets revenge on anybody during the course of the movie... especially not Doctor X, for the simple reason that nobody named "Doctor X" appears in the film at any point.

In fact, The Revenge of Doctor X appears to be nothing more than an alternative title for Mad Doctor of Blood Island, since it is the Filipino horror flick's credits that play at the beginning of the film. The movie's original title, according to notes left by the scriptwriter, was The Venus Fly Trap, although the finished film was apparently released under the title The Double Garden... a title that makes just about as little sense as The Revenge of Doctor X. However, since the writer of the original script was none other than Edward D. Wood, Jr., perhaps a little confusion, incoherence, and maybe even outright insanity are to be expected. Wood didn't direct this film — that job was taken by Kenneth (The Manster) Crane; but something of the Wood magic seems to have rubbed off on Crane, since this film has little of the grimy charm that made The Manster so memorable.

So, OK: there's no Doctor X, but there is a Dr. Bragan, who is in charge of a space exploration project. Bragan is loud, short-tempered and abrasive. He's the sort of character who is usually relegated to supporting roles, like the blustery general who is always wrong about the alien menace. Unfortunately, in this case he's our hero... while Bragan is not quite as insufferable as Mark Grayson in Reptilicus, Doctor X soon turns into a two-character show with Bragan dominant, putting this movie and Reptilicus on pretty much equal ground as far as unlikeable heroes is concerned. When we first meet Bragan, he's raving about possible weather delays to his rocket launch; though the weather clears up with improbable speed, Bragan's mood stays cloudy. The launch finally succeeds, leading to the most identifiably Wooden moment of the movie: the exhausted Bragan pauses to reflect on the project, as we get an overlay of stock footage from NASA that apparently represents his thoughts. Suddenly, he's brought back to himself: two scientist non-characters come in and inform him they may have made a slight miscalculation. Neither we nor Bragan ever hear what the nature of the miscalculation is, but the warning is enough to send Bragan into an apoplectic fit. The fit is so bad that Bragan collapses in mid-tirade.

When he recovers (with the aid of alcohol, as we might expect), his assistant Dr. Paul Nakamura suggests he take a long vacation. Nakamura even suggests he might want to visit his country, Japan, where his cousin would be happy to show him around. Bragan comments that he was intending to visit Japan once, when he was younger and when his area of interest had been botany. But there was this pesky war, see... (I'm sure Paul remembers it just fine, thank you, regardless of which country he was in at the time). The idea of a vacation in Japan not only appeals to Bragan, it also seems to shift his attention back to plants from planets.

Bragan decides to drive all the way up the coast from Florida before flying to Japan. Stopping for repairs at a service station run by a terribly unconvincing yokel, Bragan becomes fascinated with the local Venus fly trap plants. Apparently the ex-botanist has never seen one before. On impulse, he takes a cutting with him all the way to Japan. Customs & Immigration is so happy to receive such an eminent gaijin that they let him bring the plant into the country without objection.

Nakamura's cousin meets him at the airport, and surprise! His cousin's a pretty girl! Did anybody see that coming? Paul's cousin Noriko tells Bragan that she has the ideal place for him to stay and work. Their family's old hotel in the mountains had to be abandoned because the local volcano has been acting up. However, although the roads are in disrepair, the building is still in good shape. It even has a greenhouse nearby, just right for Bragan's experiments.

You've probably guessed that the Doctor's experiments are gong to take a turn for the nasty... but in case you have any lingering doubts, the hotel even comes with a sneering sinister hunchback. How could you not do Mad Science when Fate hands you a sneering sinister hunchback? There's a little pipe organ in the dining room, and the first time Bragan enters he finds the hunchback playing the opening notes of Bach's Toccata in d minor. From that point on, whenever we see a closeup of the hunchback, we hear the familiar Bach passage on the soundtrack: it's ridiculous.

Once he's had a chance to forget his difficult work and unwind, Bragan starts to unwind in other ways as well. He turns his attentions to his imported Venus fly trap, which Noriko (who is also a student of botany) claims she's never heard of. Bragan starts spouting lots of extremely Ed-Wood-type theories about the origins of animal life. For instance, he tells Noriko that since all life is believed to have begun in the oceans, this proves that animals must have evolved from plants. Bragan comes to the conclusion that if he can somehow cross a particularly healthy Venus fly trap with a carnivorous aquatic plant called Venus vesiculosum — using the rigorous scientific criterion that, hey, their names both start with "Venus" — he'll somehow recreate the earliest plant ancestor of man.

You'd expect plant experiments to make rather boring horror cinema. After all, they usually involve things like grafting, or germination, or cross-pollination, or all sorts of other time-consuming processes that don't exactly lend themselves to exciting on-screen action. But nothing else in this movie has been what we've expected it to be, so why should we be surprised that Bragan's creation process is the least boring part of the film so far? It involves lightning storms, sparking electrical equipment, elaborate surgery, elevated gurneys, the inevitable cackling hunchback and all the other trappings of mad animal science.

Equally surprising, and therefore equally unsurprising, is the fact that Bragan's attempt to play God results in the creation of a humanoid plant. Yes, and I'm not talking mere topiary here: it's a plant that stands upright, has two jointed arms proportional to its body height in the same way human arms are, has two forward-pointing eyes on its head, and even has two full-length, man-like legs... even though those legs are still planted up to the ankles in soil. What possible evolutionary advantage there might be to a plant to have these humanoid features, I have no idea.

In the meantime (thinking of bizarre experiments), a sort of tepid romantic connection has started to form between Bragan and Noriko. She has seen past his crusty exterior, looked deep into his heart and soul... and, well, I guess she likes crust. She also thinks he's a lunatic, but this just serves to strengthen his appeal. Both alleged botanists are perplexed when the carnivorous plant-man fails to thrive on a diet of Miracle-Gro®. They're on the verge of giving the creature up as a failure... until the crazy hunchback (cue the Bach!) decides to "accidentally" leave a puppy within reach of the monster's Venus fly trap hands...

Revenge of Doctor X is relatively free from the overwrought, anti-poetic dialog that Wood was famous for writing. That's a shame, since Wood's gift for non-sequitur was his most endearing trait; the lack of laughably quotable dialog makes the movie's boneheadedness more dreary than entertaining.

Still, the movie does have one bit of outrageous comedy that almost makes the whole thing worthwhile, and that is... the plant guy monster suit itself. There was one tremendous advantage to filming a monster movie — even an Ed Wood monster movie — as a Japanese co-production on the cusp of the 1970's: if you couln't think of a good monster design yourself, you could sneak out in the middle of the night and raid Tsuburaya's trash bin. That's apparently what they did for the Venus Fly Trap Man: he's a distant cousin of the worst Ultraman monster suit you ever saw... a reject from Spectreman or Kamen Rider (or, perhaps more appropriately, the Mighty Moron Flower 'Rrangers?). When the creature's happy, or when he's on the rampage (as happens far too late into the picture), he makes all the typical Ultraman-opponent arm gestures. To make the effect complete he also gurgles like a colicky baby (you know — the way a real humanoid carnivorous plant-man would).

Once the plant guy uproots himself (after demonstrating another unexpected Ultraman-monster ability, namely shooting sleeping gas out of the tendrils on its head), he goes for a nice destructive jaunt into the village. At last, we find ourselves back in relatively familiar territory! We even have a crowd of torch-bearing villagers. And then, of course, there's the volcano — remember the volcano? If a volcano shows up in the first half of a B movie, union rules dictate somebody's got to fall into it just before the credits. Bragan, for reasons too "scientific" for me to fully appreciate, has become infected by the plant monster and is starting to grow fly trap hands himself; so he decides to sacrifice himself while destroying his creation... and naturally, his plan involves throwing himself into the erupting volcano (missing from my print of the movie is the scene where Bragan gets halfway up a mountain only to run into the Manster, who tells him to get his own goddamned volcano).

So Bragan lures his creature to the edge of the crater with a baby goat. Whether this is an angora goat, I really don't know, although that would have been a nice touch. The monster stumbles closer; Bragan drops the kid and does the Misty Mountain Hop with Mr. Plant. Noriko gets Bragan's goat; meanwhile, back in the United States, cousin Paul will be getting another boss; so I guess they'll all live happily ever after. The End.

He's just kidding.

Wait: did I say the monster was the only reason to watch this dreadful film? I forgot about the movie's other highlight: topless Japanese girls. A whole group of them (chosen for their bouyancy) help Bragan find his undersea specimen; and then, later on, when Bragan is out looking for fresh blood to satisfy his Thing, he assaults a semi-nude girl in a hospital. So yes, there are naked breasts for your viewing pleasure... but the catch is, you have to stay awake long enough to get to them. And then... well... let me put it this way: I've just watched the stupid movie twice, and it only came to me as an afterthought that there was any nudity in it at all. That's the true hallmark of Ed Wood's movies: not even nudity can help them.

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