Lobster Man from Mars (1989)
Film review #532
Director: Stanley Sheff
SYNOPSIS: A movie studio executive is plagued by money problems, and requires a tax-write off to keep the IRS away. He decides to produce a film brought in by a young film writer that is utterly absurd: “Lobster Man from Mars…”
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Lobster Man from Mars is a 1989 sci-fi film within a film. Opening up, we see Movie mogul J.P. Sheldrake, who is facing monetary pressure from the usual suspects: his ex-wife, the I.R.S., and so on. He decides he needs to release a movie that flops so badly he can make it a tax write-off and keep those he owes money to at bay. Fortunately, young movie writer/producer Stevie Horowitz walks in with the perfect potential film: Lobster Man from Mars, a film in the style of the old b-movie sci-fi films. The film (as a whole) becomes a film-within-a-film: The movie mogul sits in a theatre to watch the “Lobster Man from Mars” film, and we watch it as well, with a few occasional cutaways to Sheldrake to offer his thoughts. It’s an interesting setup, but was done prior in the 1968 film The Producers to much better effect. We’re also only taken out of the film a few times to see Sheldrake’s thoughts, meaning for the most part the “film in a film” element is irrelevant. With regards to the “Lobster Man from Mars” film itself, it follows a very typical b-movie sci-fi plot which it is aiming to parody: Mars is “leaking air” from it’s atmosphere, and so the ruler of Mars sends the dreaded lobster man and his assistant Mombo, who resembles a gorilla in a space helmet, to go to Earth and steal all it’s air…? Honestly, I’m not sure how they’re going to steal Earth’s air, and how it’s going to help if Mars is “leaking” any air it gets anyway, but regardless, when they arrive on Earth, the killing starts, and anyone who gets in their way gets turned into a pile of bones.
The film mostly plays it straight, with the film-in-a-film just being played without any commentary or over-the-top parody: it could easily pass for an actual b-movie. This is both a core strength and a weakness in the film: the best comedic moments come from the film playing it completely straight without any overt humourous moments, and it is the unexpected moments that provide the best comedy. The drawback to this is that it sometimes plays it too straight, and you forget you’re watching something that is supposed to be funny for fairly long stretches. The humour also feels fairly niche, in the sense that you would have to have actually watched these films originally to really get what it is parodying. Some of the really niche references, such as Colonel Ankrum being a reference to Morris Ankrum, who played similar characters in 1950′s films, is only going to be understood by a fraction of viewers. It definitely gets the b-movie feel right, but in 1989, there was plenty of other parodies of the genre that offered something new and entertaining from an entertainment perspective. This film just feels like it goes through the motions while reminding you it is a parody from time to time. There were a few of these b-movie parodies in the 80′s, but they typically went for a more upfront comedy and absurd premise, such as Killer Klowns from Outer Space. While a plot about Mars leaking air sounds quite silly, it definitely fits the b-movie mold, and would probably have fit right in. Although released in 1989, the film was actually written about ten years earlier, and it definitely feels that way. Lobster Man from Mars does something a little different, but it altogether feels a bit too niche and relies too much on in-jokes to appeal to a more general audience.