Prime in the Dustbin: ‘The Cremators’ (1972)

The Cremators is a rock and roll movie. There are rocks, and there is a thing that rolls. There is also a fetish for flashlights that don’t work, a strong inability to tell day from night, and hippies. They’re soft hippies, though, the kind who secretly listened to Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods.

The story begins 300 years ago with stock photos of galaxies and nebulae. There are some flashing lights. Then, there are explosions! Big bangs that aren’t the actual Big Bang! And then, we hear the Voice of God. Oh, wait. Sorry. It’s just the narrator. Once upon a time, there was a meteor and it fell into a lake. It was witnessed by an Native American (or, as the narrator says, “An Indian brave”). This man was chased by a gigantic fireball, which rolled over him and reduced him to ashes. A fish also saw the meteor hit the water, and tried to eat it. The fish also died. THE END.

Just kidding. There’s more.

His name is Dr. Iane Thorne (Marvin Howard), and that “e” at the end of his name is there on purpose. It’s still pronounced like “Ian,” so the extraneous “e” is also silent, so why? Thorn tells people he is an entomologist, a bug doctor, but he finds himself really intrigued by these new rocks he keeps finding. Having never seen anything like them before, Thorne decides to send a couple specimens to his friend, Dr. Willy Seppel (Eric Allison) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. But, snug inside their plain brown wrapper, the rocks begin to glow and beep. Soon, the mail car is attacked by a gigantic globe of fire! The car is burned down to the frame.

These attacks happen a few times, usually at the same backroad intersection, but nobody thinks to investigate this surrounding area. Nobody wonders why Iane, the bug guy, is doing autopsies on quadrupedal animals. Are cats just giant locusts in disguise? Yeah, a woman shows up, and whatever. Big deal. Jeanne (Maria de Aragon) is only there to have unispired sex with Iane and have her life threatened by the giant fireball that looks like a giant Christmas ornament.

Are the weird little rocks and the enormous fireball connected? Sure. Duh. But before the doctors can figure that out, we have to sit through dialogue like the following, in which Dr. Seppel says to Dr. Thorne, “I’m a physicist. You’re a biologist. We both deal in scientific things.” Dr. Thorne’s snappy comeback to that is, “I’m baffled. Well, let’s hit the sack.” You wouldn’t even send these guys on a quest for Atmospherium.

Director Harry Essex never remembers when to remove the blue filters from his camera lens. Because of this, daytime looks like night and vice versa. When Dr. Thorne goes roaming through the underbrush holding a lantern, you can’t even tell that his light is on. Jeanne, who is chasing him, also has a flashlight that appears to be off. Meanwhile, there are reflections of the sun at the top of the frame. Some of these scenes were obviously filmed during the daytime, but filtered to look as though they were filmed at night. There are shots where the sun is clearly visible through windows, but it’s supposed to be midnight. Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?

One of the ancillary recurring characters is a hippie named Mason (Mason Caulfield). He looks like he should playing maracas for The Grass Roots. He might also be the same person who plays the “Indian brave” at the beginning of the film. Guess what Mason likes? Flashlights. Yep, while Dr. Thorne is digging tiny little fire rocks of a cat’s belly, Mason is flicking Thorne’s flashlight on and off. He can’t help it. It’s a weird compulsion.

The explanation of what the fireball is feels long and confusing, having something to do with long infrared beams and a form of sentience. This is not something you’ll care about. It’s all about the fire, the flames and the flashlights in The Cremators, and not a whole lot more.

I wish The Cremators were a better movie, because the story itself is not terrible. Viewers will have to filter through plasticine acting, lousy special effects, and a modicum of mumbo-jumbo to access it, though. There is an inexplicable scene where Dr. Seppel is talking to a Coast Guard commander. The two men take turns sitting behind the officer’s desk. How is this even an option? I mean, it is the Coast Guard guy’s desk. Stay the hell away from it! But that kind of nonsense is normal in The Cremators, while a halfway decent tale lies drowning beneath.

I would like to see a remake for The Cremators. Throw some money at it, get a little more graphic with the violence, heave it onto a basic cable channel. It could only be better. But for now, The Cremators has crashed into the deep boring lake of Prime Video, waiting to roll over unsuspecting viewers.

Leave a Reply