The second entry in my FILMS OF THE CARTER YEARS marathon is 1978’s The Clone Master. While you might assume this is a movie about the dangers of allowing Art Hindle to make duplicates of himself and proclaim himself CLONE MASTER (of the Universe), the plot is considerably more prosaic and certainly less awesome. Basically, the entire story revolves around two grant-grubbing professors: Simon Shane (Hindle) and Ezra Louthin (Ralph Bellamy). Their whole deal is that they are SCIENTISTS doing SCIENCE despite “the interfearin’ gubment” getting Dr. Louthin’s old man diapers in a bunch by constantly demanding progress reports and apparently refusing to throw piles and piles of money at them without any kind of oversight. (Admittedly, this is uncharacteristic of the government, but more on that later!) All you really need to know is that Shane and Louthin are best science bros. They hang out together all the time in their secret lab hunched over the “artificial uterus environments” dreaming about seeing the real thing as they make tadpole people. Their May/December a-sexual bromance is going great until a certain Mr. Huberman shows up at their offices demanding that they hand over the project notes before he and his bosses will give them any further funding. Enter the obnoxious Shane/Louthin double act, in which Louthin acts like a crotchety old douche while Shane unleashes his smarmy, faux reasonableness. In the end they agree to give him a report later in the week (Thursday, specifically, which means nothing to the audience since we have no idea what day of the week in which this scene is taking place) and celebrate having messed with a low level bureaucrat. Louthin actually states that this is his reason for being a total jerk in the scene, because yanking around people is what the government does best, so he’s got to give them a taste of their own medicine? I guess? Old man logic!
And this is where the trouble begins because Huberman works for a shady guy with an indeterminate accent (probably European) and not a government agency, which passes for a shock in this flick, considering how certain Louthin and Shane were about their employers being part of the public sector–hence their dicking with Huberman. And poor Huberman can’t catch a break, as twelve minutes into the movie he’s being rendered brain-dead by some kind of nerv agent in a 1977 Datsun. His Euro-boss isn’t pleased with Huberman because Huberman bugged the scientists’ office without his permission. So, to prevent possible discovery or embarrassment, he stages an elaborate, public spectacle of a murder on a beach in a bright silver sports car with an exotic nerve gas. Huberman’s only apparent symptoms of distress are an overabundance of make up. Louthin and Shane, for some reason, decide to visit the man they tormented endlessly. Perhaps in revenge, Huberman is intentionally vague, hissing only one word: “Salt.”
At this point in the movie the audience is about as clueless as Shane and Louthin, which is to say, absofuckinglutely clueless. And it doesn’t get much better. The best example of not telling the audience anything in The Clone Master is why the clones are being made at all, or what social or economic benefit a bunch of Art Hindles will be to whoever is funding this program (we find out at some point that his name is Salt, and he’s the accented gent that made Huberman’s life even shittier than it already was as a low-level messenger boy). They’re just making clones, man, which would be a good enough explanation if we were talking about a YouTube video of two stoned teens making Creepy Crawlers in the basement, but with clones in a multi-million dollar lab funded by an international consortium of white dudes who wear sunglasses indoors (not to be confused with Corey Hart who wears them at night), you need to give a little more motivation than simply “because we felt like it.” However, whoever wrote the script felt that “international consortium,” briefcases of cash, kidnappings, and clones were reason enough and required no contextualization whatsoever linking them.
To be fair, the movie does do one thing right and bumps off Louthin fairly early on, which is a relief for anyone who despises pedantic, misogynistic asshats, which is Dr. Louthin in a nutshell. Also, probably a relief for “Gussie,” Shane’s young, impressionable, and mildly attractive grad student, who Louthin spent a good five minutes harassing earlier in the film. Presumably this is because she was “in science” and “was asking for it,” or so I suspect based on his logical, cogent, and well-articulated reasons behind counter-productively badgering their only source of funding, Huberman. Anyway, I really didn’t like Louthin. With Louthin gone, Dr. Shane and Gussie have to prepare for the birth of their clones all on their own. We also find out that they undertook this experiment without telling anyone, leading everyone to believe they were still doing theoretical work. Oh, and by the way, neither scientist bothered to check what government agency they assumed they were working for. Not even so much as a request for some ID, apparently. Just took the briefcases of cash and assumed one of the many, many government agencies was behind the project, which provides some unintentional humor when Shane goes to Washington to ask them who he’s working for.
Anyway, long story short, the clones are born and they are exactly like Dr. Shane. Not just physically, mind you, they also share his memories, level of education, and an intimate knowledge of cloning. I don’t need to tell you how hilariously wrong this is, scientifically, but wait, it gets better! The clones also share a telepathic link with Dr. Shane, who they refer to as “papa.” The clones take the fact that they are clones remarkably well, which is a bit of a let down. But Papa Clone Master knows that his clones (who have adopted the numbers 1-13 as their designations) are in danger from that not-at-all-government agency that he assumed was a government agency that kidnapped Louthin, bugged his office, and now wants the clone data for themselves. He hatches an elaborate scheme involving hilarious disguises for his clones, a trip to Washington, a staged fire, his own faked death, and the flight of the clones across the globe like a band of fleeing war criminals (right down to the questionable facial hair and over-sized sunglasses). Miraculously it works and the clones escape, the data is destroyed, and the mysterious Mr. Salt…apparently just throws in the towel and let’s Dr. Shane live. Kind of lame, but no where near as lame as the final moments of the film where Shane has telepathic conversations with his numerous clones across the globe as they fret about things like old age, sexuality, and being mistaken for Canadian character actor, Art Hindle.
Verdict? Pretty dodgy stuff here. Not as awful as the last film I watched because The Clone Master at least tries to have an interesting premise, but its completely buried beneath shoddy script writing and a whole lot of weird, uncomfortably long internal monologues (Art Hindle to other Art Hindle, Ralph Bellamy to Hindle). It’s a rambling mess in the end that misses a lot of opportunities for interesting tension by electing to make the clones perfectly cooperative and the international cooperative behind the scheme, really just one old white guy and some lawyers. Not very menacing. And I still can’t believe they not only went with telepathy as a by-product of cloning, but then proceeded to make it a central plot element. It makes it virtually impossible to take any part of the film seriously, which would work if the film were self-aware enough to make fun of itself, but its deadly serious. There’s hardly any (intentional) humor as the film is intent on being a taut, political thriller. But the conspiracy itself is too lame to be taking seriously. Especially considering that its mostly through the scientists’ own inept actions (such as just taking some guy’s word that he worked for the government and wanted to develop cloning rather than, you know, actually asking him any questions, starting with “ID please?”) that the conspiracy even exists. At the end of the day a pretty insipid effort, but worth it for all the silly disguises they made Art Hindle wear.