Color, 1979, 90m. / Directed by Robert S. Fiveson / Starring Tim Donnelly, Paulette Breen, Dick Sargent, Keenan Wynn, Peter Graves / Mondo Macabro (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

In an idyllic land called Clonus, all of the happy young people spend their days undergoing athletic training, running relays, and celebrating every time one of their fold is taken by their leader, Dr. Jameson (Bewitched's Sargent), to go off to the mysterious and wonderful land of America. However, as we soon see, the lucky chosen few don't actually get to make that trip; instead they're gassed, filled with chemicals while unconscious on an operating table, and stuffed into body bags in a secret storage area inside a research facility. One of the clones bound for America, Richard (Donnelly), becomes concerned when he finds a mysterious Old Milwaukee beer can and asks the good doctor about it. When the answer proves unconvincing, Richard does a little snooping with the aid of his beautiful girlfriend, Lena (Breen), and discovers the horrible truth: everyone there is a clone being cultivated for a sinister purpose involving politicians outside in the real world. After escaping from Clonus and running through the desert, Richard finds the world outside is very different from what he imagined and his story less than believable.

One of many interesting films like Danger: Diabolik and Devil Doll whose reputations were unfairly demolished by Mystery Science Theater 3000, this blend of drive-in thrills and film school pretension hits as often as it misses and remains an oddly affecting portrayal of utopia gone haywire. Clearly a product of the Watergate and Vietnam eras, The Clonus Horror features a roster of veteran actors to support the younger cast, and one-shot director Fiveson does a good job of juggling heady social satire with the requisite action sequences (ranging from effective, like Richard's pursuit through a tunnel in the lab, to silly, like a weirdly conceived fistfight and Richard's comical climb over a pile of rocks).

One stumbling block that many viewers have with the film is the naive nature of the lead characters; because they're "stupid," people often assume the movie must be, too. While Paul Verhoeven managed to pull this trick off a bit more effectively with Starship Troopers, this film makes its point clearly enough by tagging the clones with cattle-style ear markers and doe-eyed expressions that make their plight all the more tragic and inevitable. (Unfortunately as a lead, the mid-30s Donnelly is a bit long in the tooth to be playing an idealistic, athletic young clone; try to ignore that factor if you can.) Befitting most conspiracy thrillers of the period, the film ends on a dark, ironic note that would never fly with today's audiences; more recent clone actioners like The Sixth Day take a more optimistic view of the cloning debate, and as virtually every trash cinema fan has noticed already, Michael Bay's The Island swiped this film's plot wholesale for a more palatable Hollywood experience. Just remember that Clonus got there first and still has a great deal of merit if you're willing to meet it halfway; particularly effective is the eerie choral-themed music, whose presence over the Clonus scenes feels like some '70s educational film gone horribly wrong.

Unavailable for years without Mike and robots chattering away in front of it, Parts: The Clonus Horror gets a long overdue shot at newfound respectability with Mondo Macabro's loving DVD presentation. The film itself looks fine; while low budget '70s filmmaking will never look like anything else, this anamorphic transfer presents the film on its best behavior and features rich, stable colors.

Apart from the theatrical trailer and a stills gallery, the disc's most notable extras involved Fiveson who contributes an entertaining commentary track (focusing on the nuts and bolts of putting the film together piecemeal-style on a limited budget) and, best of all, a terrific featurette called "Parts of a Life." From his fascinating life story (which involves counterculture behavior, film school, and even an unflattering write-up in a revolutionary lesbian book) to the making of the film itself, he rattles off plenty of jaw-dropping anecdotes. Learn how he coped when the leads decided not to strip for their big love scene at the last possible moment, what it took to get the well-known professional actors in the cast, and how the film's rocky distribution led to its eventual fate as a barely-seen cult favorite. A terrific package for an oddball gem that deserves a proud spot on your '70s sci-fi shelf next to Logan's Run and Rollerball.

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