Parts: The Clonus Horror, a low budget sci-fi film from
1979, tells the tale of a secret colony where clones are born and bred
to be the personal organ banks for the rich and elite. In this movie,
clones are told that when they’re "ready", they get to go to "America",
which they believe to be a "happy place". But as it turns out,
"America" is really a codeword for "being put into deep freeze until
your organs are harvested".
The director, Robert S. Fiveson, hasn’t directed a
feature film since then, but don’t let that fool you. He’s been active
in the documentary industry ever since, directing award-winning
documentaries for networks like A&E, the Discovery Channel, the
Learning Channel, the History Channel, Tech TV, and the National
Geographic Channel. He won a ton of awards for a series of
documentaries called Communication: The Human Imperative,
produced by the Library of Congress and hosted by Lt. Worf himself,
Michael Dorn. He wrote, produced, and directed six episodes of Leonard
Nimoy’s In Search of… series, and also co-wrote a high-rated
1982 NBC special where Johnny Carson visited his childhood hometown of
Norfolk, Nebraska (Johnny Goes Home, currently available on The Ultimate Carson Collection, Vol. 2).
Recently, Parts: The Clonus Horror was officially released on DVD for the very first time by Mondo Macabro under Fiveson’s original title of Clonus.
Not long after, I had the good fortune to hear directly from Robert
himself one day, so I invited him to answer a few questions about Clonus, "America", the "clone blink", and the strange similarities between this movie and Michael Bay’s upcoming film The Island. Here’s what he had to say.
* * *
The first thing I noticed about the new DVD release is that the title of the movie is now Clonus
(at least, according to the packaging), which is what you wanted to
call the movie all along. Whose idea was it to add "Parts" to the title?
The film was originally called Clonus. The distrib, a freaking genius, wanted to call it Parts.
I begged him not to. He said he would make a campaign with each name
and use whatever tested higher. He never did—he simply combined the
two and released it as Parts: The Clonus Horror. The one-sheet he used was so ugly that for years I wouldn’t even look at it, much less hang it. Now I think it’s camp.
I’ve always wondered, why "America"? As far as the clones were
concerned, this was just some magical place somewhere far away, where
they hoped to eventually live someday. The administrators of Clonus
could have just as easily told them they were going to Shangri-La,
Never-Never Land, or the Emerald City. So whose idea was it to use
"America", and what were the motivations behind that?
This was post-’60s fuck you-ism. The ultimate in cynical. I don’t
recall who actually suggested it be called "America", but I know as the
guy who developed and nurtured the movie, I must have said okay!
Even though I’ve watched the movie several times, I must admit to
never really noticing the "clone blink" until it was pointed out on the
DVD. [Fiveson instructed all the actors playing clones not to blink
normally, but to hold their eyes shut for a beat to indicate that the
clones were bred to be mentally deficient.] But now that I know about
it, it’s almost impossible to miss. Was it your intention for the
"clone blink" to be obvious to viewers, or did you want it to be one of
those subliminal type of things that the audience sees, but they don’t
really know that they’ve seen?
I suspected it would be subliminal. It’s like when someone doesn’t
blink at all; you don’t notice it, but you quickly become uncomfortable
because it’s an unnatural body language signal. I just figured that by
blinking that way they would "give off" dummy signals, whether
conscious or not. We really had a hell of a time keeping everybody on
that one because it is unnatural. We actually had like, mass practice
sessions with the extras.
Well, the world now knows about your director’s cameo in Clonus
[as a guard who gets into a brief scuffle with the movie’s hero]. In
the commentary, you say you appeared in that scene because there were
no extras on hand to do the bit. But secretly, wasn’t there some part
of you that really wanted to do the Hitchcock thing?
Secretly, yes—and I have had a lot of fun with it over the years,
challenging friends to spot where I appear—but the fact is it was
done for one reason only: We had no one to do the "stunt", so I said
screw this stuntman nonsense, give me a damn costume!
Sadly, no deleted scenes on the DVD. I assume this means that
pretty much every scene you filmed ended up in the finished movie. Were
there any major (or not so major) scenes or plot points in the original
screenplay that went unfilmed?
No, but there was a lot of footage where certain actors were too drunk
to remember lines! And as I recall we really overshot the underwater
stuff in the pool [There’s a brief moment in Clonus where a floating corpse was shot underwater, requiring special equipment.], simply because the cameraman was being a whiny dick. So we made him stay in the freezing pool longer than was required.
I’ve heard a totally unsubstantiated rumor that one of the reasons Clonus
achieved the popularity it enjoys today is because it was one of the
very first movies ever released on home video. There weren’t a whole
lot of options in the early days of VCRs, and as a result, a lot of
people bought or rentedClonus. Is there any truth to this?
I think there is. It came out at the same time as Coma
(and generally got better reviews!). At that time, Photomat had these
little drive-up booths everywhere, where you could drop off your film
to be developed (Wow, what an archaic concept now!). They decided to
offer VHS films as rentals, and ours was one of the first. I was told
we out-rented Coma by a wide margin—but of course, we never saw squat financially!
On the commentary track, you said the movie probably would have
fared better if it had been more violent. Did you ever have any
specific ideas of where you would have added more violence or gore?
Everywhere. This was in the time when "slasher" films were the vogue. I
have often said that our mistake with the film was that we tried to
make a good story well told.
I have to admit, the stories of Clonus and The Island are
similar. Especially the part about going to "the island". I immediately
said to myself, that sounds just like "America"! Some have even gone so
far as to claim this movie is officially "based on"Clonus. I don’t see
any mention of this from any reliable source, so maybe you could clear
up the confusion for us. Is The Island officially based on your movie?
If not, how do you feel about the movie having such a similar plot
The Island is not in any way sanctioned by me. In fact, Jeff Katzenberg saw [Clonus]
in ’78 as a possible pick up by Paramount, and commented at that time
that if this was what I could do with a million, he would love to see
what I could do with ten. The budget was $257,000—1/400th of The Island.
I saw a trailer for it a couple of days ago and nearly soiled myself.
There were so many similarities—not just in theme, but actual shots!
I hope it does a lot of business; But more than anything else, I hope
it gets publicly outed.
* * *
And on that note, I’d like ask on behalf of Robert Fiveson that every reader out there visit this page that details the similarities between Clonus and The Island, and pass it along to anyone else who enjoys movies. Let the world know that The Island is not an official remake of Clonus, but an obvious rip-off!