How, you may be asking, did I come to see The Clones, an extremely obscure and low-budget science fiction thriller from 1973?
It all started when I first saw the trailer for the film on 42nd Street Forever, a compilation of old school grindhouse trailers. For whatever reasons, the trailer for The Clones fascinated me. Whether it was the extremely dry narration or the fact that the trailer actually ended with a quote from a then-member of the U.S. Senate, I felt that The Clones was a film that I, as a student of film and history, simply had to see.
How obscure is this film? It’s so obscure that The Clones has never even been released on DVD. In order to see the film, I had to go on Amazon and order a used VHS copy from a some guy in Indiana. When it arrived in the mail, the first thing I noticed was the big “Property of the St. Augusta Public Library” that was stamped on the back of the worn video box.
The fact that my copy of The Clones had obviously seen better days actually added a lot to the viewing experience. Much as true grindhouse fans treasure every scratch and auditory pop whenever they watch a film like Fight For Your Life or Last House on Dead End Street, I found myself oddly proud that my copy of The Clones had obviously survived so much just so that it could eventually end up as a part of my video library.
As for the film itself, The Clones is one of those wonderful low-budget films that deserve to be rediscovered. Dr. Gerald Appleby (well-played by an actor named Michael Greene) is a nuclear scientist who discovers that he’s been cloned and that the clone has essentially been out living his life whenever the original Appleby has been at work. Though it’s hinted that he’s being set up by foreign spies, the reason for Appleby’s cloning remains obscure throughout the entire film. Whether this narrative obscurity is intentional or not, it actually serves the film well as it helps to transform Appleby into almost a Kafkaesque figure.
When Appleby attempts to reveal to the proper authorities that he’s been cloned, he finds himself accused of being an imposter and is forced to literally run for his life. The majority of the film deals with Appleby being chased across the California desert by not only the mad scientist who cloned him (a wonderfully demented Stanley Adams) but also by two ruthless federal agents. The two federal agents are played by Otis Young and Gregory Sierra, two character actors who appeared in several films during the 70s. Sierra and Young are a lot of fun to watch in this film and it’s hard not to like them, even if they technically are villains. They both just seem to be having so much fun trying to kill our hero.
From what little information that I’ve been able to gather about this film’s production, it appears that The Clones was one of the first motion pictures to attempt to take advantage of the paranoia that most people feel over the prospect of humans being cloned. When seen today, the film’s story is a bit predictable because, to be honest, there’s really only so much when you can do with cloning as a plot device. However, The Clones remains an oddly effective film. The low budget (and lack of special effects) actually contributes to the film’s success. Without the crutch of spectacle, The Clones is forced to pay attention to things like characterization. How’s that for a concept?
The film eventually climaxes with a genuinely exciting shoot out in a deserted amusement park and then it all ends, in typical 70s fashion, in a climax that manages to be both fun and depressing at the same time.
The Clones is not necessarily an easy film to see but it’s well worth the effort.