Clonus (1979) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This film is also known as "Parts: The Clonus Horror," and "Clonus: Welcome to America."

Think about this plot:

Somewhere in the Western United States, there is an isolated Spartan compound filled with gung-ho fitness buffs who train constantly and eat sensibly, in the hope that they will be among the few selected to leave the compound and go to a promised earthly paradise. The audience becomes aware that the trainees all seem to be slow witted or strangely childlike, despite the fact that their appearance is that of normal, healthy adults.

One of the participants does not seem to be as docile and unquestioning as the others. He is curious about the world outside the compound, and is unsatisfied with the answers provided by the trainers. He stumbles into the compound's awful secret. There is no paradise. The trainees who are ostensibly chosen to leave the compound are, in fact, harvested for spare body parts. It turns out that the trainees are all clones of very rich power brokers who pay for the upkeep and maintenance of their genetic duplicates. The reason they are kept so fit, in fact the only reason they exist at all, is to assure that their "sponsors" have a sure source of compatible body parts.

The single curious clone escapes from the compound. Although he is constantly being pursued by a security expert from the compound, he eventually manages to come face-to-face with his genetic duplicate in the outside world, hoping to persuade him of the inhumanity of the compound, and to enlist his aid.

If that plot summary sounds familiar to you, it may be because you have seen or read about Michael Bay's big budget summer action picture, The Island, or it may be because you are a major fan of MST3K, and have therefore actually seen an obscure 1979 film called Clonus.

The description above applies to both pictures.

At various times and in various essays, we have amused ourselves by trying to establish the criteria which make for a good candidate for a remake. If you believe that the essence of films should include some artistic achievement rather than being forged from pure commerce, then you could make a good case that no films should be remade at all. Perhaps that position is correct, but given the practical consideration that the supply of completely original ideas is limited, it seems that the best remake prospects are either respectable movies which are now too dated to watch in their original form, or good movies which could have been great with a few tweaks. That set of criteria sounds superficially reasonable to me, but even that apparently sensible theory seems to lead to as many bad films as good ones, and I can't immediately think of a single case where that strategy has ever produced a great film. On the good side, the first version of The Thomas Crown Affair was a pretty good film which was remade into another pretty good film, although the remake was far short of greatness and arguably no better than the first try. On the bad side, the original Rollerball was a pretty cool film which seemed like it could have been great, but the remake was an utter fiasco.

In general, I believe that great films should not be remade. What is the point of remaking Casablanca, or The Godfather Part II, or The Bridge on the River Kwai? As for bad films - well, I'm not going to present any case unless someone believes that bad films should be remade.

Why, then, did Michael Bay decide to spend more than a hundred million dollars remaking a film so bad it was selected to be ridiculed on Mystery Science Theater 3000? First of all, Bay does not concede to the point that The Island is a remake of Clonus. In fact, Clonus and its creators are not credited in any way by The Island, and they were not paid any royalties for the use of their material. This matter is now the subject of a lawsuit, so let's set that aside, and try to answer the question by taking the purely hypothetical position that The Island is a remake and asking why its creators chose to remake a notoriously bad film.

To begin with, the idea behind Clonus had some genuine merit. Clonus was lampooned by Mike and the bots in one of the later seasons of MST3K, when they were running out of the truly bad films they normally feasted upon. Indeed, Clonus was one of the better films ever to be selected to get the ol' razzberry. That is not to say that Clonus is a good movie, but only that it is far better than the total wash-outs which were mocked by Mike and Joel and the bots in earlier years. Unlike Manos, Clonus has a few strengths. It actually has an excellent premise and the script is not unredeemable, but the entire project was lowered to the laughable level by the following elements.

  • The budget was a mere $257,000, and that included the salaries of some B-list stars like Peter Graves and one of the Darrens from TV's Bewitched. Because of the money crisis, the slap-dash effects were laughable, the atmosphere was non-existent and the sets were obviously flimsy in ways that rivaled Ed Wood's graveyard scene in Plan 9.
  • I don't know if this film can truly boast of the worst acting ever, but it has a reasonable claim.
  • Some elements of the script were clumsy. For example, there is really no attempt to keep the concept of Clonus as much a mystery to the audience as it is to the clones, thus missing out on a chance to make the plot more involving.
  • The lead character is not interesting or sympathetic, and the actor playing the part does not have the skills or the looks to create any bond with the audience, so viewers can't really identify with him. To word it another way, I just wasn't rooting for this guy, however meritorious his quest.

In other words, Clonus was not so much a bad movie, as it was a potentially good movie ruined by poor execution and insufficient resources.

The 2005 version (The Island) did eliminate all the problems I noted. Michael Bay spent the money and hired the top actors necessary to make the project a first class production with futuristic atmosphere. By keeping the film within the POV of the curious clone, the 2005 script allows the audience to share in his curiosity about the true nature of his existence. Casting handsome, sympathetic, talented Ewan McGregor in the role solidified the bond between the character and the audience. Casting Steve Buscemi as an outside employee in the clone factory added some comic relief, and injected a welcome sense of everyday life. Allowing some dimension and character development from the evil security agent certified the message that humanity was capable of feeling compassion for the clones. The script also fleshed out the details of how the clones were created and raised, and what they were taught about the outside world. They were told that the world was in a post-apocalyptic condition, and that they were survivors plucked from the smoldering ruins of civilization, nursed back to health, and kept in a sort of rehab holding area until they were selected to go to the last remaining uncontaminated paradise.

Oh, I almost hate to type this sentence about a Michael Bay summer explosion-fest, but I thought The Island was a pretty good movie! It represents the rare instance when a poor film can be remade into a good one. Apart from Michael Bay's predictable decision to end the film with many large explosions, the one place where the 2005 film went completely batty was to add an unnecessary and generally incredible pseudo-scientific element about the clones somehow possessing the memories and dreams of their originals.

As for Clonus ... well ... if you are an average moviegoer, you don't really want to spend any time watching it, not even to make wisecracks, unless you have Mike and the bots wisecracking along with you. It's really just too boring and static to provide a truly pleasurable bad movie vibe. If you are truly curious about this project, however, you can't go wrong with the DVD, because Mondo Macabro has done a great job assembling it.

  • The film has been newly digitized from a negative, transferred to DVD in a anamorphic widescreen version, and looks quite fresh.
  • There is a full-length commentary by the director.
  • There is an additional interview with the director.
  • There is a gallery of posters, ads, and publicity stills.


  • see the main commentary for details


Paulette Breen shows her bum in a dark sex scene. About 90% of one of her large breasts is visible briefly, but no nipple makes an appearance.

Many of the clones are kept stored in glad bags. They are naked, and various naughty bits (including male genitalia) may be seen hazily through the translucent bags.

The Critics Vote ...

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a D. It is not a good movie, but it is interesting in certain ways, and the basic premise was excellent.

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