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Monstrosity

Monstrosity(1963)

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Home Video Reviews

Something Weird has developed a good marketing strategy when it comes to releasing DVD titles from their vault of exploitation cinema. Knowing that it's unlikely for a horror film buff - even a die-hard completist - to shell out money for a DVD release of a grade C title like The Atomic Brain (1963), they've paired it with two even more obscure horror films (Love After Death, 1968, The Incredible Petrified World, 1957) and tossed in countless bonus features. For those with a genuine fondness for low-budget indie horror flicks from years past, it's hard to resist such a package, even when you know it's bad for you.

The headliner feature, The Atomic Brain, was also known as Monstrosity and the print on display here actually bears this title. It starts appropriately enough in a laboratory but pretty soon you've got a murder in a mortuary, a hairy-faced man-beast on the prowl and an elderly millionairess with an obsession with regaining her youth. The latter is shown soliciting young women with no family ties through the newspaper for work as domestics. Of course, we know they're potential body donors for the old lady's brain - a particularly unappealing thought - but once they arrive at the secluded mansion, they're locked in and given a strip search inspection. Charlie's Angels, they're not. Anita, fresh from Mexico and not an English major, is the first to land on the slab. She ends up with a cat brain and in one of the more hilarious and infamous scenes in the film catches and swallows a mouse in one gulp. Bee is supposed to be from England but sounds like a lush from some dive bar in Alabama. She gets her eye clawed out by Anita the cat girl leaving Nana from Vienna, Austria (another bad accent) the nominal heroine. Everyone behaves as if they do indeed need brain transplants, including the mad scientist performing the surgeries. He has the bright idea of installing a self-destroying lever in the lab - in case the cops come. Once the switch is thrown, he warns, the mansion will become a "radioactive hole in the ground." Yeah, that makes sense.

Rock bottom production values abound in The Atomic Brain - the laboratory set is possibly a slight improvement over the one in Ed Wood's Bride of the Monster (1955) - and the incessant narration and isolated moments of character dialogue were obviously added in post-production. Nothing really works but there are a few things to enjoy along with your twelve-pack - some location footage of the Los Angeles freeway (only two lanes of traffic!), laughable gore effects (Bee retrieving her severed eye from the lab), and the occasionally absurd line of dialogue. But even among connoisseurs of low-budget horror, The Atomic Brain gets no respect. Even writer/producer Jack Pollexfen (who worked on Edgar G. Ulmer's The Man From Planet X) dismisses it in Tom Weaver's Interviews with B Science Fiction and Horror Movie Makers: "...Monstrosity - certainly the worst picture I was ever involved with, and incidentally the only one that did not eventually climb into the profit column. Alas, I have to confess I did the first draft of the script. B films were collapsing; the studio financing the film turned out to be heading into bankruptcy. We had shot about half. Tried to patch it together in the cutting room - but that was a task beyond human hands." Yes, we can see that Jack.

Still, The Atomic Brain looks pretty good compared to the second feature, Love After Death, which is an Argentinean obscurity ineptly dubbed into English. Looking like a soft-core porno flick heavily influenced by Doris Wishman (lots of floor level shots and close-ups of feet), the film follows a freshly buried man who returns from the grave to take revenge on his cheating wife. A sexual dud when alive, the guy is now an uncontrollable sex fiend, ravishing every woman he meets. And most of the footage consists of badly shot bedroom encounters, with flabby, out of shape bodies moaning and writhing around on wrinkled sheets for what seems like an eternity. Russ Meyer or Jess Franco might have been able to do something with this premise and actually make it titillating. But that's not the case here and if you're looking for a cure for insomnia, this is guaranteed to work.

Topping off Something Weird's triple feature is The Incredible Petrified World, directed by Jerry Warren, the man who gave us that Abominable Snowman travesty Man Beast (1956) and re-edited Americanized versions of such imported horrors as Face of the Screaming Werewolf (which was actually a 1959 Mexican horror-comedy entitled La Casa del Terror.) You've heard the expression "a poverty row picture"? Well, that's what we've got here - a fantastical storyline but no budget to pull it off. Instead we get stock footage as a substitute for real action scenes (the shark vs. octopus fight is actually pretty good) and interminable exposition scenes filmed on some of the cheapest sets imaginable (a ship cabin with a painted porthole on the wall!).

John Carradine gets top billing as a scientist who organizes a deep-sea expedition in search of a phantom sea layer that rises periodically from the depths. A crew of four - three oceanographers (one played by Sheila Noonan aka Sheila Carol from 1959's Beast from Haunted Cave) and one extremely hostile female reporter (Phyllis Coates from the TV series, The Adventures of Superman) climb into a diving bell and are dropped into the ocean. Almost immediately they lose communication with Carradine's ship and spend most of the movie trapped in a claustrophobic underwater cave where they encounter a sex-crazed hermit. Who can blame the poor guy - he's been stranded down there from a previous diving bell expedition for about 20 years but does he get any sympathy? No, he's dismissed as a "weirdo" and becomes the villain by default; he's conveniently killed off in the "erupting volcano" portion of the film (don't expect any special effects). But the real fireworks occur between the two women who are often left alone while the two men try to find a way out of the caves. Ms. Coates' bitter, competitive reporter is a strident, unsympathetic creation but a fascinating one. When her companion tries to comfort her over a recent "Dear John" letter, she explodes: "You just listen to me Miss Innocent. There's nothing friendly between two females. There never was and never will be. You don't need any help and neither do I - as long as we have two men around us." The tension between the two women is never really resolved in a satisfactory manner but at least it provides a brief respite from the tedium of watching Robert Clarke (The Hideous Sun Demon, 1959) and Allen Windsor stumble around a bunch of stalactites like a couple of lost boy scouts.

The visual quality of Something Weird's triple feature is surprisingly good - much better than it has a right to be. The Incredible Petrified World, in particular, boasts a razor sharp transfer; it looks almost as good as any black and white feature that Criterion has recently released - go ahead, laugh, but we're not kidding. Of course, only a die-hard trash film fanatic is really going to care about this package but they'll find things to savor and the extra features are fun too: an alternate opening sequence for The Atomic Brain, a comic book art gallery of ghoulish covers, trailers for Monster-a-Go-Go (1965), Terrified (1962) and many more.



For more information about The Atomic Brain, visit Image Entertainment. To order The Atomic Brain, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jeff Stafford