The Atomic Brain (1964)
Directed by Joseph V. Mascelli
Written by Sue Bradford and Dean Dillman Jr.
Run Time: 64 min
Other Titles: "Monstrosity"
Tagline: "Chained...to the devil's love lab!"
"They never got a penny...Oh! How she made them sweat. Especially this old fool...companion, and gigolo. How many years she's kept him dangling on promises...Well, sometimes it's convenient to have a man...especially when he comes cheaper than servants. "
This lovely little piece of crap was originally shown as the second film in a double-bill featuring The Beach Girls and the Monster (1965), just to give you an idea of the quality we're talking about here. The director of The Atomic Brain, Joseph Macelli, proves himself to be just as inept in the film as he was as director of cinematography for the grade-z classic The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies (1964).
This story revolves around an old woman, Mrs. March who is getting tired of, well, being old. In a moment of inspiration, she decides to hire Dr. Otto Frank to transplant her brain into a younger woman's body. The fact that Otto's only successful operation to date has been to transplant a dog's brain into a man does not damper Mrs. March's enthusiasm. For some reason a nuclear reactor is installed in March's basement, a gaggle of European kids come over, brains get switched (one is switched with a cat!), the reactor blows up, and, well, need I say more? Let's just get started then, shall we...
Let's enjoy this narration together...won't that be nice?
"Can death be outwitted? Is the secret of eternal life just around that corner? [what corner?] Today, medical science patches up mutilated bodies, taking human skin, eyes, limbs, even vital organs. Is the next step the transplantation of the human brain? Many scientists answer 'yes'. But they pause and add a grim warning...In ancient folk legends tales are told of blood-sucking vampires, crawling out of graves to live on the bodies of helpless victims. Is man now doomed to produce a race of ever-living monstrosities? Worse than the vampires of legend? Will the ruthless men and women of great power greedily buy or steal the bodies of the young and beautiful, so their brains will live on forever? Such questions may seem fanciful. But at this very moment scientists [Science!] are working on the very answer to brain transplantation."
OK, I'm stopping here. This narration has continued for over a minute now while the film has been playing in the background. If I'm not mistaken, shouldn't the narrator "set the scene" for what's about to happen and then go away and stop distracting the viewer from the movie? Well, in most movies yes, but not in cheap grade-B movies, like, oh, The Atomic Brain.
Let's back up and just talk about what's happening while this ridiculous narration is taking place. We see a scientist, Dr. Otto Frank, in a lab prepping the body of a young girl inside a large metal chamber. I assume this chamber has something to do with radioactivity because he's wearing a protective suit and dark goggles. (And it's a 1960's grade-B film, so what else can the plot be based on?) And yes, the lab comes complete with a rack of beakers and test tubes full of fluids. (Undoubtedlycolored fluids, but the film is black-and-white, so I'm guessing based on experience.)
"This girl was buried in a nearby cemetery yesterday," we are informed by the Narrator (Big-N from now on. And I honor the narrator with the moniker "Big-N" because this opening narration is truly the longest narration I've ever heard in a film). As the camera pans up the girl's naked body (standing (!) in a plastic tube with metal bands strategically placed over the interesting parts, if you know what I mean), Big-N tells us that Frank has stolen the body only a few hours ago. Oh yeah, and he's but an animal's brain into her body.
"The brain cells are being reactivated by atomic fission," continues Big-N, who apparently has no idea what atomic fission entails. Said "fission" is realized by flooding the metal chamber with dry-ice fog.
"Has he found the way to outwit death?...Or has he created another...monstrosity?" queries Big-N. (If he's referring to this film, than I vote for 'monstrosity'.)
Cut from the lab to a cemetery. It's "night" because cricket and frog noises are foleyed onto the sound track. "Deep below, Dr. Frank takes a chance to smash into a newly sealed vault." Big-N's invaluable narration is confirmed by a shot of Dr. Frank smashing into a newly sealed vault.
As we see the night watchman making his rounds, he stops to pull out a flask of booze from behind a monument. "The watchman's mind was not on body-snatchers, just his usual nip," we are informed. Why yes. Thank you, Big-N. I would have never figured that out. (Now you see why I shudder whenever one of these films opens with narration...) 'Comical' music is looped into the soundtrack because dereliction of duty and alcoholism is 'funny'.
The watchman puts away his flask and continues his rounds. Hearing somebody banging on a crypt with a hammer and chisel, the watchman goes to investigate but is attacked and killed by Dog-Man (I have to call him that since his name isn't mentioned until there's only about 15 left in the film), one of Dr. Frank's earlier transplant experiments involving a dog's brain put into a man's body. I'm not sure how transplanting a brain would result in growing a dog-like nose and teeth, but there you have it. (And by the way, this movie sucks. Did I mention that? Have I also mentioned that we are nearing the 4-minute mark and we still haven't had a single line of dialog?)
Dr. Frank finally frees the body of yet another young, attractive woman from its crypt and takes it back to his palatial home. Thinking that a "fresher" body might have a better chance for success, Frank takes the body downstairs into his lab and quickly gets to work. Big-N informs us that Dr. Frank is peeved because he's been promised "live, fresh bodies" from Mrs. March, his elderly patron who lives "upstairs." You see, Mrs. March is funding his research in brain transplantation in hopes that he will eventually be capable of transplantingher brain into a young body. (Let's just overlook the fact that brains also age...it's not like your brain doesn't get 'older'...anyway, maybe I'm reading too much into this.)
Ok, 7 minutes and nothing but narration. I think this is a new record.
At this point we learn that Mrs. March has spent her life hoarding money, mistrusting everybody around her of attempting to 'cheat' her of her wealth. Her greed has led to a life of isolation, forcing her to spend her waning years with her "companion and gigolo".
Hey! The first lines of dialog at nearly 8 minutes into the film. Not too bad. Mrs. March and her companion are discussing the 3 females applicants for the job of "servant girl" (va-va-voom!). Of course the job announcement is merely a ruse crafted by Mrs. March to lure attractive applicants as part of her nefarious schemes for eternal youth.
Busy in his lab, Dr. Frank performs another brain transplant via "atomic fission." March and her gigolo, Victor, come downstairs to check up on his progress. "More of this hocus pocus!" Victor says. (A rather harsh judgment of the Doctor Frank's work considering that he's witnessed the doctor successfully transplant a dog's brain into a dead man's body and bring him back to life. ) His latest experiment is alive, but not capable of thought. (a lot like the makers of this film.)
The job applicants arrive the next day. (Complete with xylophone music synchronized with their wiggling butts...if this is your type of thing, then check out this film.) The three young (read: hot!) ladies come from Austria, England, and Mexico. It seems like they could have gotten "servant girl" jobs in their respective countries a lot easier than traveling to California, but there you go.
Victor picks them up and takes them home. But first we learn their names, Nina Rhodes (the hot Austrian babe), Anita Gonzoles (Victor struggles to pronounce her last name which seems odd seeing as he lives in Southern California), and Bea Mullins (the hot English babe).
"Three new bodies...fresh...live...young bodies," Big-N tells the viewer as we see the three new, fresh, live girls get into the car. (Thanks again, but really, you don't have to always state the obvious.) Big-N isn't ready to give up quite yet.
As we drive down the highway, the narration continues, "Victor wondered which one Mrs. March would pick, the little Mexican, the girl from Vienna, or the buxom blonde. Victor knew his pick...but he still felt uneasy, making love to an eighty-year old woman in the body of a twenty-year old is insanity."
OK, I really didn't need that image in my head right now. And another thing. The actress that plays Bea, the English girl, has unequivocally the worst British accent I've ever heard. (And I'm even taking into consideration Keanu Reeves from "Bram Stoker's Dracula"...)
Down in the basement Dr. Frank is doing something or other in the fission chamber. ("The cyclotron" as it's incorrectly referred to in the movie.) We see his last experiment, standing around staring off into space as Big-N gives us some inside information, "As with the other bodies stolen from the cemetery, the nerve endings were too far gone to receive a proper transplant. The experiment failed to produce anything more than a walking, breathing, zombie-like creature...but the doctor permitted her to walk around the laboratory...she was quite harmless...and...at times...even amusing." (Man, I need to take a shower. This is one sleazy movie.)
After being shown to her room, hot-Austrian babe Nina gets cold-feet and tries to call home, alas, the phones have been disabled. Strange. Cut to Dog-Man prowling outside...cut to hot-Mexican babe Anita's room..a knock on her door...Next morning Anita is missing. I think you can figure all this out...
We discover that Anita has been abducted and taken to the lab where Dr. Frank is ready to attempt his first living brain transplant. His subjects? Anita and his cat. (For some reason I had to laugh at that one.)
Getting suspicious, Bea and Nina start snooping around the house. After awhile, they decide they've had enough and sneak back upstairs in order to pack their things and flee. (They can't just, you know, leave, because Mrs. March will contact "The immigration authorities". And what will they do? Send them home? Isn't that exactly what the girls want to do? Stupid movie.) Mrs. March suspects something is up and locks the 2 girls in their room.
After securing the 2 mischievous house servants, Mrs. March goes to the lab to check out how the latest brain transplant went. Dr. Frank informs her that it was a success. To prove his point, he points to Anita, crouched on the floor and licking her lips. Dr. Frank pets her head (while saying "Nice kitty"...I kid you not!), but when Mrs. March approaches her, Anita scowls and the sound of a hissing cat is dubbed into the sound track. (This is definitely something you don't see everyday...let me tell you.) Mrs. March jumps back, and Anita begins rubbing up on Dr. Frank's leg and begins to purr (!!!).
In a strange scene designed to show how hopeless any attempts at escape may be, Zombie-girl happens to wander outside...Dog-Man attacks and kills her. (We now find out his name is Hans. Too little, too late. I'm going to keep calling him Dog-Man.) Bea and Nina witness the attack and finally realize what a jam their in. (They're also in a bad movie, but they don't seem to notice that.) Nevertheless, Bea agrees to seduce Victor and get the car keys from him so they can escape. (Oh boy, I can't wait to see this.)
Victor and Bea go outside to 'get acquainted', but Mrs. March summons him before things can get further than a luke-warm round of kissing. Bea takes the opportunity to stroll about the grounds and pauses in a gazebo. Looking up, Bea sees Cat-Anita perched on the roof, and is promptly clawed in the face. (I'm laughing while I write this...really...check out this film if you ever get the chance.)
Anyway, Dog-Man chases Cat-Anita onto the roof. Nina sees her and climbs up to help her. (Hmmm...I wonder where all this is going.) Yes, well, Cat-Anita or not, Anita slips and plunges to her death.
Back in the lab, we see that Bea has lost one of her eyes (!) from the Cat-Anita's scratching. Nina goes into the lab and comforts Bea while Dr. Frank explains how he has managed to preserve at least one eye, "I'm preserving the eye...the cellular structure is being kept alive by these electrical vibrations...Bea is a very lucky girl. You think that ironical? [sic]"
Yes, well, I find it bad dialog, at least.
While Bea lies bandaged and sedated in the lab, Nina promises Bea that she will somehow get them out of the house that night. (How exactly she's going to do that is not explained.)
In preparation for the upcoming brain transplant Mrs. March names Nina as her heir. Afterwards, Mrs. March will stage her "death" thus "inheriting" her money and getting a new body in the process. Frank thinks this all sounds terrific, however Mrs. March figures that once her brain is in Nina's body she'll be able to land bigger (read: younger) fish than the gold-digging Frank. (Agreed.) To Frank's shock, Mrs. March summons him into her parlor and ruthlessly dismisses him from her employ.
Frank hits the bottle and in a drunken stupor reveals the whole "Transplant-Mrs-March's-Brain-Into-Your-Body" plan to a stunned Nina. Frank and Nina decide to team up against the cruel Mrs. March. He agrees to help Nina escape if she will sign a quickly written document making him her legal guardian. (I doubt this document would hold up in court, what with all the "whose brain was in your head when you signed the papers" type of legal issues...)
Nina runs to fetch Bea from her sickbed. Meanwhile, Mrs. March sneaks up behind Frank with a long, long, knitting needle. Said needle is inserted into Frank's spine.
Anyway, Dr. Frank gets ahold of Nina, pulls the old "Handkerchief-Soaked-In-Chloroform-Over-The-Mouth-And-Nose" trick and preps her for surgery alongside Mrs. March. After sedating March, we are treated to a montage of "Science!"...flashing do-hickies, electric arcs, dry ice bubbling in beakers, and so on. (I must ask, how exactly does Dr. Frank transplant brains without, you know, opening their heads and transplanting the brains? And don't give me that "atomic fission" BS...)
However, Dr. Frank pulls a fast one. When Nina awakens, she is subjected to a nice wad of exposition. Dr. Frank explains that Mrs. March was planning to blow up both him and the lab after the operation was complete. So he simply transplanted Mrs. March's brain into her cat. (How exactly would Mrs. March's brain fit inside a cat head? This all seems more of a 'personality transplant' than anything else.) Now down to brass tacks. If Nina will make him her legal guardian then he will release her and they can both live in the house happily ever after, or, well, he can switch her brain with a more agreeable one. Dr. Frank mulls it over and rescinds the offer: He'll just switch her brain anyway.
As he goes into the, *ahem*, cyclotron, to prepare, Cat-March, jumps up onto the control panel and locks Dr. Frank inside (Don't ask). As Frank watches in horror through the viewport, Cat-March takes her paw and presses a button which sets in motion some sort of process inside the chamber. (One which involves copious amounts of dry-ice fog.) We soon see that Dr. Frank has been reduced to a skeleton. (That must have been the "Reduce-All-Contents-To-Skeletal-Remains" button that all cyclotrons come equipped with.)
For some reason, Bea decides this is the perfect moment to get out of her bed. (Why now? The Script Says.) She stumbles down the hall with a bandage over her eyes, then gets a brilliant idea: remove the bandage so she can see. (Duh!) Bea tears away the bandage revealing a horrible (fake) scar over one eye. (I thought she was blind in both eyes! Why the hell did the put bandages over both if she was only injured in the one? Stupid movie.)
Bea races to the lab, unties Nina and is about to flee with her friend when she notices her eye sitting in a petri dish. For some reason, Bea runs over and grabs her eye but is quickly electrocuted (!). As more and more sparks fill the lab, Nina realizes that the whole shebang is about to blow. She runs upstairs and outside as the house goes up in flames.
Big-N, as expected, wraps things up for us, "Mrs. March did not intend to let her money get out of sight. She would follow that girl, sometime...someplace...revenge would come..." (Freeze frame on March-Cat...)
(Revenge? What did Nina ever do to Mrs. March? How hard would it be to avoid a cat for a few years? The cat is already an "adult", so I assume it will die of old age within 5 years or so. Hell, Nina could just run it over with a car...stupid movie.)
Dennis Grisbeck (July 2005)