Monstrosity/Atomic Brain, 1963. 6/10

A strange but entertaining Atomic Age Frankenstein story. The horror element is stronger than the sci-fi: there’s grave-robbing, a creepy old house, innocent women lured into captivity, a sinister demented old lady, even a monster trolling around in the woods.

Actually Frankenstein’s apparatus had as much scientific credibility as Dr. Frank’s nuclear-powered brain surgery. The premise is somewhat similar to the vain cosmetic entrepreneur’s obsession with youth in Wasp Woman. The Atomic Brain is more intense, with slightly better performances. The villain here, Mrs. March, has an overpowering presence. She’s envious, bitter, and cruel; literally wanting to possess the attractive young women who become Dr. Frank’s guinea pigs.

The pacing isn’t bad, but the movie lags in the middle. There’s too much of Nina and Bea wandering around, trying not to escape (to paraphrase another reviewer’s description). When we finally get to the climactic surgery, Dr. Frank turns the tables on the old hag by somehow dishing her brain into the cat. The cat motif works great all around, as Anita’s character makes a lot of her cat-brain with convincing and chilling cat behavior.

It’s really cool that Mrs. March (as a cat) manages to destroy everything. Her escape shows that she’s still a menace. When the atomic stuff blows up, though, I expected a mushroom cloud. Why not just ditch all the atomic stuff, and have Dr. Frank mix in some voo-doo or something to explain his surgery?

Anyway, the best part of Atomic Brain was the smarmy narrator. Usually I can’t stand narrators. They tend to make a cheap substitute for character development, plot, and dialogue. But this guy is great. He’s a commentator as well as a narrator; he critiques the characters, questioning their motives and generally making fun of them. He, the cat, and the old lady are the only interesting roles.

The other characters don’t add up to much. There is an attempt to differentiate the three girls (actually four, including the ghoulish one from the crypt). The Victor character is nothing more than a go-fer. That’s intentional, though, as it emphasizes how domineering the old lady is.

This is definitely watchable. The tone is probably the best aspect; we’re not to take things too seriously, but that doesn’t mean that the mayhem in Atomic Brain is harmless. The lurid gaze of the narrator takes over from the generally earnest feel of 1950s sci-fi. 6/10.

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