Monday, September 22, 2014

The Atomic Brain/ Monstrosity (1963)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Warning:  I’m going to give away major details about the movie, including the ending.  If you don’t like spoilers and have any intention of watching this movie, you might want to hold off on reading this review.

Hetty March is an old, miserly hag and she knows it.  She’s spent her entire life hoarding money.  Now, she has a plan to take it with her.  She’s contracted with Dr. Otto Frank to find a way to transfer her brain into a hot, young body.  She’ll then change her will to leave all of her fortune to the person whose body she will eventually reside in. 

Dr. Frank isn’t doing so well with his experiments.  Since no credible hospital will let him do experiments, he’s forced to work out of Hetty’s basement.  He’s even reduced to having his henchman steal bodies from the cemetery.  At best, he can make a mindless zombie.  His henchman, in fact, is nothing more than a dog’s brain in a human body.  The dogman can obey orders, but doesn’t seem to have much independent thought.

So, Hetty takes out an ad for a maid.  Three young female candidates all arrive in town, only to meet at the airport.  There’s Nina, the Austrian; Anita, the Mexican and Beatrice, the blonde with the annoyingly fake British accent.  Hetty figures that since they’re all a long way from home and probably don’t want to deal with INS, they’ll be cooperative, or at least hesitant to run.

After inspecting the women, Hetty finds that Anita has a mole on her back.  This is enough to cause Hetty to reject Anita.  At least Dr. Frank has his first live subject to experiment on, so he transfers the brain of a cat into Anita’s body.  When Anita eats a mouse, Hetty realizes that the process has promise.  All that she needs to do is figure out which of the two remaining women she wants to swap bodies with and change her will accordingly.  (Due to Beatrice having a horrible accident, it ends up being Nina.)

As you might expect, it’s not that simple.  Hetty has surrounded herself with people that don’t like the idea of being left out of her will.  She has a boyfriend that realizes that he’ll be dumped shortly after Hetty has better options.  Otto realizes that Hetty will have limited use for him, as well.  Well, the boyfriend isn’t successful at stopping Hetty, but Dr. Frank is.  He puts her brain in the cat’s body and leaves Nina intact.  His plan is to find a way to get the money from Nina.

While Dr. Frank had better luck than the boyfriend, he does eventually suffer the same fate.  The movie ends with Nina running off into the forest surrounding Hetty’s house with Hetty (in the cat’s body) following her.  We’re left to guess as to what becomes of them.  We don’t get to see Nina in a psychiatrist’s office or sitting on a bus bench.  We don’t even get any sort of text or anything.

This was one of those movies that could have been done a lot better.  In fact, I’m sure that there are plenty of brain-swapping movies that have been done better.  If you’re making a movie about transferring your brain to a new body, how about giving us some details?  There are no shaved heads or scars to speak of.  Also, how do you fit a human brain into a cat’s head?  While I’m on the subject, how does putting a dog’s brain into a human body cause the human body to grow fangs?

I’ve also wondered how these doctors and scientists hook up with people that will fund them.  This is before Craig’s List, so you’d probably have local papers at best.  I could just see the ad, “SWF needs mad scientist for some brain-swapping experiments; will provide lab in basement, but you must bring your own bodies”

It’s not rated, but it’s still something you might want to keep the kids away from.  It’s not so much that you see anything as children probably won’t understand what’s going in.  If they do, it’s not really something they should be thinking about.  You don’t see any surgery, but you seeing the dog in a human body might scare some people.  Even though Hetty examines the bodies, you don’t really see anything.  At most, you see their bare backs.  She also prods the women with her cane a little.

I got this as part of a set of ten science-fiction movies, all of which seem to be public domain.  I’ve even seen it as part of other collections, usually as The Atomic Brain.  (You’ll find it on the Internet Movie Database as Monstrosity.)  The video transfer isn’t that good.  I think that St. Claire Vision, the company that released the ten-movie set, didn’t want to put a lot of money into it.  It looks like it was taken from a set of reels that was actually used in a movie theater.  The sound is bad and the dialogue is often truncated, as if the film is missing a few seconds here and there.

I’m sure that there are better transfers, but I doubt that this would help the movie much.  Everything about this movie would tell me that it suffered from a really small budget.  While the concept is good, the dialogue and acting aren’t that good.  Of the three women that were candidates for the brain swap, none of the actresses went on to star in anything else.  (This is also the cat’s only acting credit.)  The only way I could recommend watching it is if it comes on television late at night or you get it as part of a collection of movies like I did.  It’s only 63 minutes, which means that you won’t be wasting too much of your time. 

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