Embryo (1976)

EMBRYO (1976)
Article #1678 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-18-2005
Posting Date: 3-17-2006
Directed by Ralph Nelson
Featuring Rock Hudson, Barbara Carrera, Diane Ladd

After he successfully saves and raises a fetus from a dying dog through the use of a growth formula that causes it to develop at an abnormally fast pace, a scientist decides to try the same experiment with a human being.

There’s an interesting scene at the twenty minute mark of this movie. The scientist drives to a hospital with the dog he’s raised with the growth serum in the car. The dog is unusually bright, and when the doctor leaves the dog in the car and tells him to stay, he does – until the doctor is out of sight, at which point the dog unlocks the car door and goes outside. Almost immediately, a small furry dog runs up to him, barking incessantly. The doctor’s dog puts up with it for a little while, but then grabs the small dog, shakes it in his teeth and kills it, and then hides the dead dog among some plants, returns to the car and goes back inside. Up to this point, the dog has performed no violent act.

I bring up this scene because I don’t know how I feel about it. It’s the most interesting scene in the movie (and I take my hat off to the dog, who gives the best performance in the movie), but it also gives the game away; we know that the dog is evil, and we know he’s evil because he’s the result of a scientist “tampering in God’s domain”. Given the fact that the scientist is going to experiment with human subjects next, we pretty much know where the rest of the movie is going to go, and we spend the next fifty minutes of the movie waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It’s a bit of a shame; the movie bounces back and forth between being a drama and a cliche-ridden horror movie. It’s a bit like CHARLY crossed with FRANKENSTEIN (and given that director Ralph Nelson was also responsible for the earlier of those two movies, I hardly think the similarities are coincidental). Interesting scenes alternate with cliched scenes, and the movie seems to be trying to go two directions at once. It’s hard to take the movie seriously when the doctor’s creation consults a computer to find the antidote to her drug problem, only to discover that the cure involves using the pituitary glands of unborn children, a scene which so baldly sets up a horror ending that they might has well have gone all the way and said that it required the spinal fluid of freshly killed people. Actually, this shuttling back and forth does help hold up the interest level of the movie, but in the end, it really doesn’t work. In particular, I found the ending of the movie difficult to swallow, largely due to the fact that the character of the doctor isn’t really sufficiently developed to make his actions in the final moments of the movie believable. Still, there are the good moments. The best human performance comes from Roddy McDowall in a cameo as a chess champion who finds himself outclassed by the doctor’s human creation; his characterization adds some real spice to the movie.

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