The Atomic Brain (1964)

aka Monstrosity
Article 2262 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-28-2007
Posting Date: 10-22-2007
Directed by Joseph V. Mascelli
Featuring Marjorie Eaton, Frank Gerstle, Frank Fowler

A rich elderly woman finances a scientist using atomic energy in the hopes that he will develop a way to transplant her brain into the head of a young woman.

A wretched script, dead-in-the-water direction, a goofy musical score, atrocious acting and static presentation all conspire to make this low-budget foray into science fiction horror one of the worst ever made. If it works at all, it’s because some of the exploitation elements have a little bite to them. The near-nudity of the bodies in the atomic reactor is certainly attention catching, and there is something really creepy about the eighty-year old woman ogling the bodies of young women; granted, we know she’s shopping for one for herself, but you wonder what’s going through the minds of the women she’s ogling. The accents are horrible; the English girl’s accent comes and goes with the wind, the Austrian girl has no accent at all, and the Mexican girl’s accent is spectacularly bad. And you do have to wonder about the scientist’s emergency plan in case they get caught by the police, as it involves destroying everyone involved in an atomic inferno. This is Joseph V. Mascelli’s sole directorial outing, though he would act as cinematographer for a handful of movies, including two from Ray Dennis Steckler.



The Alien Encounters (1979)

Article 2248 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-12-2007
Posting Date: 10-8-2007
Directed by James T. Flocker
Featuring Augie Tribach, Matthew Boston, Phil Catalli

An unemployed astronomer loses his job when a radio telescope is destroyed while he is hearing messages from outer space. He then tracks down a scientist who is building a machine to extend life, only to discover the scientist is dead. He visits with the scientist’s wife and son, and discovers about the scientist’s own encounter with UFOs.

This amounts to an extremely low budget variation on CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. With its indifferent acting, constant narration, static presentation, and IMDB rating of 1.9, you won’t be expecting much. Nevertheless, I found it not without interest value. The narration isn’t quite as annoying as it could have been, and after a while you’re a little grateful for it; whenever he switches to dialogue, writer James T. Flocker displays a tin ear. Also, given the budget, the special effects aren’t half bad, the story has some nice touches, and I like the locations. The biggest problem is that the director just doesn’t know when enough is enough; though it is rather interesting to have the scientist’s son being shadowed by a friendly floating sphere, the movie indulges in endless footage of him walking through the desert with the sphere, for example. The overly laid-back pace is also an impediment; if you don’t get into the groove with this pace, the movie will be a total bore. My best advice for those wishing to tackle this one is to keep the expectations low, and to sympathize with the low budget; it makes you appreciate some of its better points.


And Now the Screaming Starts (1973)

Article 2234 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-28-2007
Posting Date: 9-24-2007
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Featuring Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee

A man brings his bride to his ancestral home without telling him about the curse on the family. She finds herself terrorized by the ghost of a woodsman with missing eyes and a missing hand, which crawls around and attacks people as a separate entity.

Don’t let that lineup of well-known horror actors listed above deceive you; Cushing doesn’t appear until half the movie is over, Herbert Lom appears as a cameo in a flashback sequence, and Magee has a secondary role. The main roles belong to Ian Ogilvy and Stephanie Beacham as the cursed couple, and Geoffrey Whitehead as the woodsman. Amicus Productions took a break from their horror anthologies to make this one-story movie. The acting is certainly acceptable throughout, with Cushing giving the movie a real boost when he finally shows up, but at heart, his character doesn’t really have much to do other than to weed out the background legend that drives the story, largely for the benefit of himself, the bride, and us, the audience; everyone else in the story seems to know the legend already, and to my mind, the movie tries to mine a little too much suspense from people not telling what they know. In fact, that’s the central problem with the movie; it overplays its hand in trying to up the horror quotient, and the action becomes a little too repetitive, a little too grotesque (especially when Ogilvy’s character goes wild near the end of the movie) and even inadvertently comic (in the scene where Beacham tries to destroy her unborn child). It’s the weaknesses of the script that drag this one down, though that does not apply to the original novella (if that is the correct word) by David Case, which I have read and found quite effective and much more restrained.


Aventura al centro de la Tierra (1965)

aka Adventure at the Center of the Earth
Article 2232 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-26-2007
Posting Date: 9-22-2007
Directed by Alfredo B. Cravenna
Featuring Kitty de Hoyos, Javier Solis, Columba Dominguez

Adventurers go down into the earth to face monsters.

Once again, I find myself watching a Mexican movie without the benefit of dubbing or subtitles, so the plot subtleties are lost on me. However, since this movie gives us plenty of monsters on the loose, there’s still some fun to be had here. In fact, it looks like our adventurers prepared for the journey by prehistoric monster footage; they watch a film featuring as much dinosaur stock footage as they could get their hands on, including Ignatz and Rumsford engaged in their battle from ONE MILLION B.C ., as well as the slow-moving dinos from UNKNOWN ISLAND . There’s also some primitive stop-motion dinos and puppet ones; after all, dinosaurs come in all shapes and sizes. Underground they face off against a big cyclops lizard and a fanged bat creature, who is not entirely unsympathetic. It’s a lot of fun, though it’s another movie that looks like real animals were hurt in the making of it; at one point, they set fire to a pit of snakes, and it doesn’t look like special effects. However, the cardboard bats that terrorize a man crossing a rope over a lava pit definitely do look like special effects, if not particularly special ones. All in all, it was fairly entertaining.


Alligator (1980)

Article 2222 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-16-2007
Posting Date: 9-12-2007
Directed by Lewis Teague
Featuring Robert Forster, Robin Riker, Michael V. Gazzo

A giant alligator is loose in the sewer system of Chicago after having been kept as a pet and then flushed down the toilet and forced to dine on the carcasses of animals used in scientific experiments.

On the surface this movie is just a rather ordinary JAWS variation. Those who look a little closer, though, might find a number of amusing little touches that give it an added boost. A welcome and subtle sense of humor is one of the big pluses, and for those who keep a sharp lookout, you’ll see references to “The Honeymooners”, THE THIRD MAN, and a popular comic strip. There’s even a visual reference to the James Bond movies; at least I thought so during one of the shots of a sewer tunnel. It also has one scene-stealing performance; Henry Silva shows up as a big game hunter who is intent on bagging the giant gator himself, and he is wonderful. If you’ve seen as many jungle movies as I have, you should appreciate the satire in the scene where he tries to hire some of the “native help”. These fun touches help compensate for the occasionally flat direction and some rather cliched characters. The story was co-written by independent filmmaker John Sayles, who has occasionally ventured into fantastic territory; he worked on PIRANHA, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, THE HOWLING and THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET, to name a few. The movie also features Dean Jagger and, in a memorable cameo, the great character actor Mike Mazurki.


Alien Terror (1971)

Article 2190 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-15-2007
Posting Date: 8-11-2007
Directed by Jose Luis Gonzalez de Leon, Juan Ibanez and Jack Hill
Featuring Boris Karloff, Enrique Guzman, Christa Linder

In order to prevent mankind from benefiting from a scientist’s new invention, aliens possess the bodies of human beings to discredit him.

All four of the Mexican movies that marked the end of Boris Karloff’s career are quite awful, but there is some variety in the range of awfulness. For my money, I consider this the best of a bad lot; it’s not as repugnant as THE FEAR CHAMBER, it’s not as deadly dull as DANCE OF DEATH, and it is more coherent than SNAKE PEOPLE. Karloff actually has a major role in the proceedings as well, which means he gets a little more in the way of screen time, and given that he’s easily the best actor on the lot, that’s a good thing. Still, the story doesn’t really make much sense; in particular, I can’t quite figure out why the aliens would wish to possess a known serial killer when he’s really more trouble than he’s worth. The movie is technically ghastly; keep your eyes open for some of the most blatant actor substitutions in the fight scenes, and marvel at the fact that the actor who dubbed in a line for Karloff at one point not only doesn’t sound remotely like him, but doesn’t even appear to be trying to do so. The movie does muster up a bit of life near the end, but most of the various elements (the aliens, the deformed assistant, and the serial killer) never mesh into a satisfying whole, and the incompetent editing and sometimes queasy special effects (especially during the murder sequences) don’t help matters any. Mexican movie fans might want to keep their eyes open for Yerye Beirute, who has appeared in a few other Mexican horror movies such as THE VAMPIRE’S COFFIN; he has one of those faces you can’t forget.


The Angel Who Pawned Her Harp (1954)

Article 2173 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-26-2007
Posting Date: 7-25-2007
Directed by Alan Bromly
Featuring Felix Aylmer, Diane Cilento, Robert Eddison

An angel comes down from heaven to help people with their personal problems.

This is a very nice movie, but I’m afraid I don’t really mean that as a compliment. What I mean is that it is so gentle and fluffy and sentimental and pretty that there’s hardly room for tension, drama or conflict, and these are the things that drive a story. As it is, it’s really hard to be drawn into the story when the characters themselves seem so unaffected by their own problems. Still, Diane Cilento (who plays the angel) is lovely, the acting from everyone is good, and there’s a definite charm to some of the scenes. It just needs some variety of mood and something to make it more compelling for it to really work. As it is, it’s a piece of fluff.