Friday, October 11, 2013

Creature with the Atom Brain (1955) Review

Creature with the Atom Brain poster
Creature with the Atom Brain title screen
Creature with the Atom Brain opening
Creature with the Atom Brain newspaper
Creature with the Atom Brain brainwashed zombies
Creature with the Atom Brain microchip brain x-ray
Creature with the Atom Brain radioactive zombie
Purchase from Amazon: DVD

Other films by Edward L. Cahn: Zombies of Mora Tau, Invasion of the Saucer Men, It! The Terror from Beyond Space, Invisible Invaders
Similar films: Night of the Living Dead

Director: Edward L. Cahn
Stars: Richard Denning, Angela Stevens, Tristram Coffin
Genre: Science Fiction, Zombie

An American gangster teams up with a German scientist to get revenge on his enemies by controlling corpses reanimated with atomic energy.

The monster movies of the 30s used electricity, the ones of the 50s used atomic energy. Both themes were certainly products of their times. The story of Creature with the Atom Brain was written by legendary sci-fi/horror screenwriter Curt Siodmak. You've almost certainly watched one of his stories; he's written some real classics: The Invisible Man Returns, Invisible Agent, Black Friday, The Ape, The Wolf Man, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, I Walked With a Zombie, Son of Dracula, House of Frankenstein, The Beast With Five Fingers, Bride of the Gorilla, The Magnetic Monster, Riders to the Stars, and the list goes on. He's certainly left a large impact on the world of sci-fi and horror films, and largely carried the genres through the 1940s. 

Creature with the Atom Brain is one of Siodmak's lesser-known scripts, and it's definitely not his best work, but it remains enjoyable nonetheless. 

The story involves remote controlled reanimated corpses doing the evil bidding of a gangster. This film is a fine example of a pre-Romero non-voodoo zombie movie. Most pre-Romero zombie movies (including Siodmak's own I Walked With a Zombie) had mindless, enslaved zombies that were controlled by voodoo magic and followed the desire of their master, not the desire to eat brains. Creature with the Atom Brain represents a bit of a half-way point between voodoo zombies and flesh-eating zombies. In other words, it's a modernized evolution of the voodoo zombie. The role of the zombies here are very similar to voodoo zombies: they are created by a scientist rather than a necromancer and controlled with science rather than brainwashed with magic, but nonetheless function like a voodoo zombie. They still lack the animality of Romero zombies. That being said, they do strongly resemble Romero zombies and this film helped to move the zombie away from voodoo and more towards science--more towards the type of zombie we're familiar with today. 

The film was directed by Edward L. Cahn, who is a bit of a legend in his own right as well. This marks his first science-fiction film, having previously done mostly crime films, most of which have since been forgotten. This shift to science-fiction surely worked out well for him; after this film he went on to direct minor classic like Zombies of Mora Tau (another good pre-Romero zombie film), Invasion of the Saucer Men, It! The Terror from Beyond Space, Invisible Invaders, and plenty of other 50s b-movies. Cahn was a surprisingly competent director. In this film we see some very interesting scenes and camerawork, from the beautifully shot opening to the mostly well shot driving scenes. 

Rounding out the trio is Sam Katzman, who produced the film. Katzman produced a lot of films throughout his career, many of them fitting into the b-movie horror category, like The Corpse Vanishes and The Giant Claw

There wasn't much make-up involved in Creature with the Atom Brain. The "creatures" at the very most may have had some make-up that made them look a bit paler, but most likely not. All they had was a strip across their foreheads representing that their brains were operated on. One effect, though, was actually quite ahead of its time. This film is notable for being one of the very first films to utilize what are known as squibs, a miniature explosive device used to simulate gunshot wounds. We're used to seeing this effect nowadays, being that countless films since have utilized it, but I'm sure it seemed very realistic and impressive (and indeed unnerving) to movie-goers of the time. 

Richard Denning, who you may recognize from Creature from the Black Lagoon or Target Earth or Day the World Ended or The Black Scorpion, plays the main character in here. He does a good job. In fact, all the actors in here do a very solid job; somewhat of a rarity for these sort of movies. 

Like so many 50s b-movies of the sci-fi or horror persuasion, Creature with the Atom Brain lacks the budget for exciting effects or impressive action or amazing performances or interesting concepts. Because of this there's nothing really noteworthy about it. It's not exactly boring--it's enjoyable enough--but it's not exactly memorable or interesting either. 

It'd be wrong to call Creature with the Atom Brain a good movie. It's not. Is it bad? Not quite. There's certainly better films out there, though, even among the 50s b-movie crowd. If you like these types of movies like I do, then you'll have some fun with it though I can guarantee you've seen better. If you're interested in exploring the history of zombie films, then this is a worthwhile footnote to explore. Otherwise, it's not a necessary watch.

2.5/5 stars

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