Creature With the Atom Brain (1955)
The title of this Curt Siodmak written thriller is surely missing an “S” on the word Creature because I believe I counted about seven or eight Frankenstein like creations wandering around in this 69 minute drive-in special with atomic infused brains.
What happens when you take a deported mobster seeking revenge and introduce him to a scientist who dabbles in reanimated corpses thanks to his knowledge of atomic energy? A high body count and a city in panic when Richard Denning as the forensic specialist on the police force announces to the press that the missing bodies from the morgue are going about committing murders.
First a rival mobster has his spine violently snapped, secondly the local D.A. is murdered and our keen eyed Denning quickly notices that the fingerprints left behind are glowing and causing the needles on Geiger counters to stand at attention. There’s radioactivity in the air and when the prints turn up belonging to dead men, Denning is quick to suggest that the recent dead are walking among us. He’ll be marking himself for death when he goes public with his findings by our returning wannabe Capone played by Frank Buchanan.
Buchanan has returned illegally from his exile and like the good Doctor Niemann in The House of Frankenstein, has the means by which to murder all those who set him up on both sides of the law. The gangsters that double crossed him and those on the police force who saw to it that his deportation was carried out. He’s hooked up with a German scientist played by Gregory Gaye who he is using to enact his vengeance.
When Denning and company believe they know who is behind the select killings they’ll need to discover where the hidden laboratory is but not before agents of death are sent out to wreak havoc by destroying plains and trains and ….. busses. In little time at all the military will be called in to fight off these atomic supermen with the Boris Karloff like scars slashed across their foreheads. Things are going to hit a little too close to the Denning household when his pal on the force John Launer ends up sporting the custom Frankenstein Monster look.
Denning has a lovely wife at home enacted by Angela Stevens who it should be noted Denning can’t keep his hands off of. Maybe he’s just looking to have a second child to go along with their little girl who considers Launer to be an Uncle. She won’t like him very much when he comes calling and gets ahold of her favorite doll.
If one didn’t know any better you’d think you were watching an early inspiration for George Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead. Brain is directed by the prolific Edward L. Cahn who would also helm Zombies of Mora Tau and another walking dead thriller, 1959’s Invisible Invaders. If you haven’t seen that film then please do so and then you’ll truly begin to wander if Cahn’s work had a definite impact on Romero. Let me add that it’s also rather suspicious that Cahn’s It! The Terror From Beyond Space plays like an early rendition of Ridley Scott’s Alien. Not familiar with Cahn? Check him out at the IMDB and go on a “B” movie hunt.
Richard Denning should be easily identifiable to fans of the horror/sci-fi flicks of the 1950’s. You’ll see him in the classic Creature From the Black Lagoon and The Black Scorpion. In between horror assignments you can even find him playing support to Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in the classic weeper, An Affair to Remember. Denning who was at time married to Evelyn Ankers (herself no stranger to Universal Monster fans) would retire from acting on screen in 1980 and finally pass away in 1998.
Speaking of Universal Monsters, our screenwriter Curt Siodmak was credited with numerous titles from those early years of horrors gifting us with The Wolfman, The Invisible Agent, Son of Dracula and yes, even The House of Frankenstein. Surely that explains the Buchanan/Niemann similarities. I’m almost surprised that Curt didn’t have Buchanan show up in L.A. with a travelling carnival of horrors.
Silly yet first rate fun for those that like to dabble in this sort of nonsense best viewed with an audience of like minded movie goers. It was thankfully released a number of years ago on DVD in a box set of titles from the producer and noted low budget specialist, Sam Katzman. Sam dumped everything on the public from singing cowboys to the Dead End Kids and Lugosi’s Monogram features right up to the Elvis “classic” Harum Scarum.
Now as far as the original one sheet goes? Not available but a nice find that has just recently found it’s way to the vault here at Mike’s Take along with a couple other 1950’s horrors which we’ll hold back for another day. A lesson learned here as well. Don’t watch the movie and hold on to the poster at the same time, you wind up staring off into space like the atomic creatures on the screen. Thankfully little Brando was on hand to bring me back to reality.