12/26/06

518 The Atomic Brain

(1964, Horror-Mad Science, b&w), with:

What About Juvenile Delinquency?
(1955, Educational, b&w)

She’s sort of alive!

Rating: *

In a nutshell:

Short: Jamie quits his gang when they beat up his dad by mistake.
Film: An elderly woman wants to transplant her brain into a younger body.

Short Summary:

This gang is the bane of fathers everwhere.In What About Juvenile Delinquency, a gang of no-good hoodlums cruises through town, repeatedly rear-ending a Buick that has the audacity to stop at a stop sign. The driver somehow thinks it wise to get out and confront them. The sneering nogoodniks beat him up and steal his pencil. Meanwhile the driver’s son Jamie is waiting for his friends to arrive. From the homemade lightning badge on his jacket we see that he too is a no-good hoodlum. He and his friends go to a diner where they show off the ill-gotten pencil. Jamie recognizes it, tears off his patch, and quits the gang in a huff.

The next day in school, the gang delivers a menacing apology and demands that he return to their ranks. Jamie is in the process of refusing when all the most important kids in school show up (the class president, the captain of the football team, etc.) and ask that he go with them to the city council, which even now is meeting to restrict such important teenage freedoms as sock hops and sporting events. Jamie goes with them and, with his no-good former friends eavesdropping at the door, steps forward to deliver what will no doubt be a solemn and pithy opinion on the subject of delinquency. Fortunately, the short ends before we’re forced to listen to it.

Film Summary:

In The Atomic Brain, Dr. Otto Frank robs graves in the middle of the night with his monstrous servant, a man who thinks he’s a dog. They kill a night watchman and lumber away with a freshly buried corpse. He reanimates dead naked ladies with his radioactive hot tub/dry ice machine, but can’t make them intelligent. His experiments end up wandering his laboratory with gauzy gowns and glassy stares.

He works in the basement of a mansion, owned by the elderly and lecherous Mrs. March. She also keeps a drunken gigolo named Victor. Mrs. March wants Dr. Frank to transplant her brain into a young and fresh body, and to this end has hired three foreign servants—Bea (a blond sexpot with Hollywood aspirations and an intermittent cockney accent), Nina (a short but spunky pseudo-Austrian girl), and Anita (a hollow-eyed Hispanic who speaks Spanish with a terrible gringa accent). Victor picks them up and drives them out to Mrs. March’s house in the middle of nowhere. They suspect something is wrong when they’re immediately stripped naked and their bodies inspected.

Anita has a large birthmark on her back, making her unsuitable for Mrs. March’s purposes. She’s sent to the basement as the subject of Dr. Frank’s next experiment. He pulls out her brain and stuffs in the brain of the cat. She makes throaty meowing noises and eats a live mouse.

Nina and Bea become even more suspicious when they’re told that Anita has been sent home when all of her luggage is obviously still in her room. Calls for help go unanswered, as the phones have all been disabled. They pack their things and try to sneak out the back door, but Mrs. March turns them back and locks them in their rooms. As a result of their prowlings, the back door remains unlocked, and the latest zombified beauty wanders out to be eaten by the chained-up dog man.

That night, Bea tries to seduce the car keys from Victor, but the cat-brained Anita shows up to claw her eye out before she can succeed. Nina tries to help Anita down from the roof, but the ersatz cat-woman tries to make a feline jump and falls several stories to her death.

Nina talks the drunken Victor into spilling the whole sordid plot and realizes that, as the only undamaged girl left in the house, she will be the subject of the old woman’s experiment. She agrees to reward Victor if he helps her escape and goes to rescue the suicidally disfigured Bea. When she returns she finds Victor dead—stabbed to the heart with a sharpened knitting needle (I did not make that up). Dr. Frank catches her and puts her to sleep for the operation.

She wakes up as herself to find that Dr. Frank has long suspected Mrs. March of planning to double-cross him, and her murder of Victor has confirmed his suspicions. So he has transferred Mrs. March’s brain, not into Nina, but into the discarded cat body. He tells Nina that he will put a more tractable brain in her body so that she can help him and finance his experiments. He wanders into his radioactive hot tub/dry ice machine to make some adjustments, but the Mrs. March cat locks him in and presses the self-destruct button. Bea wakes up and stumbles down to release Nina from the operating table, and then dies herself while trying to retrieve her eye from the electrified spare body part rack. Nina stumbles from the house just before it turns into a radioactive crater, followed by the vengeful Mrs. March-powered cat.

Introduction:

A striking resemblance.Mike introduces the final dress rehearsal for their own play, Love Letters, which is kind of like Bernard Slade's Same Time Next Year without all the hassle of memorizing lines. Tom and Crow read love letters to one another about how they met once, fell in love, and then grew old while never seeing each other again. They finish their rehearsal and close out the segment with a round of aggressive compliments.

Host Segment One:

In lieu of an invention, Mike has Tom and Crow dress up as the Mads, with Crow as Dr. Forrester and Tom as TV’s Frank. Quoth Crow, “I’m Dr. Clayton Forrester and I have a weak chin.” They prance around and beat each other up like a Punch and Judy show. Deeply offended, Dr. Forrester and Frank dress up as Crow and Tom respectively. Quoth Dr. Forrester, “I’m Crow T. Robot and I’m gold. What a stupid color gold is!” Frank asphyxiates inside his Tom costume’s head bubble.

Host Segment Two:

Tom dresses up in meteorological paraphernalia and declares himself Weather Servo 9. He goes outside the ship, despite Mike’s objection that there’s very little weather in space. The first thing he notices about high orbit is the extreme cold. Next he sees a meteor shower that subsequently pounds him to bits.

Host Segment Three:

Mike dresses his face up in miniature clothing, paints eyes and a nose on his chin and turns upside to show the ‘Bots a chin puppet. They’re not impressed, calling it “odd and disturbing” until Mike stands up. They laugh themselves silly when they see the chin puppet upside down.

Host Segment Four:

Magic Voice bemoans her fate as the only disembodied voice on the ship, until the narrator from the film shows up. He spouts his lines from the film like, “Making love to an eighty-year-old woman in a twenty-year-old body,” “she was quite harmless, and at times even amusing,” and “So firm, so nicely rounded in places men like,” until Magic Voice is thoroughly grossed out and asks him to leave.

Host Segment Five:

Crow is Hank Kimball from Green Acres, as The Fugitive! He delivers a long and complicated explanation about why this is so, and then they read a letter from a curious tyke who would like to know what the K in MST3K stands for. Tom replies that K stands for Karl, the man who invented lightning. Down in Deep 13, Frank calls himself “Dr. Frank,” after the mad doctor from the movie. Dr. Forrester talks him into consulting with Dr. Fist, and then steps over his unconscious body to press the button.

Stinger:

Anita screams.*

Thoughts:

She's sort of aliiiiivvvvveeee!Apparently the gang problem consists of overindulged suburban kids with home-sewn badges, roaming the neighborhood swilling soda pop and occasionally roughing up middle-aged gentlemen for their pencils. If that’s the case then the solution is simple. A bunch of Playstations and maybe a paintball outing every other weekend would vent that aggression and clear up the problem in no time. That way we could concentrate on the drug trafficking, prostitution, and gruesome violence that portions of the media glamorize to less affluent segments of the population as their only escape from crushing poverty.

The Atomic Brain can’t properly be called slow. It moves at what could be more properly called a lurch, like Dr. Frank’s dog man assistant, Victor after a few tumblers of scotch, or Mrs. March out of her wheelchair. Misogyny and staircases are the overarching themes. It’s like watching The Unearthly and The Brain That Wouldn’t Die rolled together with a lascivious old woman in addition to a lascivious mad scientist. Combined with a lewd and creepy voice over and the on-screen consumption of a live mouse, the film’s overall effect is to induce nausea in the viewer.

The first host segment is really funny if you’ve seen or read Same Time Next Year, but unless you’re a theater major or a stage enthusiast, you probably haven’t. Tom as Weather Servo 9 works well, and when the ‘Bots dress as the Mads and vice versa I laughed so hard I could hardly breath. Mary Jo Pehl does a good job as Magic Voice, rejecting the advances of the creepy narrator. Reading of the fan letters isn’t usually funny, but they do a really good job with them in this episode. I agree with Crow that chin puppets are “odd and disturbing.”

The film segments are a little weak, as the awful blandness of the subjects provide little opportunity for mockery. The short isn’t so bad, with observations about how Jamie’s mom’s dress matches the wallpaper (Tom), and the state of Jamie’s trousers prompts the comment, “Expecting a flood, son?” (also Tom). The film isn’t nearly as watchable. There are a few good comments, such as when Dr. Frank creates a zombified beauty and Crow shouts, “She’s sort of alive!” Tom makes fun of the tuneless clarinet theme and the endless scenes of Mrs. March climbing up and down the staircases by singing, “She’s old / she creaks / she pops / she’s old / I can’t / believe / how old / she is.” When Mrs. March bears down on Victor with her knitting implement of doom, Mike says, “Knit one, pearl die!” It’s not as bad as Manos, Monster A-Go-Go, Fu Manchu, or any of the Coleman Francis films, but it’s not much better either.

*I rely on online sources for the content of the stinger, as my official copy of this episode (a VHS tape purchased from Rhino Home Video) ends immediately after the closing credits.