Sunday, 10 July 2011

Creature with the Atom Brain

Atom-splitting Headache!

Creature with the Atom Brain US 1955
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Sony Region 1

This is another film in a four DVD set of films produced by Sam Katzman (along with The Giant Claw, Zombies of Mora Tau and The Werewolf) and, I hate to say it, but I was much more impressed by this hunk of hokum than I was expecting to be. I’ve seen a lot worse movies than this which were unintentionally funny, and they’re always good for a laugh but this one actually has a fair amount going for it, although it may be not as funny as some other movies by this producer. It certainly holds its ground on sheer entertainment value, though, with some of the more respected giants of B-movie monster movies such as Creature From The Black Lagoon and It Came From Outer Space.

The plotting is, as you would expect, absolutely ludicrous... but this goes without saying for the majority, if not all, of the monster movies made around this time... and once again, man’s harnessing of the atom is the spark that causes all of the trouble to the heroes main protagonist, Dr. Chet Walker, played here by Richard Denning, one of the top liners of the aforementioned Creature From The Black Lagoon. This one tells the story of returning mobster Frank Buchanan, who is out to get revenge on the people who testified against him years earlier, landing him some serious jail time. In order to take his revenge he has his “pal” Dr. Wilhelm Steigg, whose research he has funded with his dirty mob money, make super-strong radio controlled zombies from the dead bodies of freshly deceased people.

And of course, since the plot is to do with the utilisation of the mighty atom in the fifties, this involves both him and the doctor putting on oodles of heavy protective clothing and crawling through a small polythene tunnel to their “workspace” where they feed their creatures (dead reanimated humans) and perform highly sophisticated screw-top brain surgery on them so they can speak to them through their radio transmitter and bark their deadly instructions to said corpses while being able to receive television signals from their eyeballs... obviously, since they need to be able to see what they’re doing.

Two things about that then, before you ask. Yes, they perform said sophisticated brain surgery wearing all their heavy protective clothing, including thick hoods/masks and gloves (try wielding a scalpel in a pair of those, it isn’t easy) and yes, as commented by granite-jawed hero Chet Walker when he is explaining his suspicions to a group of characters especially written to eat exposition like candy, the optic nerves transmit back to the controllers only what the dead eyes of their freakish experiments can see.

Why then, I ask myself, is it that the footage being transmitted back to the evil mobster and not quite so evil but compliant enough scientist filled with reverse shots and profile shots and shots with not so nimble-footed cameramen being reflected back in rear view mirrors? I only ask because this is obviously the same bizarre phenomenon of physics that has been influencing an uncanny force on various Republic serials over the years... and I’d really like to know the science behind it if possible. The footage “transmitted” back from these dead people seems to be extremely well edited in light of the recent circumstances of the unfortunate “transmitter” creature.

Anyway, I was all excited for a while because it seemed that Richard Denning would be aided by none other than King of the Rocket Men himself, Trisram Coffin... looking suitably suave with an interesting hair style incorporating white streaks which can sometimes change appearance from scene to scene. Alas, my excitement was short lived as Mr. Coffin winds up being the second of the victims of the Creature with the Atom Brain or, if I wanted to push a point of terminology both in terms of singular vs plural (since these dead people are only good for a short while before you have to move onto the next one) then I’d have to be pedantic and say that Mr. Coffin’s unfortunate demise was brought about by “One of the Atom Powered Zombies with the Radio Controlled Brains”... there, that’s much more accurate and almost half a better title to boot in some respects... "zombies" tend to get more press than mere "creatures."

This film has a lively plot and keeps things running at a fair pace. The silliness of the storyline will soon be forgotten as you marvel at, or are repulsed by, the repressed character of Joyce Walker aka "Mrs" Doctor Chet Walker as she does everything she’s told and lovingly condescended to by her he-man Doctor of a husband and his needy police friends. She also fails to lovingly and properly watch out for “daughter of Mrs and Doctor Chet Walker” when a police friend of the family is killed without anyones knowledge, brain-stitched and controlled remotely to “blend in” at the Walker residence to find out what our heroes plan is. Since the zombies have no real personality and can only dully speak the words their masters transmit to their so-called atom brains, it really is neglectful how Mrs. Walker manages to half-heartedly interact with this zombie while simultaneously being too busy in the kitchen to notice the dead, monotone shell of a man that used to be her friend... her condescending “this is man’s talk” friend. And yes, the film is harsh in it’s expectations to convince us that this is normal everyday behaviour in 1950s sleepytown America... my one big worry with all that and the thing that keeps me from watching that with the pinch of salt I’d rather take, is that I’ve got a worrying suspicion that attitude might have been rife behind closed doors in 50s America... rather than just something to be found on the silver screen.

And that’s about it for this review I’m afraid. I don’t have much else to say about it other than it’s a fairly entertaining romp which I will almost certainly come back to before the current decade is over. If your tastes run to 50s B-movies which would not look out of place on the shelf with the likes of The Mole People or The Monolith Monsters, then you could do a lot worse (I know, I’ve seen them and they can be really boring) than checking out Creature With The Atom Brain.

NUTS4R2’s Astonishing Trivia Treats: Apparently this was one of the first films to use squibs to simulate gunshot wounds... although I have to say I honestly didn’t notice them when they went off!


  1. Angela Stevens is a REAL looker!

    1. I can't disagree.

      Thanks for reading.


  2. A favorite film for me because it's taken a kitchen-sink approach to monsters and criminals.

    It's one of the earliest "politically correct" films, too. In the early '50s, the Kefauver Commission was trying to expose The Mob and in this film, the Italian Mobster's name is changed (to protect the, uh, innocent) to "Buchanan". Returned from Sicily. Yes. The Buchanan side of the family.

    It's got an ex-Nazi mad-scientist who explains the large wires need to be That Size sticking out of brains for long-distance radio-wave receiving.

    And finally, there's the great US Army arrives to battle Zombie Horde in someone's front yard. George Romero never had it so good! Driving along, on your way home from work - "Oh look, the Army truck's arrived and we'll get to drive past the Zombie Battle! Kids - look there!"

    I love this film.

    Richard Denning, for all those good looks, goes from radiation-tech CSI into battling Black Lagoon creatures, Black Scorpion creatures, Alien Robot invasions (TARGET EARTH) and losing his girl to Cary Grant. And Lucy tosses his radio-version aside to get real-life Desi has her TV husband instead. Poor guy!

    1. HI again Chuck,

      I'd not twigged the... um... Italian connection. Thanks for pointing that one out.

      Again, thanks for reading and commenting here. It's good to have you aboard.

  3. The Kefauver Commission was the 'model' that demands GODFATHER's Michael Corleone testify. It's interesting that, sometime later (one year? two? three?) there was an attempt to use political correctness and deflect Italian Mafia identification by name alone.

    And CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN is the only film I could find that uses this propoganda, although they readily use a oiled-back black-haired actor for "Buchanan".

    Those early '50s Congressional hearings were a mixed bag. The Kefauver Commission's motivations were likely to have started as a counterattack against J. Edgar's secret police tactics that the Congressmen were ensnared in. "Hoover said there was no mafia? Let's prove him wrong, and let's do it on the front page."

    Then those delightful McCarthy hearings that showed no one in Congress wanted to uphold the American Constitution first and foremost, and that very few American citizens were willing to, either.

    And in May, 1951, the Republicans in the US Senate wanted to roast Democrat Prez Truman for firing the insubordinate Gen Dugout MacArthur. This backfired terribly, because from about the 3rd hour on, Pentagon officials and Army brass brought out 2 weeks of testimony of MacArthur's misdeeds, mistakes, insubordination, illegal and life-costing decisions.

    I should also connect Denning's TARGET EARTH with ALLIGATOR PEOPLE. There's only one Alligator People-Person. And in the alien invasion that Denning & Co "battle", there's a like number of Alien Robots. Er. Robot. Gotta love those invasions-movies based on One Is The Loneliest Number...

  4. HI again Chuck.

    Thanks for the info.