Thursday, 8 April 2021

Psycho-A-Go-Go/Fiend With The Electronic Brain/Blood Of Ghastly Horror

Echo Of Terror

1965 (1961) 84 minutes

Fiend With The Electronic Brain
1965 (1961) 97 minutes

Blood Of Ghastly Horror
(aka The Man With The Synthetic Brain)
1967 (1971) 86 minutes

USA Directed by Al Adamson
Severin Films Blu Ray Zone A

Okay... I’ve dispensed with my usual punny title for this review in memoriam of a film which never made it to the screen and no longer exists in its original form. Early in his career, Al Adamson directed a ‘jewel heist gone wrong’ picture called Echo Of Terror but it didn’t get a release. From then on things get complicated and it’s why I’m reviewing what seems, at first glance, to be three films on here rather than just the usual one. Please let it be noted that the dates above are the IMDB ones followed by the dates that Severin give the productions (which, as you can see, are completely different release years)... so, I’m not sure when these things got actual releases but you can see ‘roughly’ when they were released.

Adamson was advised to spice up Echo Of Terror a little and so he inserted some go-go dancers and developed the lead actress character further than in the original version of the film. This release, Psycho-A-Go-Go, is so called in reference to the character of Joe Corey (played with relish by Roy Morton), who is a man who displays ‘turn on a dime’ violent behaviour traits and who kills a few people in gruesome ways in order to try and locate the jewels he and his colleagues lost in a failed heist, before terrorising a man’s wife and child and... yeah, okay, I’ll get to all that in a minute.

Anyway, Psycho-A-Go-Go played at some drive-ins but didn’t get a lot of success so, in an attempt to sell it to another investor, Adamson was asked if he could somehow turn it into a science fiction movie. So... he enticed John Carradine and one other, plus two of the original actors back (four actors in total account for the sequences in question) and filmed some footage which turned it into something resembling science fiction (again, read on to the individual reviews below and I’ll get there). This version was called Fiend With The Electronic Brain. Still with me?

Then, much later, Adamson was persuaded that he might be able to get some mileage out of a horror film version of this so, he jettisoned half of the already augmented version (but still kept most of the Carradine scenes) and used the remaining footage as unbelievably long flash back sequences inside a new framework story in which he cast a number of actors, including his wife/muse and regular actress Regina Carrol, to construct a totally different narrative. Well, apart from the bits which are totally the same... which accounts for about half the movie. This time around it's very much in the schlocky horror movie vein of the times and the new title for this bizarre hybrid became Blood Of Ghastly Horror.

So, yeah, like I said, complicated but what I’ll do is I’ll review each version in turn and hopefully, by the end of it, it will make more sense to you. These versions of the movie are all presented on Disc 2 of the wonderful Severin boxed edition of Al Adamson - The Masterpiece Collection.

The film starts off with an extended and presumably added scene of Tacey Robbins playing Linda Clarke, singing at the nightclub she works in, backed by a guitar group and some wonderfully enthusiastic go-go dancers. Then we go into the failed bank heist, which includes director Al Adamson in an uncredited part. He doesn’t have more than ten minutes in the film though as the Joe Corey character shoots him in the face and leaves him dead at the scene while they try and make their escape. An innocent man on the street accidentally makes off with the half a million in jewels which were temporarily dumped in the back of his truck and he goes home to meet his wife, Linda. Yeah, that’s right, he’s the husband of the nightclub singer at the start and he takes Linda and her daughter out to the venue to watch the performance, giving the child a 'singing minstrel’ doll for her Birthday.

Unbeknown to him, his daughter has discovered the jewels which he wasn’t even aware of and she hides them in her doll. Anyway, later on, after his wife takes his daughter away on holiday, taking a greyhound to some mountainous territory, Corey and his gang catch up with him (the psycho killed the secretary of the firm where the robbery took place and got his truck plates and address from the office). They grill him, find out from a girl at the club (who Corey also kills) where his wife and daughter have gone and then Corey takes the boss’ plane to get ahead of the two ladies and meet them at the other end... where he proceeds to terrorise them for information too. Lots of twists and shenanigans and the film climaxes in an extended chase scene among the snowy mountains, where Linda’s husband and their cop buddy rescue her. Corey, the psycho, plunges to his death after taking two gun shots.

And the film is kinda terrible but, you know what? It’s really watchable and I can see why some distributors thought Adamson had it in him to be a good director. The cinematographer on this version is a young Vilmos Zsigmond before he got famous in his profession and it really shows. Between him and Adamson, the movie... despite the damage to the print (as always, Severin have done their best with multiple elements)... actually looks quite good and I actually found myself riveted to the screen. A lot of the actors can’t act, for sure, but some of them can, especially Roy Morton, who makes a wonderfully unstable personality in the lead villain role. There’s some really intense silent movie acting from him on close ups of his face as he strangles the lady from the nightclub which really gives the film a huge dose of insanity when it calls for it. Also, the cop friend, played by Joey Benson, turns in a nice, wise guy performance and also saves the day at the end of the flick, shooting Corey twice when called for.

There are some nice compositions, sometimes using vertical splits and other times finding ways to make the framing interesting. For example there’s a nice shot where Corey is grilling the nightclub girl for information in her apartment and there is a huge mirror on the right hand side of the screen. They turn away from it and face it in various combinations but, no matter where we are in that particular shot with them, we can always see both the front and backs of their heads... it’s a nice set up.

It’s one of those films which, despite when it was made, feels like it’s halfway between two decades in terms of cinematic style... a bit like how Dr. No feels like it’s almost into the full on James Bond film formula but also still feels half mired in the romantic fifties. This film gave me the exact same vibe, where all these actors and actresses have a kind of look to them like they’re stepping right out of the 1950s but, actually, the dialogue and attitudes of some of the characters are at odds with that. I actually liked this version and would be happy to watch it again. Alas, I kind of did... twice more but, for me, Psycho-A-Go-Go is the best version of this movie in this collection. So, on to...

Fiend With The Electronic Brain
Okay, so this is the exact same film but with three major differences which really balloon out the running time. These are three inserted scenes starring John Carradine. The first two scenes which are spliced in at various places in the narrative include Joey Benson back as the detective, who goes to see John Carradine as Dr. Howard Vanard, the head of neuroscience in the local hospital. I know he must be a neuroscientist because he is pouring chemicals from one beaker into another in his lab and he has one of those old Universal monsters, Kenneth Strickfadden electrical devices in his laboratory... so, a typical hospital set up then. Seriously, how are people supposed to take this credibly in the 1960s?

In these scenes, Carradine explains how Corey was a soldier turned into a vegetable by shrapnel damage to his brain in the Vietnam war and, to save his life, he tried out his new invention, an electronic component which he implanted into his brain to give him a proper life again... the downside of which is his violent psychopathic tendencies. Benson’s character is not sympathetic to him but at least, in this version of the movie, he knows what he’s dealing with (yeah, because this gels really well with the jewel heist plot, right?) and we even get a flashback in the second sequence showing Corey on the lab table with his brain being reactivated via an electrical current in a manner not too dissimilar to what you would get in many a mad scientist movie.

The third insert scene with Carradine also features Morton as Corey, who now pays a visit to the doctor right after he kills the night club girl... where he also ends up killing Carradine. All the rest of the scenes in the movie play out exactly as they did in the original and those are the only inserts which I could detect in this new, hybrid version. It doesn’t play nearly half as well with these insert scenes but, heck, they got their slightly science fiction toned movie, I guess.

But it doesn’t stop there...

Blood of Ghastly Horror
(aka The Man With The Synthetic Brain)

Blood Of Ghastly Horror starts off as a completely different film. After a typical ‘horror movie’ style opening credits sequence, we are right away treated to a new framing story where a yellowy green faced zombie is on the loose in the streets, killing various people by... well, not by the traditional zombie way but by strangling them. This makes me think that the IMDB date on this one is closer to the truth because the Severin date would place it after the influence of George A. Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead and there is no flesh eating going on here. I really don’t know and I wish there was a book on the director still in print so I could check on these things.

Anyhow... two women, a man and two cops are ‘strangled up good’ by the zombie and the comical expression on the face of the first woman killed is a sight to behold. They might as well have just said “cross your eyes in a whacky manner and stick your tongue out”... because that's exactly what they got. The deaths are seriously lacking any credibility here.

Then we cut to two police officers in their office in the homicide division. Alas, their office in ‘homicide’ just seems to be two desks plonked down in a nice quiet apartment in a tower block but, hey, what do I know about the working methods of the police? After receiving a note (written ‘cut and paste’ ransom note style, for no real apparent reason) reading “All will die for Corey”, accompanied by the severed head of their zombie slain colleague in a box, one of the cops tells the other about “the Corey case’ from a few years back. Enter one of many truncated scenes from the previous versions of the film (minus the Go Go Dancing but still including all the added John Carradine inserts) which serve as multiscene flashbacks to the new, ‘real’ story. These inserts pop up five or six times around the new narrative and I guess the ‘flashbacks’ take up at least half the running time of the movie.

Then Al Adamson’s wife, Regina Carrol playing the daughter of the dead Dr. Vanard (John Carradine), turns up to talk to the detectives to coincidentally tell them about a disembodied voodoo voice she has been hearing in her apartment in the few days she has been vacationing in America before returning to France. This puts them on the alert to watch out for her and enables them to, eventually, come to her rescue after she is kidnapped by the father of the original Corey character... you know, the psycho who dies in all three released versions of the film? Well, anyway, dad’s been using his pet zombie, which he made from his studies in voodoo medicine, to ‘revenge kill’ all the people responsible for his son’s death. At this point, I should probably point out that absolutely nobody killed by the zombie in the movie bears any resemblance to anybody in the original film... but why let that get in the way of a terrible plot device, I guess. So, in a fairly creative moment where Adamson keeps zooming away from his wife’s face and defocusing, cutting shot and applying a new layer of make-up before refocussing for the zoom in (stop and repeat three or four times), Corey’s mad voodoo scientist dad turns Ms. Carrol into a zombie but, luckily, she manages to retain her human senses long enough to grab the red potion to change her back before the second policeman (his partner is strangled by the other zombie), turns up to rescue her.

Lucky the vengeful father told her all about ‘the red liquid’, in between telling her more of the back story of the character of his son, of course (cue another long ‘flashback’ sequence from the end of the previous two versions of the movie).

And that’s that and, frankly, it’s a mixed bag. None of the insert footage matches up with the style of the former movie and, presumably, Zsigmond wasn’t around to work his magic with the camera in the subsequent versions. Similarly, the horror story scenes in this third version employ a different composer with a completely different feel to the light, jazzy heist and go-go music of the scenes from the original picture. Overall I’d say that the two later versions are just silly, bad movies more reminiscent of the Adamson I know from such movies as The Female Bunch (reviewed here) and Dracula VS Frankenstein (reviewed here). The original release version, however, Psycho-A-Go-Go, held my interest more and I kinda, against my expectations, had a really good time with it. So, take your pick I’d say but, thankfully, Severin have done what they can to preserve the history of this film(s) and, yeah, their boxed edition is really living up to my tentative expectations of it so far. Time will tell, I guess, if it continues.

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