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31 Nightmares

31 Nightmares

Friday, March 30, 2018

Monstrosity


Monstrosity (aka The Atomic Brain)
1963
Joseph V. Mascelli

Mrs. March (Marjorie Eaton) is an old woman in search of eternal life. To accomplish this, she has employed Dr. Frank (Frank Gerstle), a mad scientist with the knowledge and skill to swap brains out of bodies. Mrs. March has also hired three young women, Nina (Erika Peters), Bea (Judy Bamber), and Anita (Lisa Lang). These three women think they are employed as housecleaners, but what they really are doing is auditioning to be Mrs. March’s new host body. Also, there is a cat (Xerxes).

"I'm watching that hand, pal."
Monstrosity lets you know where its heart lies early in the opening scene. A seemingly nude woman is subject to a strange experiment inside of an apparatus while an ominous(ish) voice-over tells you more than you wanted to know. The movie is out to titillate just as much as it is out to horrify. I’m not sure it is particularly adept at either but it certainly puts forth the effort. Horror films had figured out that sexuality and horror had a strong connection (and more importantly sold more tickets), Monstrosity stops just short of being brazen enough to put full nudity on screen (this was filmed in 1958 but unreleased until 1963 due to money problems with the original production company), but it does manage to sneak in a little gore, which was far easier to get past censors (and sadly this is still the case).

One thing the movie never really seems to communicate is exactly how the brain swapping is performed. It involves radioactivity, and surgery of some kind, but how Dr. Frank is able to cram a human brain into the skull of a cat or keep a cat brain from bobbling around in the roomy skull of a person is never explained. It is probably an element that could have been hand-waved away with a few lines, but Monstrosity has no such interest in mere mortal things like making sense. It is far too busy letting the viewer ogle women and watch their encroaching doom at the hands of Dr. Frank and Mrs. March.

The aftereffects of watching Monstrosity.
You would hard-pressed to find worse fake accents outside of a comedy film. The three leads are supposed to be from various countries, Mexico, England, and Vienna. If the film didn’t inform us where the trio had come from, I wouldn't have been able to tell from their bizarre speech patterns. The three women are often put in positions to be stared at and groped by Mrs. March which adds some homoerotic subtext that you don’t normally expect in a film from this period. The narrator is no slouch either, he is happy to tell you exactly what he thinks about these women and their bodies.

For all it’s flaws, Monstrosity has a sense of fun about it, the movie takes a certain delight in its absurd premise. This becomes especially evident in the finale which sees everything Dr. Frank has created undone by one angry cat/old woman. The constant leering and objectification of the leads give the film a sleazy edge that sets it outside the average science gone amok film if anything this feels like a companion film to The Brain that Wouldn't Die (1963) since they both focus on similar themes in similar ways. The movie is short and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Monstrosity a (very) minor trash gem that’s guaranteed to remove your brain.

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