Psychotronic Ketchup: The Atomic Brain [Monstrosity] (1960) and The Astro-Zombies (1968)

Dull-eyed but not painless. How else can one feel after spending an hour sitting through a film where three women, one of them not even particularly attractive, wander from room to room in a dusty mansion, while the viewer sits less and less patiently waiting for the mad scientist to do them in so the film will reach its climax and the viewer can run screaming from his home? If there were some sort of reason this film was made, apart from stealing money from the pockets of unsuspecting viewers, then I cannot locate it. The Atomic Brain's mere two moments of camp value come from some tacked-on narration by what must be an unsuspecting "actual actor" (as opposed to the remainder of the cast) Bradford Dillman, and from a scene of one of the women, who has had her mind swapped with that of a feline, hissing and scratching at another woman while ensconced atop a gazebo. This is exactly how I felt as I watched the film, and it would have been terrific if I could have taken one or two of the director's eyes out with a vicious swipe of my paw. Such an attack on his visual orbs might also render him a better director, for surely he didn't do very well having the use of them.

There are some films where two hours of running time zip by like nothing, due to things like a snappy storyline, robust editing, living, breathing characters and an interesting visual style being part of their makeup. And then there are films where even an hour is far too long, where the film just seems to have leaped into some form of cinematic quicksand, and while the viewer wishes to grab a stick to push it under for good, the film only seems to grab that stick and hang on for dear life. If the film had something more to offer, one might feel compelled to pull it out of the muck, but such is not the fate for The Atomic Brain. Ted V. Mikel's The Astro-Zombies, on the other hand, is one that you really want to push under, but it keeps coming up with weird bits that make you think it is going to redeem itself. And then John Carradine incoherently mumbles his way through another five minutes of dialogue that has very little to do with the surrounding film, and you want to push it under again.

Think a Russ Meyer big-tittie film without the art. Think mutated spacemen whose only physical trace of this
mutation is a cheap Halloween mask, who go about stabbing and strangling unsuspecting citizens while government functionaries slowly talk about stopping the menace but take an incredibly long time to do so. Think Tura Satana, all big jugs and little talent, doing the best femme fatale imitation she can muster, an act of seduction which is completely undermined by the fact that she is truly unattractive (Psychotronic describes her as a "pasty-faced stripper", and I can think of no better description). And yet, she serves the film well. Think John Carradine practically dog-paddling in booze through this role, who seems to have done about an afternoon's worth of work, and probably did about zero prep time for it, which truly shows. But he is Carradine, and you want to give him a break, if only he has a naked girl strapped to a table and is about to perform cruel experiments on her.

This is the type of film that truly defies criticism. It is truly bad, and yet, there is something about it that one can not write off completely. I know a brace of people who swear fealty to it (often the same group who back up Meyer even more vociferously), and even to me, it definitely has major camp appeal. The opening credits with the battling toy robots, which has little or nothing to do with the film at all, is proof of that, and it brought a tremendous smile to my face. I thought I was in for a major kitsch treat.

But, like The Atomic Brain, The Astro-Zombies is dull beyond belief. It is also much longer, so whatever I found enjoyable in its interior was done in by the extended running time, which just served to point out my boredom even more. Carradine just can't move a beaker and say a line or two; he does so for several minutes. The painted nude dancer can't just dance for thirty seconds and then the plot moves on; she has to do so for several minutes. Lifeless dialogue between the CIA guys just drones on and on, and a few minutes later, they do more droning on. I am droning on find things that this movie drones on about, so I will stop. It is an act of mercy that most of these films will not give you, so cherish it. I know I would.


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