Monstrosity, also known as The Atomic Brain, is a sci-fi/horror film released in 1963. The film was actually shot in 1958, but was shelved for a few years when the production company went bankrupt. Monstrosity was written by Dean Dillman, his only film credit, and was directed by Joseph V. Mascelli. This film would also be Mascelli’s only directorial job, although he would later serve as the cinematographer on 1964’s The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies… so, that’s something. There is some rumor that prolific horror and science fiction screenwriter Jack Pollexfen (Indestructible Man, The Man from Planet X) worked on the film in some capacity.
Mrs. March is an elderly millionaire, facing her final days, and fearful of the end. In an effort to avoid what would seem to be an inevitable fate, she uses her vast fortune to fund a scientist’s experimentation on brain transplantation. Mrs. March hopes the scientist can successfully transplant her brain into a younger body, thus giving her a second chance at life. In order to find this new body, Mrs. March hires three young immigrant women to be servants at her (also aging) mansion. One woman will unwittingly and unwillingly become the millionaire’s new body, while the other two are made to suffer a possibly worse fate!
As Monstrosity opens, we find the scientist, Dr. Otto Frank, in the lab that he has set up in the basement of the March home. A narrator (Piranha‘s Bradford Dillman, who was the writer’s younger brother) informs the viewer that Dr. Frank has just transplanted the brain of some unspecified animal into the body of a recently deceased young woman. While there is no explanation given for how the woman died, the filmmakers attempt to distract you from thinking about the matter too deeply by having this young woman quite naked! Granted, no actual nudity is shown, but the image is quite risque given the “standards” of the era.
This experiment is far from successful, leaving behind nothing more than a useless skeleton. Dr. Frank continues his experiments by next stealing a corpse, receiving assistance in his efforts from one of his previous “failed” experiments, a hulking man-beast! It’s worth noting that this “creature” is presented first as an actor with facial prosthesis, and then as someone in a highly unconvincing mask. More notably, however, is that this “failed” creation is also the result of an animal’s brain being transplanted into a human body, which makes one wonder how Dr. Frank got it fairly right the first time, but friggin’ evaporated a person while attempting to duplicate the experiment.
Mrs. March, vanity intact in her final days, wants only highly attractive women as “candidates” for her replacement. After years of having men only desire her for her money, she wants them lusting after her body in her “new life”. One of these men is her (also) aging lover and “henchman”, Victor, who (for purely lascivious reasons) wants to have some say in which body the old woman chooses. Little does he realize that March will have no further use for his old, wrinkly ass once she is in her new body and can have her pick of men. Younger men, that is.
Three women soon arrive, under the pretense of being Mrs. March’s new servants. While each is supposed to be from a different country, at least two of them seem to be having some difficulty with the task of speaking in their required accents, let alone hiding the accents that they naturally have. The women are Bea (British, with a very distinct Southern drawl), Nina (Austrian, but generally lacking any accent), and Anita (Mexican, but probably not).
In short order, Mrs. March deems Anita to be an unfit “candidate”, due solely to the presence of a large birthmark on the woman’s back. She insults the girl’s appearance, even calling her “worthless” as Anita can only stand there confused and ashamed. When Anita soon “leaves without notice”, it naturally raises the other two women’s already mounting suspicions about their new employer. However, there is little mystery as to what has become of Anita, as we watch the unfortunate girl being used as the subject of the mad doctor’s new transplant! She is given the brain of Dr. Frank’s pet cat!
No longer concerned about what the young women may be thinking, the large man-beast is placed outside the house as a deterrent to keep them from escaping. In time, Anita is also found, as is her newfound odd behavior. The cat-woman Anita attacks Bea, seriously injuring her. However, Anita’s cat-like reflexes only work so well in a human body and she soon falls to her death.
Dr. Frank eventually begins to deduce that the old woman will surely double-cross (and presumably kill) her cohorts once she is in her new body and recovered from the procedure. These plans of deception and deceit come back to haunt Mrs. March, damning both Victor and the scientist as well. Things ultimately end badly for most of the film’s characters, with even those that survive not fully clear from danger’s reach.
Monstrosity stars Marjorie Eaton as “Mrs. March”. Eaton also appeared in Sam Katzman’s 1957 film Zombies of Mora Tau, Mary Poppins, and also played the Emperor in The Empire Strike Back. While she may not be at the top of her game here (and who could blame her?), she still brings enough spite and venom to the role to make Mrs. March a truly unlikable nasty bitch! Monstrosity also stars Frank Gerstle (“Raseem” on The Banana Splits) as “Dr. Frank”, but he honestly adds little to the proceedings.
Truth be told, Monstrosity features generally amateurish performances, uneven pacing, and some laughable effects. That said, the film features a plot that’s fairly brash for its era, just as much for its use of brain transplanting as a plot devise as for its socioeconomic implications that the rich would preserve their own lives, wealth, and power through similar means, were they available. There’s even a line of dialogue from the narrator stating that such research has been delayed due to fears that these things would indeed happen.
There’s some argument that Monstrosity presents women, particularly young attractive women, in a demeaning, purely sexualized manner. To this I would say, “Yup!” This is made evident by the fact that every woman in the film (with the exception, thankfully, of Eaton) is shown in some state of undress. This notion is further driven home by the “chosen girl” receiving markedly better physical and emotional treatment than her colleagues. Simply put, Monstrosity is a film targeting a male audience, and it does an exceptional job doing just that. If this aspect bothers you, then go watch something else. I’m not justifying this mentality. I’m just saying that the film was made long before I was even born, so there’s not shit I can really do about it now.
While I can’t really extol any one facet of Monstrosity, I rather enjoy the film, if only because it’s quite mean-spirited, but doesn’t exactly have the technical expertise to effectively pull it off. The film’s completely mismatched score makes Monstrosity feel more campy or comedic than was presumably intended, which makes it harder to take the film’s darker, more morally questionable moments all that seriously. If you look at Monstrosity as nothing more than “gallows humor”, it’s really quite entertaining.
A Kickstarter campaign for a 4K restoration of Monstrosity was successfully completed in 2015/2016, with the restored version of the film released to Blu-ray in 2017. In my personal opinion, it’s a really visually impressive restoration and is highly recommended to fans of the film by yours truly.
AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/3bjC3Op
When I first saw this under the title The Atomic Brain, I was weirded out by the gloomy atmosphere and the terrible injury cat-brained Anita inflicts on the other woman. Catching it years later, it didn’t hold up very well for me. I just watched The Unearthly (1957) with John Carradine, and there are some interesting parallels between the two: a mad doctor trying to unlock the secret of eternal youth; a huge, deformed giant prowling the grounds, making sure the experimental subjects stay put; facial disfigurement, etc. Very similar movies in atmosphere and effect.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I watched this last week. I couldn’t help but LOL when the girl with the cat’s brain does a show for Mrs March! I also wasn’t convinced by the “English” accent being real but the actress Judy Bamber who played Beatrice tried. Bea mentioned having curves like Marilyn Monroe, but the film was released in 1963. and poor Marilyn died in 1962. I would’ve liked more of the zombie girl but she was killed off by the beast man too early. The ending seemed so frustrating as I wanted more on the cat’s stalking of the surviving girl, Your article is just so cool and well written, and I didn’t want your article to stop.