Directed by Joseph Mascelli/Glauco Del Mar/Jerry Warren
Something Weird DVD
Remember the days of pining for ratty copies of films like Monstrosity aka The Atomic Brain on VHS? Possibly forking out $15-20 a piece? Sure, there was a certain romanticism to xeroxed covers from far away lands (still is, to some extent), but today, things are thankfully different. Holding the case for this Something Weird triple feature, all I can do is bask in the warmth of tainted trash pixie dust. It’s a no-brainer.
The pairing of three black and white rarities (The Atomic Brain, Love After Death, and The Incredible Petrified World), complete with extras, isn’t just another DVD release. For people that thrive on the allure of old cemeteries, bad acting, a little spice, and surreal occurrences (that’s you and me), this is a shrink-wrapped package of golden promise, all for less than it would have cost you to track down just one of these films on VHS five years ago. Pretty enlightening, no? Now that we’re all on the same page, please extinguish your flashlight. The cemetery can get very dark at this time of night and we wouldn’t want to disturb the work of the twilight people.
The Atomic Brain would make Ed Wood proud. I mean that sincerely. It’s all here: the Lobo-esque man-monster, a scientist involved in grave robbing experiments, one or two residential sets, odd sexual underpinnings (“Making love to an 80 year old woman in the body of a 20 year old girl is insanity!”), and strangely iconic music cues. The kind-of-odd-but-not-really plot deals with an old bag’s quest to find a fresh young form to replace her own rapidly decaying body. After a series of failures utilizing recently expired victims, Dr. Frank (he works for the lady, Mrs. March) decides that still-living specimens are needed. Cue Nina, Beatrice, and Anita, three cover girl foreigners that answer Mrs. March’s “help wanted” ad. And have really, ahem, interesting accents. After Mrs. March examines the girls via towel striptease, her “gigolo” servant Victor gets a little lustful, Dr. Frank continues his atomic chamber experiments, and someone gets a little cat on the brain. Death comes from below! Escape is futile!
Filmed in ten days by Ray Dennis Steckler cohort Joseph Mascelli, The Atomic Brain is a Backyard Hollywood Classic. Aside from the film’s similarities to Wood’s late 50s oeuvre, a reliance on post-dubbing, dead pan narration, and a singular claustrophobic location (an old mansion located around Hancock Park in L.A.) is like cement in the mold. This is the kind of perfect strange film charm that inspires global searches to uncover its existence. Luckily, you don’t have to reach that far, so savor all 65 minutes of it.
If The Atomic Brain started a drizzle with its sexually endowed strangeness, then Love After Death is the ensuing tidal wave. Sharing more than a few traits with Doris Wishman’s early films (sound effects occur without action, lots of foot shots, sets made up of everyday apartments and stairwells), this South American obscurity is a sight to behold. Meet Montel. Suffering from cataleptic fits, he’s been buried alive by his scheming wife Sofia and her doctor/lover. Seconds after the funeral, Montel bursts forth from his grave and spends the next few minutes roaming the cemetery over strains of theremin angst. From there, we find out that Montel was “sick” (impotent) and train-wreck skeeze Sofia is still a “virgin” (hilarious). Montel decides to enact his revenge on those that have wronged him. What’s the best way to do that? Attack women, watch people having sex, and finally prove his manhood by bedding a fab mod girl in her apartment. With all that out of the way, Montel grabs a switchblade and gets down to business.
30 minutes of plot, 40 minutes of strange, almost innocent sex. Boobs, butts, lesbos, drag queens, an old woman watching (to which she replies, “Oh, if I were ten years younger!”) — pretty much the works. Normally, a film like this wouldn’t raise an eyebrow to non-sexploitation fans, but Love After Death (titled Unsatisfied Love onscreen) is too unhinged to deny. A lot of the shots are haphazard and kinetic, coming across as intentionally skewed and/or just plain inept. Either way, one-time director Glauco Del Mar does a nice job of matching the film’s subject matter with an equal dose of visual weirdness. Love that zoom lens. There’s also some mismatched footage featuring “The Steve Rios Band,” Montel humorously emerging from his soil tomb with ear and nose plugs, and a bathroom karate chop. Since templated sexploitation films are a dime a dozen, it would have been nice to see this film play out with more reliance on the cheapo horror elements. Regardless, Love After Death is a head-spinning sex ‘n’ death trip, one that won’t be soon forgotten.
While the previous two films are somewhat kindred spirits, Jerry Warren’s 1957 non-epic, The Incredible Petrified World, stands alone. Since Warren’s aim was to make quick profits out of sludge-paced garbage, Petrified hardly surprises. It’s a clinical mix of oceanic educational films, underwater (pool) photography, and cave explorations, which turns out to be entirely pointless, but strangely watchable. John Carradine stars as a scientist who has invented a new fangled diving bell. Four divers (including Robert Clarke and uber-bitchy Phyllis Coates) make the maiden voyage, get stuck a few miles below sea level, snoop around in flippers, and discover The Petrified World. After exploring the caves and dodging gila monsters from the zoo, our dysfunctional team meets up with a bearded “weirdo.” Jeezus! Lovingly portrayed with a dust mop wig and a mafioso speech impediment, this bug-eyed killer will give you sweaty nightmares for days. Eventually, Carradine sends down another bell and everybody sees sunshine in a wrap up that was ripped off for The Goonies. Probably.
The all-original Petrified, a rarity in J. Warren’s cut ‘n’ paste kingdom, boasts his highest production values ever. Close ups! Camera pans! Actual lighting! The film is up against some heavy competition on this triple feature, so I was glad to see it resembled more of a unified production, rather than a series of fly on the wall peeks into characters’ extended conversations (see Creature Of The Walking Dead for an example on how not to do it). While the element of talk was still present, I found myself genuinely interested in the plot as a whole. Petrified was the first Warren film that kept me awake throughout its duration, so that should tell you something.
AUDIO AND VIDEO
Both Atomic Brain and Petrified are out on DVD from Alpha, in addition to popping up on a couple of multi-film budget releases. Something Weird’s presentation of these two films is outta sight, like night and day in comparison. All three films feature thick blacks, high contrast, and crisp-as-a-button picture quality. Atomic Brain’s print is almost completely clear of film damage, but suffers from a few jump cuts and a bit of audio noise. Love is probably the hardest hit in terms of scratches and blips (it only adds to the wacked-out experience). Petrified is the only one to appear in widescreen and looks about how you’d expect for a late 50s film.
Yep, there’s still a little room left. Feast your eyes on an alternate TV opening for The Atomic Brain, which runs around two minutes. This is the intro that accompanies the film on Alpha’s release and it’ll give you a good indication of just how fantastic the print looks on this DVD. After that, you can check out theatrical trailers for Atomic Brain and Petrified, as well six other hits. Monster A-Go-Go (they actually make it sound good) and Terrified are definite highlights. Wrapping up, there’s a large cover gallery of lurid 70s horror comics, which pops up on a few other Something Weird DVDs. If you’re crafty, you can also find a three minute easter egg featuring girls in their underwear and plastic skull masks.
Releases like this realize the true possibilities of the DVD format. If you’ve got any interest in these films at all, this disc is a definite pleaser, especially for the price (around fifteen smackers). Let’s hope Something Weird can take a hint and crank out a few more just like it.