Cast & Crew
At a gathering of California scientists, Dr. Methany debates with his colleagues about his latest research project, a $70,000 underwater bell that will explore the ocean floor, penetrating deeper than any diver or marine equipment has gone before. Meanwhile on a boat off the coast of Florida, prestigious oceanographer Dr. Wyman oversees a similar bell expedition to the ocean floor. As his crew, scientists Craig Randall and Paul Whitmore, science student Laurie and female reporter Dale Marshall, begin their descent in the cramped quarters of the bell, Craig maintains radio contact with Wyman. However, as the bell passes 1,700 feet, the cable breaks and the radio goes silent. Without another bell capable of reaching such depths, Wyman immediately gives up hope of rescuing his crew and tells a reporter that he does not know the reason for the mechanical failure. Meanwhile, the bell safely lands on the ocean floor. Although the crew is upset about their dilemma, Craig establishes that their oxygen supply, while limited, is still intact, thus securing their immediate survival. Looking out the bell porthole, the crew is surprised to be able to see a rocky landscape outside. Knowing that the actual ocean floor is so far from the sun that no light can penetrate it, the scientists deduce that they are at a much shallower depth and thus will be able to scuba dive. After shutting off the oxygen to reserve the supply in the bell, the crew exits the hatch in wetsuits and explores the area. Meanwhile aboard Wyman's boat, sonar operator Wilson reports movement on the screen, but Wyman believes the sonar is merely reading the crews' corpses slowly floating to the surface, assuming they were killed instantly by the intense pressure at the ocean floor. In the water, Craig, Paul, Dale and Laurie find a cave filled with breathable oxygen and lit by phosphorous rocks lining its walls. After briefly exploring the cavern passages, Craig and Paul return to the bell to collect supplies, hoping that they can survive in the cave until they find a passage that will lead them to the surface. On the surface above, Wyman continues to ignore Wilson's suggestion that the bodies continuing to move down below are not floating but living humans moving in and out of the bell. Back in the cave, after they cook the fish they have speared for the group, Paul asks Craig about their chances for survival. Craig is cautious, stating that the air in the cave might not be coming from the surface but some other source. The next day the group explores numerous cavern passages until they find a small pool of fresh water. While they rest, Dale reads and then tosses out a note from her lover. When Laurie jokes that she should keep it, as there is nothing else to read, Dale retorts that Laurie should leave her alone, suggesting that as women, they have nothing in common except competition for the men's attention. Soon after, Craig realizes that the compass is not working because of magnetized rock, so Paul suggests that they mark their path by breaking off stalagmites and laments that they did not attach a message to a high-pressure tank and send it to the surface. With growing pessimism, Craig announces that it is better that Wyman does not know about their survival, because no one will be able to save them at such depths. Paul, however, maintains his confidence that the resourceful and experienced Craig will manage their return to the surface. Continuing on, the group suddenly finds a human skeleton and a bedraggled, bearded old man, who explains that he found the cave when his ship sank twelve years ago. The skeleton is the remains of the only other survivor. The old man insists that there is no way out of the cavern, explaining that the air is not from the surface but from a volcano deep in the cave. Paul and Craig follow the old man to the volcano and return to tell the women that the volcano is responsible for their air and mostly likely there is no passage to the surface. Craig takes the despondent Laurie in his arms and professes that he has always loved her. When she shares her love in return, Craig reminds her that they are fortunate to have each other to share their isolated life below the surface. Meanwhile, Wyman travels to California to convince Methany to launch his bell expedition, which was canceled after Wyman's failure. He explains that the design problem was that the bell was not made to accommodate pressure coming upward from the ocean floor, only the pressure of the descent, and that the couplings holding the cables were probably ripped off as the bell drew close to the bottom. After Methany agrees to dive at the same Florida site, Wyman and his brother, who has been working for Methany, redesign the bell. Days later Craig and Paul return to the bell for supplies and find Wyman's brother waiting for them, having successfully led the second bell's descent to the ocean floor. Meanwhile back in the cave, after Dale bitterly mocks her for following Craig's orders, Laurie finally realizes that Dale is jealous of her relationship with Craig. Suddenly the old man corners Dale and lasciviously suggests that she remain with him, while he kills the others. When Dale screams for help, the volcano suddenly erupts and an avalanche of rocks kills the old man. Rushing to escape the falling debris and molten lava, Dale and Laurie reach the mouth of the cave where they find Craig, who gives them portable respirators and orders them to follow him back to the bell. Later, as they ascend in the second bell, Craig radios Wyman to report everyone's survival, while Dale apologizes to Laurie for her jealous behavior. When they are safely back on the boat and heading for land, Craig rejoices in having "room to breathe."
Harold V. Mckenzie
G. B. Murphy
John W. Steiner
James R. Sweeney
The Atomic Brain & Two More Co-Features
The headliner feature, The Atomic Brain, was also known as Monstrosity and the print on display here actually bears this title. It starts appropriately enough in a laboratory but pretty soon you've got a murder in a mortuary, a hairy-faced man-beast on the prowl and an elderly millionairess with an obsession with regaining her youth. The latter is shown soliciting young women with no family ties through the newspaper for work as domestics. Of course, we know they're potential body donors for the old lady's brain - a particularly unappealing thought - but once they arrive at the secluded mansion, they're locked in and given a strip search inspection. Charlie's Angels, they're not. Anita, fresh from Mexico and not an English major, is the first to land on the slab. She ends up with a cat brain and in one of the more hilarious and infamous scenes in the film catches and swallows a mouse in one gulp. Bee is supposed to be from England but sounds like a lush from some dive bar in Alabama. She gets her eye clawed out by Anita the cat girl leaving Nana from Vienna, Austria (another bad accent) the nominal heroine. Everyone behaves as if they do indeed need brain transplants, including the mad scientist performing the surgeries. He has the bright idea of installing a self-destroying lever in the lab - in case the cops come. Once the switch is thrown, he warns, the mansion will become a "radioactive hole in the ground." Yeah, that makes sense.
Rock bottom production values abound in The Atomic Brain - the laboratory set is possibly a slight improvement over the one in Ed Wood's Bride of the Monster (1955) - and the incessant narration and isolated moments of character dialogue were obviously added in post-production. Nothing really works but there are a few things to enjoy along with your twelve-pack - some location footage of the Los Angeles freeway (only two lanes of traffic!), laughable gore effects (Bee retrieving her severed eye from the lab), and the occasionally absurd line of dialogue. But even among connoisseurs of low-budget horror, The Atomic Brain gets no respect. Even writer/producer Jack Pollexfen (who worked on Edgar G. Ulmer's The Man From Planet X) dismisses it in Tom Weaver's Interviews with B Science Fiction and Horror Movie Makers: "...Monstrosity - certainly the worst picture I was ever involved with, and incidentally the only one that did not eventually climb into the profit column. Alas, I have to confess I did the first draft of the script. B films were collapsing; the studio financing the film turned out to be heading into bankruptcy. We had shot about half. Tried to patch it together in the cutting room - but that was a task beyond human hands." Yes, we can see that Jack.
Still, The Atomic Brain looks pretty good compared to the second feature, Love After Death, which is an Argentinean obscurity ineptly dubbed into English. Looking like a soft-core porno flick heavily influenced by Doris Wishman (lots of floor level shots and close-ups of feet), the film follows a freshly buried man who returns from the grave to take revenge on his cheating wife. A sexual dud when alive, the guy is now an uncontrollable sex fiend, ravishing every woman he meets. And most of the footage consists of badly shot bedroom encounters, with flabby, out of shape bodies moaning and writhing around on wrinkled sheets for what seems like an eternity. Russ Meyer or Jess Franco might have been able to do something with this premise and actually make it titillating. But that's not the case here and if you're looking for a cure for insomnia, this is guaranteed to work.
Topping off Something Weird's triple feature is The Incredible Petrified World, directed by Jerry Warren, the man who gave us that Abominable Snowman travesty Man Beast (1956) and re-edited Americanized versions of such imported horrors as Face of the Screaming Werewolf (which was actually a 1959 Mexican horror-comedy entitled La Casa del Terror.) You've heard the expression "a poverty row picture"? Well, that's what we've got here - a fantastical storyline but no budget to pull it off. Instead we get stock footage as a substitute for real action scenes (the shark vs. octopus fight is actually pretty good) and interminable exposition scenes filmed on some of the cheapest sets imaginable (a ship cabin with a painted porthole on the wall!).
John Carradine gets top billing as a scientist who organizes a deep-sea expedition in search of a phantom sea layer that rises periodically from the depths. A crew of four - three oceanographers (one played by Sheila Noonan aka Sheila Carol from 1959's Beast from Haunted Cave) and one extremely hostile female reporter (Phyllis Coates from the TV series, The Adventures of Superman) climb into a diving bell and are dropped into the ocean. Almost immediately they lose communication with Carradine's ship and spend most of the movie trapped in a claustrophobic underwater cave where they encounter a sex-crazed hermit. Who can blame the poor guy - he's been stranded down there from a previous diving bell expedition for about 20 years but does he get any sympathy? No, he's dismissed as a "weirdo" and becomes the villain by default; he's conveniently killed off in the "erupting volcano" portion of the film (don't expect any special effects). But the real fireworks occur between the two women who are often left alone while the two men try to find a way out of the caves. Ms. Coates' bitter, competitive reporter is a strident, unsympathetic creation but a fascinating one. When her companion tries to comfort her over a recent "Dear John" letter, she explodes: "You just listen to me Miss Innocent. There's nothing friendly between two females. There never was and never will be. You don't need any help and neither do I - as long as we have two men around us." The tension between the two women is never really resolved in a satisfactory manner but at least it provides a brief respite from the tedium of watching Robert Clarke (The Hideous Sun Demon, 1959) and Allen Windsor stumble around a bunch of stalactites like a couple of lost boy scouts.
The visual quality of Something Weird's triple feature is surprisingly good - much better than it has a right to be. The Incredible Petrified World, in particular, boasts a razor sharp transfer; it looks almost as good as any black and white feature that Criterion has recently released - go ahead, laugh, but we're not kidding. Of course, only a die-hard trash film fanatic is really going to care about this package but they'll find things to savor and the extra features are fun too: an alternate opening sequence for The Atomic Brain, a comic book art gallery of ghoulish covers, trailers for Monster-a-Go-Go (1965), Terrified (1962) and many more.
For more information about The Atomic Brain, visit Image Entertainment. To order The Atomic Brain, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeff Stafford
The Atomic Brain & Two More Co-Features
The opening credits state that G.B.M. Productions copyrighted the film in 1957, but it was not registered for copyright. Following the opening credits, voice-over narration introduces the Earth's ocean floor as a vast, dark and "dangerous jungle" that scientists have only begun to explore. Onscreen credits note that the cavern sequences were shot at Colossal Cave in Tucson, AZ.
Dialogue director Bri Murphy was also known as G. B. Murphy, the name under which she is credited as the production supervisor. She was married at the time to director Jerry Warren, with whom she co-owned G.B.M. Productions. Another G.B.M. film, Teenage Zombies (see below), also was released in April 1960 yet bore a 1957 copyright statement in the credits. It has not been determined which of the two films went into production first. A modern source adds that George Skaff possibly played the "old man."