Creature with the Atom Brain (1955)

Okay, we know what to expect.  A mad-scientist figures out a way to make the dead walk, and the villain backing his crazed experiments uses them to kill off his enemies.

Except, of course, that it is nothing at all like that.

Mind you, the summary is accurate:  but somehow, this one refuses to fit into the sort of Gothic horror mode it suggests.  Instead, this one reminds me more of Ivan Tors’ series of O.S.I. (Office of Scientific Intelligence) movies – The Magnetic MonsterRiders to the Stars and Gog.  Most of this film is seen from the viewpoint of Richard Denning’s policeman and forensic scientist, Dr. Chet Walker; the tone is very straightforward and serious; the cinematography without a shadow in sight, like a fifties SF movie; and the sinister villain responsible for bringing the dead to life is a gangster.

Let’s just say it is strange that it isn’t strange.

This one was the work of Edward L. Cahn, an incredibly prolific director of B-Movies, some of which aren’t all bad.  He made a few zombie movies, although this may be the only one in which they are atomic powered, and the army sends out aircraft and detector trucks to hunt them down.

Cahn does manage one relatively creepy scene, when another officer is turned into a zombie, and visits Dr. Walker’s house while he’s away, leaving him alone in the room with Walker’s daughter.  It’s a tense scene, but it isn’t enough to really change the straightforward tone of the film.

Frankly, I’m not quite sure what to make of this one.  It really isn’t horror.  Instead, it is one of the minor SF films of the era – although it also flirts with being a bit of crime drama as well (which, after all, was one of the other genres Cahn often contributed to).  Nor does it aspire to the heights of absurdity of some of Cahn’s other films – like The Invasion of the Saucer Men, whose aliens are dissolved by hot rod headlights.

As always with the few Fifties SF films I haven’t seen, there are reasons why it isn’t seen much. Creature with the Atom Brain definitely isn’t a great film, but it isn’t the worst of these stragglers, either.  If you don’t ask too much of it, it offers a few pulpy thrills and should please anyone who loves Fifties SF, in all its failings and glory.

(Movie available here)

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