And the Movie with No Brain

Essential to Universal’s rise through the horror genre in the 1940s, writer Curt Siodmak… well, ran out of ideas. By the early to mid-’50s, his output included Bride of the Gorilla, The Magnetic Monster, and Creature with the Atom Brain.

In some sense, Creature with the Atom Brain is a fascinating, no budget, post-war time capsule. Everyone appears so passive as government vehicles wander the streets, hunting for a supposedly radioactive killer. Officials intrude on private spaces, and the fear isn’t about the military tracking people, but entirely the unknown entity. The trust is almost surreal, and the people are convinced there’s truth in this scientific malarkey.

Creature with the Atom Brain does suggest the genre’s future


War wounds still fresh, the villain is a Nazi doctor, an early play on the eventual cliché about mad German scientists. Bizarrely though, Siodmack (himself a German) makes the brain-tinkering kook out to be an empathetic character in the final act. It’s longtime TV actor Michael Granger playing the irredeemable heavy, enjoyably despicable and heartless as a gangster seeking revenge.

Creature with the Atom Brain doesn’t focus on those two however. Rather, it’s the bland, stock hero Richard Denning investigating a string of local deaths of which the audience already solved in the opening minutes. Denning waving a Geiger counter over a crime scene isn’t a clue to anyone but him. As a police procedural, even with the pure 1950s radiation panic, it’s all typical. And dull. And cheap.

While hardly the first zombie flick, to its credit, Creature with the Atom Brain does suggest the genre’s future via the lumbering, droning dead who can’t be killed unless a connection in their brain is severed. That’s because of circuitry drilled into their heads, hilariously shown on an X-ray, with the electronic parts obviously drawn on with a pen.

The rest is all stock – in some cases literally as Creature with the Atom Brain recycles not only other film’s footage, but its own. Men hunt for radioactivity, headlines about the mysterious murders swirl in front of a montage, scientists meet in laboratories, and the action barely goes anywhere until the absolute climax. The latter doesn’t say much for the American military who chuck grenades 10 yards too far at point blank range, and apparently can’t shoot someone in the head as they stumble toward them. Dismal, if a bit charming.

Video

Seemingly untouched since the DVD release, the heavy, chunky grain structure suggests a master struck some time ago, and not for this modern HD era. Gains over the SD disc are fairly minimal. A slight boost in fidelity and sharpness is evident, but slight is the keyword. Most of that likely comes from the compression, which is understandably better on Blu-ray. Rough as the grain structure looks, it’s at least kept organic.

Gray scale veers wide, with some fantastic highlights in the lab courtesy of the equipment. Awesome shadows achieve stable, solid black consistently. However, the gradients struggle in transitioning smoothly. Banding is lightly evident on most backgrounds, causing hard lines as gray moves between shades.

The print itself doesn’t suffer any major issues. It’s fairly stable, some flicker aside. An occasional speck, stray scratch, or dusty frame inhibits little. For the age (and budget), it’s acceptable.

Audio

Routine PCM mono delivers the dialog clearly, nicely balanced with the score. The older analog quality delivers a general scratchiness, but it’s utterly typical. Highs in the score reach stable treble. A few strums of a bass smoothly pass through the low-end.

Extras

Russell Dyball provides commentary for this one, and Kim Newman brings his usual informative introduction for eight minutes. The short 8mm version comes next, with historian Stephen R. Bissette looking at Sam Katzman’s career serving as the disc’s finale, running a massive 73-minutes.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Creature with the Atom Brain
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Movie

Ponderous, slow, and cheap, Creature with the Atom Brain answers its own questions in minutes amid standard post-war paranoia.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 35 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray: