Cinema Suicide: Atomic Brain Invasion

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Around the time when production on Atomic Brain Invasion was wrapping, word came down from friends and was then confirmed by Griffin that Atomic Brain Invasion would be his last picture and this saddened me deeply. I’m a fan. If you’ve been keeping up with this site for a while you’ve maybe noticed that when new reviews of Griffin’s movies come up, for instance, Nun of That, Beyond The Dunwich Horror (actually written by Tim Fife), Necroville and Splatter Disco, I tend to write long love letters to the cast and crew for making such entertaining and original spoofs. Richard and I have never met in spite of living only a couple of hours apart but we talk a lot and the site has been privvy to some of his latest news. This is all in the interest of full disclosure. My gushing reviews about the genius of Richard and company must be looking really suspicious right about now but I assure you, these rave reviews are well earned.

It turns out that word about Richard retiring is all for naught because shortly after I confirmed his retirement he hit me with an exclusive that I never ran, mostly because he never sent me the actual press release. At one point, Richard was set to remake the classic The Brain That Wouldn’t Die and then I never heard about it again. Last I heard, the Scorpio Film Releasing group would be doing an expansion of their 2010 48 Hour Film Project entry, Mutants of the Apocalypse into a feature film, much like how Nun Of That started as a short and became a feature. This filled me with happiness. Happiness, I tell you! But I keep seeing new mentions on the Facebook from Richard about other projects, so who knows. All I know is that it’s not east to make a movie, particularly when you’re doing it on a tiny budget in Rhode Island. I guess great scripts and a killer cast help things enormously.
Ah, the 50′s. Sock hops, poodle skirts and rock and roll rule youth culture. So does Elvis who also happens to be heading into Anytown, USA for a performance that will show the kids how much he appreciates their support. En route, however, a capsule descends from space and ejects a slime on the nearest horny teens in the woods in order to take over their bodies. Meanwhile, another craft descends on Anytown, USA carrying three humanoid teenage aliens. Both sets of aliens want Elvis but for entirely different reasons. Stuck in the middle is a group of Anytown teens and the love triangle between them.

Atomic Brain Invasion, somehow manages to spoof every single shitty, trashy piece of drive-in garbage from the era without missing a single detail. Those of us in the rapidly aging bracket of horror fandom came up in a time when every US city had some kind of creature feature and in our neck of the woods, The Creature Double Feature on WLVI ran nothing but this kind of crap so I have a special place in my heart for this early exploitation schlock that aimed to capitalize on teen crazes. Griffin takes pieces of each one of those Commie/Atomic Bomb scare flicks and weaves them all into one hilarious feature that runs wild, drunk on its own self-conscious idiocy.

Apart from a really funny premise and a script that floats the whole thing on capable hands, this is one of Griffin’s most ambitious movies, featuring some of the best special effects to come out of any of his productions. Since this is a pretty light affair with the emphasis landing on the comedy, there really isn’t any gore or violence to speak of, so the creature effects tend to fall into messy, slimy alien effects. There’s also a good deal of CGI to speak of as well. My expectations were tuned accordingly, however, and for a low budget production, the visual effects are pretty strong and fit the theme of the movie well. At times I found myself wondering why Griffin wouldn’t have just taken the Ed Wood or Bert I. Gordon route and shot crappy props with forced perspective.

Griffin’s cast is pretty much the same people he’s been using since Beyond The Dunwich Horror but as the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” There are a couple of new additions to the cast, notably in Scorpio newcomer, Alexander Lewis, who plays the alien, Blondie. The cast of your typical Scorpio production is a tight unit and they’ve worked together on Richard Griffin movies as well as other genre productions around Providence. Lewis sinks right into the madness and never misses a beat. This orchestra operates like any given issue of Mad Magazine brought to life so becoming a working part of the team can’t be easy but Lewis fits like a glove. Apart from Lewis, however, the rest of the picture is operating on an independent idea. Typically, Griffin’s movies orbit Sarah Reed, clearly his muse, but this time Griffin has shifted the script and handed the spotlight to players who have existed on the sidelines in past features. The real star of Atomic Brain Invasion is Michael Reed, who in past Griffin movies has played tremendously funny sideline characters, like his turn as Jesus and the Devil in Nun of That. Here he plays the wannabe hoodlum Lukas Bedfellow with an inexplicable fascination with origami. He flip flops between a greaser type and a house whipped son of a military general. His rival is the nerdy Sherman, played by David Lavalee, known from other Providence pictures for stunts, martial arts and playing the two-fisted heavy. Here he shows off actual acting chops and it’s great to see him in a leading role but te entire movie is nearly stolen by Brandon Aponte who, in pretty much every movie he’s done with Griffin, has played mobsters. I can’t fault him for that, either. He’s good at it! In Atomic Brain Invasion, however, he plays Elvis and while he looks nothing like him and his accent is ridiculous, he’s one of the movie’s funniest characters, deliriously lurching from scene to scene, lampooning the usual Elvis stereotype.

Atomic Brain Invasion is Scorpio Film Releasing’s latest entry and it’s more evidence of Griffin honing his craft. Like previous Scorpio flicks, it looks like everyone is having a blast and it gives the movie a positive quality that makes it so much easier to enjoy. Nun of That remains my favorite Scorpio feature but Atomic Brain Invasion is right up there. It’s sharp, it’s funny and it’s the kind of thing that makes me hope that Griffin never stops making movies. He just get better at it with each release.