‘Tis the season of scary movies, including ones I’m not scheduled to watch. It was about 8:30 last night and I decided on a whim to watch Atom Age Vampire, which is included on one of my collections of “50 Horror Classics” and such things, cheap collections of movies in the public domain. This particular film is an Italian horror film released in 1960 in Italy, and dubbed into English and released in the US in 1963.
I realized about ten minutes into it I had seen the movie before. I think what threw me off was the word Vampires in the title, because there are no vampires in this movie. Had it been called Atom Age Monster, I might have remembered watching it. Not that the Italian title makes more sense–L’Erede di Satana translates as “Heir of Satan”, which also doesn’t reflect the movie’s contents. Anyway, since I didn’t remember much about the movie or how it ended, I kept watching.
I think it’s a sign of how many B-grade horror films I’ve seen in my life that my thought after this one was, “Well, could’ve been worse.” To save time, let’s go over what’s good about the movie first. One, the lead actress, Susanne Loret, who apparently never appeared in anything else, is remarkably pretty and a decent actress. One of my complaints about Dracula a couple weeks ago was that it was hard to see why Dracula fell in love with the bland Mina. In this movie, it’s a lot easier to see why the mad scientists becomes obsessed with Loret’s character, Jeanette.
The other thing is that for a very limited budget, the special effects in this movie are pretty decent. The mad scientist’s transformation into a radiation monster is believable, the laboratory is plausible and actually looks pretty cool, and… well, I guess that’s it for the special effects. But what there is, is done well.
The rest of the movie, though, is, at best, fairly dull. It actually feels more like a melodrama with some scary elements tossed in than a real horror film. Jeanette is a stripper who’s distraught when her boyfriend, a merchant marine, leaves on a three-month tour of duty. She’s in a car crash the very night he leaves and permanently disfigured, but a mad scientist, Professor Alberto Levin, and his mute assistant read in the newspaper about her case (must have been a slow news week) and kidnap her from the hospital, convinced that their drug and radiation treatment can cure her disfigurement.
Jeanette responds to the treatment at Levin’s um, well-appointed Italian villa (no spooky castles available?), but only temporarily. After a day or so, her facial deformities return, so she requires constant new dosages. Soon, Levin becomes obsessed with her, and it’s a question of whether she genuinely needs more treatment, or he just doesn’t want her to leave. It also turns out that the drugs for her treatment require some sort of ingredient that can only be found in the glands of young women, requiring Levin to constantly prowl around for single women he can murder. That’s okay, because Levin himself suffers from a radiation sickness that turns him into a sort of Mr. Hyde-ish monster every night. I guess the police eventually figure things out and it resolves in kind of a boring way.
Atom Age Vampire (1963)
Story/Plot/Characters— Other than Susanne Loret, who as I said, is quite remarkably pretty, there wasn’t much in dialogue or plot to recommend this. Characters are thinly drawn. Giving Professor Levin a background as a researcher at Hiroshima comes across as in bad taste more than as a satisfactory explanation for why he turns into a monster every night. There’s at least one scene, where Levin notices water dripping from the wall of his lab and he uses a sledgehammer to open a big hole in the wall, that has no apparent reason for being in the movie. (Apparently some prints of this are different lengths, so maybe in other versions this scene has a payoff?) Anyway, plot was mostly coherent, at least, and the dialogue was just boring rather than atrocious, so this wasn’t a total failure. (1.5 points)
Special Effects–For an extremely limited budget, the special effects work fairly well. (.5 points)
Scariness— You might fall asleep before you have a chance to be frightened. (0 points)
Atmosphere/Freakiness— In horror movies, I like there to be a certain feeling of dread that can be aroused by lonely, foggy landscapes or freaky torture chambers. Not much along those lines here–the mad scientist lives in a fancy villa, and his mute assistant grows roses in the greenhouse. I guess I’ll give this a bit of credit for the cool laboratory in the villa’s basement. (.5 points)
Total=2.5 points (Avoid)
Not the worst B-grade movie I’ve ever seen, but not much reason to watch it. There are some hints of sleaze, such as Jeanette working as a stripper, but the sample of the burlesque show we see is quite tame. Don’t try to class it up–in a low budget movie like this, the sleaze is often the most interesting thing!