Camp Motion Pictures // 2010 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // August 23rd, 2012
The Dream of the Atom Unleashes A Nightmare from Outer Space!
They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. If that's the case, then director Richard Griffin is in the running for most sincere flatterer in the world. From an early take on Titus Andronicus to two different disco-themed flicks (The Disco Exorcist and Splatter Disco) and a nunsploitation film (Nun of That), Griffin likes to work in well-trod genres. He's not alone in that particular occupation; it's a hazard of doing business in the low-budget horror world. However, more than most, Griffin likes to look to the past. His films often feature faked "film damage" and look to genres much more popular in the 1970s than the twenty-first century. In some ways, then, Atomic Brain Invasion represents a departure for the director. Rather than looking to the 1970s for inspiration, Atomic Brain Invasion turns the clock back to those cheesy 1950s sci-fi films. The result is a film that's long on love but a little shorter on laughs.
A bunch of 1950s stereotypes (including rockers and sock-hoppers) converge on a small town where Elvis is making an appearance. Of course, it's not just the teens who want to see Elvis; some brain-stealing aliens want to kidnap the King as well!
All credit is due to Richard Griffin and the team of people he has willing to work for nothing to make his cinematic dreams come true. I've spent many an hour watching films much, much worse than Atomic Brain Invasion, and the fact that Griffin has been making films for over a decade now is impressive. Atomic Brain Invasion shows all the hallmarks of a good low-budget parody. There's a the right combination of distance and affection. There's an attempt to ape the style within the limits of the budget. Perhaps most importantly, everyone is on board with the vision of the film to take on 1950s sci-fi cheese.
Of course, all of this is why Atomic Brain Invasion doesn't quite work. Though Griffin and his team have an obvious affection for sci-fi dreck like The Mole People, they don't know how to effectively translate that love into cinematic form. They had the option of a straight remake-style film, where they attempted to shoot their own version of a 1950s sci-fi story. On the other hand, they could have gone for a more potent comedy film that was more outright parody. Instead, Atomic Brain Invasion is an uncomfortable mix of the two. It almost works as a sci-fi homage, but the callbacks to other films keep it from really sinking in. On the other side, the attempts to craft a genuine sci-fi story sometimes interrupt the jokes.
Ultimately the film demonstrates too much talent and ambition for its own good. Other films toil in the genre trenches (I'm reminded especially of the Lloyd Kaufman-helmed Troma flicks, as well as Dave Campfield's Caesar and Otto's Summer Camp Massacre) but offer viewers a unique take on the proceedings. Griffin and company show they have the capacity to do that, but with Atomic Brain Invasion, they've opted for the low-hanging fruit of wishy-washy parody.
Fans of low-budget sci-fi parodies -- or Griffin in particular -- shouldn't take my criticism too much to heart. Atomic Brain Invasion pretty much lives up to any expectations you could have for a throwback film about aliens attempting to kidnap Elvis. My real complaint is that the film shows potential to be more than it is, and while I think it's important to point out where the film didn't go, many will not notice the problems of which I speak.
Atomic Brain Invasion comes to DVD in a very pleasing package. Though for accuracy's sake, the production might have chosen a full-frame black-and-white presentation, this 1.78:1 anamorphic color transfer will do just fine. Colors look like standard, low-budget shot-on-video hues. Detail can be good in some close-ups, but often it just shows the dodgy CGI. Black levels fluctuate a bit as well. Compared to contemporary Hollywood films, this flick looks horrible, but taken on its own merits, the presentation is fine. The same could be said of the stereo audio. Dialogue and music are generally well-balanced and easy to discern, but this is far from an immersive audio experience.
The film's main extra is a commentary with Griffin, producer Ted Marr, and stars Daniel Lee White and David Erin Wilson. The quartet spend a long time talking about the travails of low-budget filmmaking and the influences on the production. It's a fun listen for those interested in the behind-the-scenes stories on the film.
Atomic Brain Invasion is a good-but-not-great low-budget sci-fi parody film. There are some laughs to be had, but I'm left with the feeling that a bit more focus on original material rather than devotion to past classics would have made the film better. Fans of Richard Griffin, though, can buy this DVD assured that it contains more of his usual brand of cinematic strangeness.
Not original, but not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Camp Motion Pictures
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated