There’s a lot of Al Adamson floating around the horrorsphere right now thanks to Severin Films’ gargantuan box set, Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection. While I don’t have that set (yet), after watching the fantastic documentary Blood & Flesh about him and his works, I was itching to bed down with Al. This brings us to Brain of Blood (1971), a one part Frankenstein, one part espionage, all parts goofy fun that is so entertaining I am down for whatever next comes down the Adamson pike.
Distributed by Hemisphere Pictures, the Philippines-based company that made the Blood Island films, Brain of Blood was made to seem like a continuation of the series; having not seen any of those either (I KNOW), I can’t vouch for the similarities. However, I can say that what they did produce is drive-in fodder of the highest order, with enough ridiculousness to spill over to another screen.
Welcome to the country of Kalid (which is represented by a picture of the Taj Mahal), where its leader Amir (Reed Hadley – The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre) lies dying. He is surrounded by his confidant and doctor Bob (Grant Williams – The Incredible Shrinking Man), country spy Tracy (Regina Carrol – Satan’s Sadists), and Amir’s right hand man Mohammed (Zandor Vorkov – Dracula vs. Frankenstein). The decision is made to transport Amir to America, where the notorious Dr. Trenton (Kent Taylor – Blood of Ghastly Horror) has perfected a brain transplant that transfers over all that person’s being (his soul, I guess) into a new host. The plan is to find a person that could look like Amir, and the country would never know.
By the time Mohammed and Bob reach America with Amir, he has already passed away. They take his tinfoil-wrapped body (I would have used a Tupperware coffin, but whatever) to Trenton, who informs them that one of his servants, Gor (John Bloom – The Dark) is retrieving the body as they speak. Of course, they don’t know that Gor is hunting down a burglar who matches the description of Amir – because Trenton needs a really fresh corpse to work on, you see.
When Mohammed and Bob leave to go to their hotel, they are followed and run off the road by a mysterious driver. With Mohammed dead, Bob calls in Tracy to help out. Meanwhile back at the lab, Gor, who is 7’4’’ and facially disfigured from a childhood battery acid bullying, has mangled the burglar’s face so Trenton decides to use Gor instead. Not really a match for Amir, but Trenton may have other plans anyway…
Okay, this summary is starting to get away from me, so I’ll try to wrap it up: Trenton’s other servant, the diminutive Dorro (Angelo Rossitto – Freaks) has a couple of lasses chained up in the underground dungeon; one escapes and meets up with Bob, Tracy has fled the lab with a confused and angry Amir/Gor, and Trenton goes after them all. Will he succeed with his nefarious plan, which I promise you is explained by the end of the film?
Brain of Blood has that exact elixir that emanated from drive-in screens back in the ‘70s; usually during a Dusk ‘Til Dawn showing, usually third billed, usually pretty horrible. Except this one isn’t horrible at all – nor is it good by conventional standards, whatever those may be. The technical qualities of this picture are better than I expected; there are some solid performances, the camerawork is good (Louis Horvath – Strange Behavior), the editor (J.P. Spohn) keeps things moving, and the music is apparently taken wholesale from one of the Blood Island films. But the story baby, we need to talk about that.
I can only assume as I throw myself into the Adamsonverse that there’s a spaghetti and wall situation with his films, even if it doesn’t stick. Brain of Blood has the Frankenstein angle, then throws in political subterfuge and a possible coup. That might not seem like a lot, but Adamson ping pongs from one to the other in the faint hope for some kind of cohesion; what he ends up with is a very busy movie that keeps pogo-ing from A to B until he runs out of film. This, however, is great for the viewer; there isn’t a boring moment to find in Brain of Blood – even the dialogue scenes occasionally resonate beyond the mundane. (Well, they aim high, anyway. It’s still exploitation.) Writer Joe Van Rodgers manages to squeak a little pathos out of the proceedings too, giving our GorAmir combo a voice before and after the transition, as they fight for control of the hulking body. It’s kind of touching.
As for the exploitation elements, there aren’t too many to set people off; there’s one victim in a bra, and the brain surgery is good and moist. But the real treat of Brain of Blood is that it works without relying on those staples of the genre; it’s just a damn good mad scientist-cum-spy movie. I sure hope there are more of those in the Adamsonverse, but frankly I’ll be picking up whatever he lays down.
Brain of Blood is available as part of the Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection from Severin Films.