Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Psycho a-Go-Go/The Fiend with the Electronic Brain/The Man With the Synthetic Brain/Blood of Ghastly Horror

My notes on Psycho A Go Go/The Fiend with the Electronic Brain/The Man With the Synthetic Brain/Blood of Ghastly Horror.

Like the Roger Corman production that evolved from Operacija Ticijan into Track of the Vampire via Portrait in Terror and Blood Bath, the saga of Al Adamson’s first film as a solo director is of reshoots, recuts, retitlings and re-presentation as what was taken to be an unsaleable low-budget crime movie was mauled over – under the aegis of producer Samuel M. Sherman – into nonsensical horror for which there was a market.

Adamson started out with a script called Two Tickets to Terror (in the film, they are tickets on a Grehound bus) and filmed it as Echo of Terror.  This starts with a violent jewel robbery and then gets into thugs stalking a regular family, thanks to the familiar device (later in Wait Until Dark) of a mcguffin (the gems) being stashed inside a doll (a weird blackface baby that sings Stephen Foster songs and is called Christie, which gets special billing) lugged around by an innocent moppet.  The first step away from Adamson’s initial concept came when it was suggested that the film might get play if it were a semi-musical pegged to the go-go trend, though that seems to have been a part of the scheme from the outset since it gives a star build-up to Tacey Robbins, who plays nightclub singer Linda Clarke, mother of doll-cradling bratette Nancy (K. K. Riddle) and wife of reluctant hero David (Kirk Duncan).  Psycho A Go Go may have some makeshift performances, but it’s an okay little crime-suspense item with terrific Techniscope cinematography from Vilmos Zsigmond.  The initial robbery, during which the gang’s most psycho member Joe Corey (Roy Morton) kills one of his own associated (Al Adamson himself), is a well-paced and efficient sequence, and there’s some good work in a climax that takes place in some spectacular snowy mountain scenery even if it takes a while to drag the characters up there.

There’s a Desperate Hours-ish home invasion, and Lyle Felice – from Halfway to Hell, which Adamson co-directed without credit – appears as a goateed mastermind (in the Adamson oeuvre, it never does to trust a goatee guy).  Plus a few spirited if unmemorable belter songs accompanied by girls jittering in front of a mirror and a couple of tipped-in psycho killings as Corey murders women while accomplishing relatively mundane address-locating tasks.  It’s the best version of the film.  Sherman then prevailed on Adamson to slip in a couple of scenes with John Carradine as Dr Vanard, with Morton and Joey Ward (as a cop secondary hero) returning to shoot new footage.  Now, the villain is a Vietnam veteran saved from catatonia by a pre-Terminal Man brain implant which supposedly makes him unpredictably violent.  Adamson whips together the new stuff with notably less enthusiasm.  Carradine’s death by electric helmet is clumsily laughable in zero-budget nonsense fashion and even the splicing in is done on the cheap, with Carradine’s credit and the new title (The Fiend with the Electronic Brain) on the same card and the now-star-name not added to the recap picture credits at the end (which even give prominent ‘and with’ billing to Christie the suspect doll).

All this wasn’t enough for Sherman, who came up with yet more titles – The Man with the Synthetic Brain and Blood of Ghastly Horror – for two more variant versions (BGH is just MSB with one murder – present all the way back to Echo of Terror – deleted for a TV sale) in which the original story is trimmed down to make once-upon-a-time lead characters into marginal presences and appear as flashbacks in a new frame story.  The film now opens with Akro (Richard Smedley), a zombie with caked green make-up, killing folks in an alley and then has cop Sgt Cross (Tommy Kirk) receiving a severed head in a box as he puzzles over what connects ‘the Vanard Case’ to the current killings.  Susan Vanard (Regina Carrol), the dead doctor’s daughter, gets involved, and it turns out that the new villain is Joe Corey’s father Dr Elton Corey (Kent Taylor), who was off in the Caribbean learning about voodoo while Dr Vanard was synethicising his son’s brain and is furious at the outcome since he believes he could have done better by Joe if allowed to dose him with zombie fluid.  This is actually quite an amusing idea, that rival mad medicos have rival processes for turning braindead GIs into different types of serial killer zombie – though it’s played as ranting nonsense.  Dr Corey kidnaps Susan and doses her with gunk that turns her into a white-haired, gunk-faced hag – the trailer calls her a 3,000-year-old mummy, which is a fair cop – for some dubious purpose.

By now, Zsigmond has gone and Louis Horvath photographs in a different style, with uncomfortably framed close-ups, and the flatness of the FEB inserts has evolved into a different badfilm aesthetic altogether.  On his commentary track, Sherman talks about cobbling together yet more versions – but … enough already, stick a fork in it, this one’s done.  That the three primary versions co-exist on a single disc of the Al Adamson BluRay set means the reasonable Psycho A Go Go is no longer obliterated by the bastardised grindhouse tosh … though, committed to shudder pulp as I am, it’s good to have the Synthetic Brain and Ghastly Horror versions handy.



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