Color, 2012, 90m.
Directed by Richard Griffin
Starring David Lavallee Jr., Sarah Nicklin, Michael Reed, Daniel Lee White, Colin Carlton, Ruth Sullivan, Brandon Luis Aponte
Camp (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) / DD2.0
When a metal cannister containing an alien contagion crashes into the Earth's surface, a couple of necking teenagers are interrupted only for the guy to get a slimy surprise when he goes to investigate. Soon the local teens are all either running from an incipient alien menace or learning how to fight it as their town is overrun by brain-headed aliens with giant eyeballs, as well as rival space vixens with an agenda of their own. Then Elvis Presley shows up at a diner, and the fun really begins.
An unabashed homage to '50s pop culture, Atomic Brain Invasion is obviously a pastiche of familiar drive-in monster classics like The Blob and Invaders from Mars (not to mention a hilariously irrelevant opening narrator babbling about reptile monsters) that manages to incorporate pretty much every character stereotype outside the genre, too. You get a guy in a Davy Crockett hat, a hayseed farmer, a military blowhard, and a bespectacled egghead, among others, along with plenty of faux vintage rock 'n' roll and spooky sci-fi music. Not surprisingly, this is the latest in the long line of nostalgia-based horror films from Richard Griffin, who's going to cover every single decade of movie history at this rate. (For the record, his other films include Splatter Disco, Beyond the Dunwich Horror, Necroville, The Disco Exorcist, Pretty Dead Things, and Creature from the Hillbilly Lagoon.) Most of his usual cast members are here, with stalwart Michael Reed getting one of his best roles to date as a greaser hoodlum with an unexpected hobby. Part of the obligatory not-quite-a-love-triangle, he's convinced he belongs with our heroine, Betty (Nicklin), who's more interested in bookworm Sherman (Lavallee Jr.).
Perhaps the most amusing cast member for a multitude of reasons is Aponte as Elvis; he looks nothing like the King, of course, but the gusto he throws into the part makes it compulsively watchable anyway and somehow manages to work. This territory isn't exactly new, of course, as anyone who loves Night of the Creeps can attest, but the combination of super-vivid digital photography with '50s antiquity gives it enough of a unique spin to make it stand out from the pack. Most surprisingly, there's really nothing objectionable here apart from some goo and a few monster make-up effects; you could probably show this to a 10-year-old monster fan and easily get away with it.
Most interestingly, this marks another step up in ambition from Griffin, who continues to progress with each effort. It's a pretty slick-looking film all things considered, once you get over the fact that, of course, it was shot on HD video. Not all of the young cast members quite nail the cadence of the period (and for you anachronism spotters, the 3-D glasses in the movie theater scene are all wrong), but the screen bombards you with so many bobbing aliens and saturated colors you probably won't care. These guys couldn't make a boring movie if they tried, and this is no exception.
The Camp DVD release is about on par with other comparable recent films; it looks pretty punchy despite the limitations of the format, and apart from some of the intentionally low-rent effects and sets, it all looks pretty good. The stereo audio mix is a little rocky at times when it comes to sound effects editing, but generally it's also about as good as the production itself will allow. The one notable extra here is an audio commentary with Griffin, producer Ted Marr, and actors Daniel Lee White and David Wilson (who plays the wonderfully-named General Bedfellow), covering everything from the inspiration for that opening sequence (The Mole People, of course) and other influences including The Abominable Dr. Phibes and The Brainiac. Other topics include the veracity of some actors' accents, rigging the effects, replicating dramatic '50s lighting, and much, much more. Also included are trailers for Interplanetary, The Basement, Ground Zero, Trippin', and Griffin's Nun of That.