Brain of Blood / The Undying Brain / The Brain / Brain Damage / The Creature’s Revenge (1971) -***
Traditionally, when Hollywood enters into collaboration with production companies from other lands, considerable effort is expended to disguise the foreign origins of the resulting films. Witness, for example, all those American guest stars imported to play the leads in the movies Toho produced in conjunction with Henry G. Saperstein or Rankin-Bass. But in the case of Brain of Blood, the only one of Hemisphere Pictures’ drive-in-era horror films to be shot in the United States by an American director, the usual practice was stood on its head. Hemisphere had been doing well for itself ever since the 1964 reissue of Terror Is a Man, and by the middle of 1971, it had all the movies under production that its studio infrastructure could comfortably handle. The company’s American partners at Independent-International were of the opinion that the market could absorb even more Hemisphere product, however, and after a bit of discussion, Eddie Romero and Sam Sherman, the respective head honchos at Hemisphere and I-I, settled upon an unusual experiment to meet the perceived demand. Sherman would turn loose Al Adamson to make a picture which could be passed off as a Filipino import, even though no one involved in its creation would ever set foot outside the Los Angeles hinterland during the course of production. Even the title— Brain of Blood— would toe the established Eddie Romero line. I’ve heard stranger ideas in my time, but not very many.
Abdul Amir (Reed Hadley), beloved ruler of the imaginary Middle Eastern nation of Kahlid, is dying of cancer, but as yet, only his most intimate circle of advisors has any inkling of that fact. It is the considered opinion of all concerned that if word got out that the amir was really lying at death’s door, and not taking a holiday in seclusion from the pressures of rule, the people of Kahlid would so rapidly lose faith in their government that virtually all of the progress the country has made during Abdul’s reign would be undone immediately. There might seem to be nothing for it, but the amir’s personal physician, the half-British Robert Nigserian (Grant Williams, of The Incredible Shrinking Man and The Leech Woman), thinks he knows of a way out of Kahlid’s bind. A mostly discredited colleague of his by the name of Lloyd Trenton (Kent Taylor, from Brides of Blood and Blood of Ghastly Horror) claims to have perfected a technique for the transplantation of the human brain, and Abdul’s number-one secret agent (Regina Carrol, of Angels’ Wild Women and Satan’s Sadists) has known Trenton for long enough that she believes he knows what he’s talking about, even if the rest of the world medical establishment considers him a crank and a crackpot. If the amir will allow it, Nigserian wants to fly his body to the United States the moment he dies; it should be possible to make the trip to Trenton’s lab in just enough time for the renegade doctor to install Abdul’s brain in a new body before the fifteen-hour window of opportunity identified by Trenton closes. Abdul’s aide, Mohammed (Zandor Vorkov, from Dracula vs. Frankenstein), may not like the idea much, but the amir goes for it, and even Mohammed is willing to concede that Nigserian’s plan seems to offer the only real hope for the country’s future.
You might think it would bother Nigserian a bit to discover that Trenton has no host body on hand when he, Mohammed, and the dead amir arrive at the lab. However, Trenton assures his visitors both that a body will be coming along very shortly, and that recent advances in his research have obviated the need for an immediate transplant. All Trenton, Nigserian, and Trenton’s assistant, Dorro (Angelo Rossitto, from The Corpse Vanishes and Mesa of Lost Women), will need to do before the fifteen hours are up is pop the amir’s brain out of his skull and transfer it to the special life-support machine which Trenton has developed specifically for that purpose. (Incidentally, it occurs to me that a man who is too short even to see the top of the operating table is exactly what every doctor wants in a surgical assistant…) What Trenton is taking pains to avoid saying, of course, is that the reason he has no body ready is that his transplant technique requires a host body so fresh that it must be killed more or less immediately before the operation. Even now, his other assistant, Gor (what do you know— it’s John Bloom, from The Dark and The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant, playing yet another gigantic, disfigured retard!), is prowling the city in pursuit of a burglar with approximately the amir’s build and facial physiognomy. As soon as Gor has “recruited” the unfortunate body-donor, the second phase of the operation can begin.
Something very strange happens while Mohammed and Nigserian are on the way to the hotel where they will await news of the second surgery, though. A shaggy-haired man (Richard Smedley, from The Abductors and Naughty Stewardesses) in a colossally befinned Cadillac chases them down and runs them off the road. Only Nigserian himself survives the automotive assassination. As soon as possible, he gets in touch with Secret Agent Tracy, who flies out to the US to help him get to the bottom of it all. Nigserian’s best guess is that somebody wants to make sure the amir remains peacefully dead— either that, or someone is after Dr. Trenton for one reason or another. But if you’re asking me, I think there’s much more going on here than either Tracy or the doctor suspect. After all, it must surely be significant that the assassin is later blown up in his car (or a car, anyway— the exploding Caddy is not the same one we see the man climb into an instant before) by Dorro mere moments after escaping capture by Nigserian.
Meanwhile, back at the lab, there has been an unforeseen complication. Gor did such a thorough job of killing the burglar that his body is now entirely useless for the operation. Nigserian will be coming back in less than 48 hours, so there’s really no time to procure another donor, and beyond that, the teenage girl chained up in the cellar (Margo Hope) who has been providing Abdul’s brain with its blood supply is just about out of plasma herself. The transplant has to be performed at once, and the only remotely suitable body available belongs to Gor. Now mind you, Trenton is going to have some explaining to do when Abdul Amir wakes up in the body of a seven-foot freak whose head looks like a badly decayed cantaloupe, but at this point, the doctor really doesn’t see that he has any choice in the matter. And as we shall see, it may be that temporarily monsterizing the amir will simplify matters a bit when Trenton is finally ready to begin the open pursuit of his own hitherto secret agenda.
Brain of Blood is nearly unique within the Al Adamson filmography, in that it was shot entirely in one go, and does not use even a single second of footage recycled from some earlier, stillborn Adamson production. Consequently, it’s a good deal less loopy than most of the director’s output, and far more closely resembles a movie as most of us understand the term. In fact, were it not for the presence of nearly the complete Dracula vs. Frankenstein cast, one really might almost mistake it for an Eddie Romero picture. Certainly the Romero illusion is fostered by the reuse of the entire score from The Mad Doctor of Blood Island, the presence in the cast of a very familiar face from Brides of Blood, and a brand of mad science that I can easily imagine Dr. Lorca being comfortable with.
Unfortunately, in this particular case, I score that lack of the usual Adamsonalia as something of a weakness. Brain of Blood really ought to be a lot more screwed up than it is in order to get the most out of its defiantly outrageous premise. I mean, look at this mess. A dying “Arab” tyrant tries to hang onto his throne by having his brain transplanted into a new body? The new body ends up being that of a freakishly huge, acid-scarred mental defective? It’s all part of some bizarre plot to establish the world’s first scientific dictatorship? Regina Carrol is a secret agent?! This movie was just crying out for some of Adamson’s signature foibles— some brain-damaging dialogue, some sudden and inexplicable detours through what looks for all the world like an entirely different movie, the unexpected appearance of a coked-up Russ Tamblyn at the head of a shabby and unconvincing motorcycle gang. As it is, Brain of Blood is just too damn close to making sense, you know? Now I’m not saying it wasn’t 87 minutes well-spent in spite of all that, mind you, but with a little less discipline and a funding crisis or two, it could have been ever so much more.