14 Oct

Gee whiz! It’s another Richard Griffin picture! Atomic Brain Invasion.

Posted by Bryan White | Thursday October 14, 2010 | Reviews

Atomic Brain Invasion ReviewAround the time when production on Atomic Brain Invasion was wrapping, word came down from friends and was then confirmed by Griffin that Atomic Brain Invasion would be his last picture and this saddened me deeply. I’m a fan. If you’ve been keeping up with this site for a while you’ve maybe noticed that when new reviews of Griffin’s movies come up, for instance, Nun of That, Beyond The Dunwich Horror (actually written by Tim Fife), Necroville and Splatter Disco, I tend to write long love letters to the cast and crew for making such entertaining and original spoofs. Richard and I have never met in spite of living only a couple of hours apart but we talk a lot and the site has been privvy to some of his latest news. This is all in the interest of full disclosure. My gushing reviews about the genius of Richard and company must be looking really suspicious right about now but I assure you, these rave reviews are well earned.

It turns out that word about Richard retiring is all for naught because shortly after I confirmed his retirement he hit me with an exclusive that I never ran, mostly because he never sent me the actual press release. At one point, Richard was set to remake the classic The Brain That Wouldn’t Die and then I never heard about it again. Last I heard, the Scorpio Film Releasing group would be doing an expansion of their 2010 48 Hour Film Project entry, Mutants of the Apocalypse into a feature film,  much like how Nun Of That started as a short and became a feature. This filled me with happiness. Happiness, I tell you! But I keep seeing new mentions on the Facebook from Richard about other projects, so who knows. All I know is that it’s not east to make a movie, particularly when you’re doing it on a tiny budget in Rhode Island. I guess great scripts and a killer cast help things enormously.

Ah, the 50’s. Sock hops, poodle skirts and rock and roll rule youth culture. So does Elvis who also happens to be heading into Anytown, USA for a performance that will show the kids how much he appreciates their support. En route, however, a capsule descends from space and ejects a slime on the nearest horny teens in the woods in order to take over their bodies. Meanwhile, another craft descends on Anytown, USA carrying three humanoid teenage aliens. Both sets of aliens want Elvis but for entirely different reasons. Stuck in the middle is a group of Anytown teens and the love triangle between them.

Atomic Brain Invasion, somehow manages to spoof every single shitty, trashy piece of drive-in garbage from the era without missing a single detail. Those of us in the rapidly aging bracket of horror fandom came up  in a time when every US city had some kind of creature feature and in our neck of the woods, The Creature Double Feature on WLVI ran nothing but this kind of crap so I have a special place in my heart for this early exploitation schlock that aimed to capitalize on teen crazes. Griffin takes pieces of each one of those Commie/Atomic Bomb scare flicks and weaves them all into one hilarious feature that runs wild, drunk on its own self-conscious idiocy.

Apart from a really funny premise and a script that floats the whole thing on capable hands, this is one of Griffin’s most ambitious movies, featuring some of the best special effects to come out of any of his productions. Since this is a pretty light affair with the emphasis landing on the comedy, there really isn’t any gore or violence to speak of, so the creature effects tend to fall into messy, slimy alien effects. There’s also a good deal of CGI to speak of as well. My expectations were tuned accordingly, however, and for a low budget production, the visual effects are pretty strong and fit the theme of the movie well. At times I found myself wondering why Griffin wouldn’t have just taken the Ed Wood or Bert I. Gordon route and shot crappy props with forced perspective.

Griffin’s cast is pretty much the same people he’s been using since Beyond The Dunwich Horror but as the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” There are a couple of new additions to the cast, notably in Scorpio newcomer, Alexander Lewis, who plays the alien, Blondie. The cast of your typical Scorpio production is a tight unit and they’ve worked together on Richard Griffin movies as well as other genre productions around Providence. Lewis sinks right into the madness and never misses a beat. This orchestra operates like any given issue of Mad Magazine brought to life so becoming a working part of the team can’t be easy but Lewis fits like a glove. Apart from Lewis, however, the rest of the picture is operating on an independent idea. Typically, Griffin’s movies orbit Sarah Reed, clearly his muse, but this time Griffin has shifted the script and handed the spotlight to players who have existed on the sidelines in past features. The real star of Atomic Brain Invasion is Michael Reed, who in past Griffin movies has played tremendously funny sideline characters, like his turn as Jesus and the Devil in Nun of That. Here he plays the wannabe hoodlum Lukas Bedfellow with an inexplicable fascination with origami. He flip flops between a greaser type and a house whipped son of a military general. His rival is the nerdy Sherman, played by David Lavalee, known from other Providence pictures for stunts, martial arts and playing the two-fisted heavy. Here he shows off actual acting chops and it’s great to see him in a leading role but te entire movie is nearly stolen by Brandon Aponte who, in pretty much every movie he’s done with Griffin, has played mobsters. I can’t fault him for that, either. He’s good at it! In Atomic Brain Invasion, however, he plays Elvis and while he looks nothing like him and his accent is ridiculous, he’s one of the movie’s funniest characters, deliriously lurching from scene to scene, lampooning the usual Elvis stereotype.

Atomic Brain Invasion is Scorpio Film Releasing’s latest entry and it’s more evidence of Griffin honing his craft. Like previous Scorpio flicks, it looks like everyone is having a blast and it gives the movie a positive quality that makes it so much easier to enjoy. Nun of That remains my favorite Scorpio feature but Atomic Brain Invasion is right up there. It’s sharp, it’s funny and it’s the kind of thing that makes me hope that Griffin never stops making movies. He just get better at it with each release.


  1. October 15, 2010 2:34 am

    Richard Griffin

    You hit the nail on the head about Sarah being my muse. I’ve said that for years. Thank you for the kind review, Bryan.

  2. October 17, 2010 4:47 pm

    Margee Wolf

    It always amazes me when a reviewer picks up on the cohesiveness of the Scorpio Film Releasing gang. It’s a fun group that works hard and plays hard. “Atomic Brain Invasion” is my personal favorite SFR film followed closely by “Nun of That”.

  3. October 17, 2010 8:41 pm


    Thank you for the wonderful review Bryan. As always, I had a fantastic time working on this picture with my dearest friends…and as you said yourself, it too is my favorite SFR picture to date. Cheers.

  4. October 17, 2010 8:42 pm

    Sarah Nicklin

    Wow guys! Thanks for the great review! It certainly was a fun film to be part of!

    On a side note – it’s still Nicklin, not Reed – no biggie, but just wanted to let you know :)

  5. November 4, 2010 3:53 pm

    Bernie Larrivee

    Y’know you’re absolutely right about this “orchestra” and tho I’m not out in front, I had a great time doing this and I’m truly proud of how it came out.
    When this finally does find it’s way to DVD, I’ll be getting it for lots of people as a gift.
    I’d work with Richard (and this great crew) any time. Any time!
    Even if I’m a G-Man again! <}-:/

  6. December 1, 2010 5:04 pm

    Gee whiz! It’s another Richard Griffin picture! Atomic Brain Invasion. « Gio Castellano

    […] As Seen in: Cinema Suicide […]

  7. March 24, 2011 6:55 pm


    When will this be coming out on DVD? I loved Nun of That.

  8. March 28, 2011 1:49 am

    So full of yourselves...

    Is this what film journalism has been reduced to….arse kissing?lol This review is obscene and is not a review, just an egotistical backslapping fest for a bunch of amateur filmmakers so they can ‘pretend’ that they are big-time filmmakers doing this for real when really they are like a bunch of kids playing house.

    Look, the movie looks bad. The karate Elvis thing ripped off from Bubba-Hotep and the retro 50s horror gimmick betrayed by a digital video look that feels like a behind-the-scenes doc of a film being made rather than the film itself. I wish this awful indie wannabe movies were more self-aware because with all these resources you folks could make actually make a good movie rather than dumping this dreck on us movie-goers. Proof that Hollywood isn’t the only place where bad indulgent filmmaking happens.

  9. April 14, 2011 10:47 pm

    Sure, okay...

    Sure, that’s why the movie was an official selection at the Boston Underground Film Festival, was nominated for a Rondo Award, and has played to huge crowds, and also received this fantastic review:


    You know, only an awfully sad person takes pleasure on pissing on someone else’s work. I’m sorry life has dealt you such a rotten hand. Maybe you can find a little peace someday.

  10. April 17, 2011 1:26 pm

    Who cares?

    hahahahahhaha… Wow, this is like the movie Ed Wood. Who cares about the Boston Independent Film Festival. Never heard of it. Guess what? I have heard about “Cannes”, “Sundance”, “Toronto Film Festival”, “SXSW Film festival”, even “Slamdance” (where Paranormal Activity played). So when this amateur filmmaker that you are shilling for gets his movie into a REAL film festival, then you will have a point here. For instance, Director James Gunn, who made a REAL no-budget film titled “Super”, got his film into real film festivals. So, I’m totally for GOOD low budget filmmaking. I’m offended by the EGO involved here, nothing more. It’s offensive to watch you brag about crappy films from a guy who can’t even get his film played at REAL film fests. You are supposed to be a journalist, not this guy’s toadie. Remember that.

  11. April 18, 2011 11:02 am

    Bryan White

    I’m going to put my hands up here and state for the record that I didn’t post that comment in defense of the review. I openly defend my review because I liked the movie a lot and I’m a fan of Richard’s movies. That’s the great thing about opinions, everyone is entitled to one and everyone is entitled to disagree. I’m just not really sure why it’s so offensive that I’d present my case in support of his movies. If you don’t like it, you feel like it’s amateurish, poorly made, poorly acted, whatever your complaint may be, that’s all you and I provide this space for you to comment or criticize. Ego? What fucking ego? Whose? Mine? To what end? Also, this notion that a movie’s merit is measured by the festivals that it plays at is seriously fucking flawed. By your logic festivals like SXSW and Sundance are gold mines of quality film and that’s just not the case. You cite Paranormal Activity like it’s some kind of case study for a successful picture and while it stands as the most profitable movie of all time, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it was any good. Going back to opinions, I was actually severely underwhelmed by Paranormal Activity and thought the marketing push was far more impressive than the actual movie. Just because it played at Slamdance doesn’t mean shit.

    Where you got this idea that Gunn’s film Super was a no-budget movie is anyone’s guess, though. Maybe you’d like to elaborate on that because I can tell you flat out, that movie cost in the neighborhood of $2million to make. That’s low budget by Hollywood standards but a far cry from “no-budget”. Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page aren’t working for free, you know. This notion that Gunn is some kind of indie underdog is also sort of laughable. You may have had a point back when he worked for Troma but these days he has a lot of high profile studio connections and regularly works in the studio system. He wrote the Dawn of the Dead script and the first Scooby Doo script and Slither won him a lot of praise so let’s not pretend that he’s fighting the tide, struggling to get his name made or anything.

    In closing, and this is the last I’m going to say on the matter. I like Richard Griffin’s movies a lot. Feel free to disagree. Feel free to consider me some kind of ass kisser and feel free to post your opposition here but I make no apologies. In my opinion he makes consistently entertaining movies with a cast that I like an awful lot. I recognize that they’re flawed movies but I feel like their merits raise them up above their limitations. I think they’re unpretentious and fun. I want more people to see them because I think there’s a lot of value here. And don’t wave that line “you’re a journalist” in my face because, quite frankly, I hate that shit and you’re in no position to judge providing no actual name to your comments and hiding behind kevin@viewaskew.com for an email address, leaving the only your IP as a vague identifier. Every post, every review and every opinion on this site carries my name and the site has many ways to get in touch with me.

    So kindly go fuck yourself, you snobby dick.

  12. April 20, 2011 1:25 pm

    Has nothing to do with being 'snobby', this movie just sucks. And that's all that matters...

    I never said the movie’s merits are measured by what fests it was admitted to. I was making fun of a poster here who said this movie was good ‘because’ it got into some obscure underground film festival. My point is that: who cares? But I also made fun of the fact that if you are going to brag about what exposure your film gets, then at least have something to brag about (like getting into Sundance or something like that).

    Look, for me… it’s all about the movie. I get it, you are a fan of this guy. So this is like church for you. For me, I don’t care WHO makes the movie. If it sucks (and this movie, like all of Griffin’s movies, suck) then it sucks and that’s all that should matter. I don’t care about the heart that went into making this. I don’t care if the guy if frickin Gandhi. If Gandhi made a shitty movie, then that’s all I care about.

    We clear on that?

    That said… don’t care yourself a critic if you have NO idea what a critic does. Simply admitting you are a loyal fan of this guy makes you the worst person to review this movie. At least be honest with your readers and say you are doing PR for the guy. That’s difference between a fan page (which this is) and a review (journalism, which this is not).

    That said, onto the movie: who ever said this movie can hold it’s own against any big budget hollywood movie is someone who was involved with the production. What a crap-fest this movie was. B-movie doesn’t even begin to describe it, it’s more like D or F and that’s being kind. I’d rather have a root canal than sit through this shoddy attempt at ‘movie making’. The film makers should be working behind a drive through window instead of a camera. Save yourself 100 minutes and just hit yourself in the nose with a hammer. It’ll have the safe effect as watching this turd.

    Peace out! lol

  13. April 20, 2011 4:32 pm

    Hey bro... critics DO matter. And being nice is actually a form of contempt...

    Hey Bryan. I think you are missing my friend’s point. He’s saying that you being egotistical in the sense that you are ‘missing the mark.’ Being nice to your filmmaker friend violates your duty as a critic. So he’s saying you should either change your website to reflect this (make it a fan page) because when you call yourself a critic then you have a duty to criticize if necessary. And you are making a populist anti-intellectual argument that isn’t as ‘nice’ and ‘supportive’ as you think… it actually comes from a mean, passive-aggressive borderline fascistic place in your head. Hence the ego thing again.

    Consider the fiasco with “American Idol” these days since their only real critic Simon left. And let’s be honest, we watched that show (if at all) because he made criticism a form of entertainment but also because it’s something that is vital, necessary to the dialogue insofar as art is concerned.

    Anyone who’s a critic these days has to contend with a steady anti-mainstream-media drumbeat, one that sounds something like this: Critics don’t matter! They’re out of the touch with The People! They’re snobby hacks whose opinions carry no more validity than anyone else’s! (Memo to haters: Have I left out any of your complaints?) If you accused me of being defensive on this issue, you would probably be right. It’s how I make my living, so of course I’m bound to get a little touchy about it. Yet I also think that I’m capable of setting my personal bias aside to talk about why critics, at their best, really do matter. And offhand, I can think of no better illustration of why they matter than what happened on American Idol last week, when the golden-throated songstress Pia Toscano got booted off before her time. The audience voted, presumably with their hearts, but where were the judges, the tastemakers — the critics! — when we needed them? One can natter on about the usual voting-idiosyncrasy conspiracy theories (not enough of Pia’s fans bothered to call in for her!). Or one could argue that the vote last week was as democratic an expression of viewer wisdom as it is any week on Idol, and that there was nothing outrageous about it at all. I concur, to a small degree, with the excellent case made by Ken Tucker about the Achilles’ heel of Pia as a singer: She’s so seamless in her technical and emotional perfection, her voice so controlled a vessel, that the ultimate effect of a Pia performance, no matter how good, is always a little staid. Personally, I have one additional theory about her rejection that I haven’t heard floated yet. The song that Toscano chose for her fatal week, the Tina Turner/Phil Spector classic “River Deep – Mountain High,” is an anthem of volcanic power, but it’s also one of the oddest songs in rock & roll history. It boils and roils, it crescendos, it gets all breathless and frenzied and ecstatic, but it doesn’t quite have what you could call a groove. When it first came out in 1966, public reaction to the song was so negative that Spector effectively ended his own career in response. I’ve known and loved “River Deep – Mountain High” since the mid-’70s, but it’s a track that takes a bit of getting used to. I imagine that if you were hearing it for the first time (as probably 90 percent of the Idol audience was) on the night that Pia embossed it with her usual amber perfection, it might have made you go “Hmmmm…”
    But look, all of this rationalizing — and the spin control from Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, who was clearly out to save face — misses the forest for the trees. Pia may still be learning to cut loose, and perhaps her Celine Dion-on-Xanax vibrato-machine smoothness is a touch too imperial, but even if she wasn’t meant to go the distance, she got kicked off way too early, and the more you think about it, the more obvious it is who the culprits are. As Dalton Ross, Kristen Baldwin, and Annie Barrett eloquently argued in their podcast last week, it was, more than anything else, the judges’ fault. They’ve become the equivalent of movie-ad quote whores, greeting each performance, no matter how mediocre, with the equivalent of air kisses, pelting each contestant with little bouquets of ego-stroking positivity. In their holy quest to avoid the negative, they now offer no criticism, no guidance, no sense of any standard that they’re operating from. They’re encasing each performance in a Bubble Wrap of hype.
    In recent weeks, as this has really gotten out of hand, it has become depressingly clear — at least, this is my theory — that the judges have been muzzled by the show’s producers. I say this because Randy, who at the start of the season seemed like he was becoming the new Simon (simply by remaining his old commonsensical, I-love-you-dawg-but-here’s-something-you-gotta-work-on self), grew softer and softer, and looked less and less happy about it. To give one telling example: I bow to no one in my enthusiasm for the soaring pop-gospel quavers of Jacob Lusk (whose rendition of Heart’s “Alone” is the most haunting performance so far this season), but his version of “Man in the Mirror” last week not only added nothing new to Michael Jackson’s, it was egregiously out of tune — and for any of the judges, especially the sharp-eared Randy, to fail to point that out was unforgivable. They also blew it by letting James Durbin get away with a lazy, ’60s-variety-show lounge-lizard version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I usually think that James is terrific, but he needed to be called out on that one. And had he and a few of the others been called out, Pia might still be there.
    It was more than a little ironic to see the judges’ jaw-dropping, head-shaking outrage at what happened to Pia, since this was a case of the chickens coming home to roost, with the all-praise-all-the-time strategy laid bare as the timid — and, yes, dishonest — “feel good” ideology it is. You could see the battle over that ideology turn ugly when Randy offered one of the few (mild) tidbits of criticism on last week’s show, complaining about the bumpy rhythm of the first half of Stefano’s performance, and the other two judges, especially Jennifer Lopez, castigated him, as if the very idea that he was offering words that weren’t “supportive” made him some sort of buzzkill Debbie Downer. In those few seconds, the atmosphere on the judges’ panel turned almost Stalinist. What Lopez was saying wasn’t only that she disagreed with Randy, but that his willingness to engage in criticism — any criticism — had put him on the wrong side of the show’s vibe, the wrong side of America. With the studio audience cued to agree, and to display its displeasure by booing, the whole segment took on the air of a fascist pep rally. Meanwhile, Lopez managed to gush over every single performance on rock & roll night — yet she visibly recoiled when Iggy Pop, one of the inventors of rock & roll, stuck his wild-one sneer in her face. Does J. Lo really prefer Stefano to Iggy Pop? (I’d be afraid to know the answer.)
    Of course, audiences on Idol used to make similar hoots of displeasure when Simon Cowell went into one of his solo pirouettes of slice-and-dice disdain. Yet they also hung on his every word, and with good reason: For nearly a decade on Idol, Simon wasn’t just an electrifying personality and a caustically fearless judge. He was a great critic — not because he was “mean,” but because what he said was blunt and honest and incisive and fascinating. He had plenty of enthusiasm, but when he didn’t, his reasons for not liking something made you sit up and think. You might agree with him, or you might disagree, but either way, you reacted to the surgical wit of his perceptions. He had a vision of what a song should be, and his vision, more often than not, enhanced and enlarged what you heard.
    Right now, the judges on Idol aren’t enhancing anything. They’re just blurring the line — between the good and the not-so-good, between the performers we like and the ones we love. Their miscalculated early save of Casey Abrams was just one more instance of their refusal to make distinctions, shrewdly and soberly, coming back to bite them. They were so busy cheerleading that they threw away their one real act of power. (Hell, a week earlier, J. Lo had wanted to use the save on Karen Rodriguez!) The grandest irony of all is that without content, without criticism, in what the judges elect to say, the singers aren’t raised up high. They’re subtly diminished, all mashed together into a sweetly cloying marzipan of weekly good vibes. If there’s a lesson in the booting of Pia Toscano, it’s that criticism, when it’s offered by people who know what they’re doing, isn’t evil. It’s a force that enriches, an aesthetic helping hand, a declaration of reality that helps the best artists prevail. Let’s hope that tonight the judges remember what they’re there for, that they’re willing to be critics again. Let’s hope that they start judging.

    Hopefully this isn’t over your head. My 2 cents.

  14. April 20, 2011 5:33 pm

    Bryan White

    Fine. Whatever. I’m sure my credibility as a critic has been irreversibly damaged in the eyes of a couple of readers. I’m not sure how I’ll live with myself.

    Look. I put it all up on front street in the first god damn paragraph of the review. In the interest of full disclosure blah blah blah these rave reviews are well earned. I understand why I’m being shot at right now. Your friend with the long commenter names mistakes my positive reviews of Griffin’s movies for deliberate PR on Griffin’s behalf but I try to make it clear that in spite of our relationship, one that was based on me being a fan of his movies before we ever connected, Atomic Brain Invasion and other flicks from his resume click with me in spite of their budgetary limitations. He’s making these movies on peanuts and my expectations are set accordingly. Are you guys going to be just as outraged that I’m an outspoken fan of Road House as well and recommend that everyone see it because it’s fun and stupid? No? Is it because me and the late Patrick Swayze aren’t tight?

    I get it. His position is, “This movie is shit! How can anyone like this?” And my position is, “This movie is great! How can anyone not like this?” The only thing sparking so much intense nerd rage is that I make it clear that Griffin and I are friendly. You know who else I talk to often? Albert Pyun. You know what I think of his movies? They suck.

    At this point I’m over it. I really don’t care and I won’t concede. I stick with my opinion that Atomic Brain Invasion is low budget fun. You guys can be as outraged as you like. I’ll try not to let it bother me tonight when I’m trying to sleep. Right now I’m actually more astonished by the possibility that Owen Gleiberman may, in fact, be posting some long winded analogy of critical integrity to American Idol on my site.

  15. October 6, 2012 11:48 pm

    Gary Bowden

    A great review to a very funny movie.Loved it from start to finish..

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