Monday, January 20, 2014
Quick Plot Synopsis
Dr. Paul Holliston hits a dog while driving home. He takes the hurt dog to his home medical lab, trying to save it. Dog was pregnant. He can’t save the dog, but keeps one pup fetus alive via medical techniques he and his dead wife worked on. It works. The premature pup grows at amazingly fast rate, becoming a full grown dog in a few days. He is able to stop the rapid growth. The dog is also very smart. However, the dog also kills a yappy dog and hides Yappy in some bushes. Paul want to try his formula on a human premature fetus. Doctor friend reluctantly agrees. Suicide girl was 5 months pregnant. Paul gets the fetus. The treatment works, but too well. The fetus grows into a small girl, then a teen. Finally, Paul stops the growth, which was becoming rapid aging. The subject is now a svelte young woman. She awakens. Paul teaches her about the world, but she has an advanced mind, so learns fast. Speed-reads many books. At a party, she makes her debut as Victoria Spencer, Paul’s new lab assistant. She amazes everyone with her wit, charm and beauty. She beats a chess champion (Roddy MacDowell) in her first game. That night, she seduces Paul to “experience” more. Victoria starts to feel pains. She sneaks injections of a drug to slow the aging, but it never lasts. She learns that the cure requires the pituitary gland of a 6 month old fetus. Paul’s sister-in-law, Martha threatens to expose Victoria as a fake. Victoria gives her an injection while she sleeps so she has a heart attack later. Victoria lures a pregnant prostitute to the house intent to steal the baby, but Helen (Paul’s daughter-in-law) interrupts. The prostitute fetus apparently did not work, so Victoria drugs Helen and takes her baby (by C-section). Paul and Gordon interrupt. In the scuffle, Victoria stabs Gordon dead. The fetus is lost. Victoria flees, driving a yellow TransAm. Paul gives chase, finally causing her to crash. The car bursts into flames, but Victoria was thrown clear. Paul tries to drown her in the river, but is stopped by a crowd. Paramedics say that the woman (now with much “old woman” makeup) is having a baby! Nooo! shouts Paul. Fade to black. Sound of a slap and a baby cry. Roll credits. The End.
Why is this movie fun?
Rock Hudson manages to bring some first-tier acting to the cast, but Barbara Carerra steals the show. Besides being excellent on the eyes, she manages to give depth to the Victoria role. While the first three quarters of the film are fairly slow paced, the final minutes are very fast paced. The twist ending is intriguing too. Roddy McDowall gives an entertaining performance as the high-strung chess master.
The Abortion Debate had people arguing about when an unborn baby (a fetus) was a “person” or not. America was still trying to adjust to the new Roe v Wade decision. Dr. Holliston’s goal to save very-premature fetuses seems to come from the pro-life side. Victoria’s cold approach to getting a fetus — even if it meant murder — seems to represent the pro-abortion side. The story manages to pre-sage the embryonic stem cell debate that would rage 30 years later.
Dr. Frankenstein, I presume — The story in Embryo is a modern retelling of the classic Frankenstein story. A well-meaning doctor thinks he has a special process that will benefit mankind. He steps over moral lines to experiment on human material. In both cases, the human material was technically outside of the law (already dead for Frankenstein, not yet a viable “human” for Holliston). Both manage to ‘create’ an adult who is totally new to the world — the emotional development of an infant, but the body of an adult. The creation kills people, more out of self-preservation than malice. The creation destroys the doctor’s life. (Literally, in the 1931 film, figuratively in the novel, legally/ethically in the Embryo film)
Untempered Intellect — Victoria gets to symbolize the cold scientific mind: highly capable, but morally rudderless. She reads the Bible, thinking it was an interesting story but “highly illogical.” Logic was not the point of the Bible. She totally misses morality. When she plays chess with McDowall, she has no social experience to see the wider scale of human games (ego, etiquette, deference, etc.), only winning. So, when Victoria recognizes a threat to her happiness, she reacts without scruples, killing Martha. When it came down to killing people (the prostitute) and Helen’s baby in order to live, she acted without hesitation. She had the intellect to act, but no ethics to restrain that action. The point being, that intellect might be innate, but morality must be learned.
Computer Room — The greasy Liesure-Suit-Larry character is a computer manager. He shows Victoria his room-sized computer (and it’s a really big room too). This was the pinnacle of high-tech computing the mid-70s. Tall cabinets of blinking lights and spinning tape drives line the walls. She types into an input station. He monitors at a different station. He retrieves the answer from a printer larger than a chest-style freezer. Those were the days. Big was impressive back then.
Car Nut — Cars don’t factor into the story much, but Martha’s bright yellow TransAm is so symbolic of the mid 70s. It’s hard not to point it out.
Bottom line? Embryo is a decent enough sci-fi / thriller. Some decry it as cheap horror, but there isn’t much horror in it. Victoria doesn’t go ‘psycho’ so much as she simply lacks morality. Hudson’s acting is okay, if not up to his caliber. Carrara does a good job, looking naively happy, conflicted and panicky-resolute. The director (and producers?) included some gratuitous nudity as de riguer for film in the 70s (and beyond). Embryo may be slow paced and a bit talky for some, but it is actually a fairly thoughtful rendition of the classic Frankenstein story.