Triskaidekafiles is a love letter to cheesy cinema from the 80s and 90s, with the occasional dip into other eras.  if you're a fan of MST3K, Elvira, Joe Bob Briggs, or just bad horror movies in general, Trisk is the place for you.

Embryo (1974)


WRITER: Screenplay by Anita Doohan and Jack W. Thomas
    Script by Jack W. Thomas

DIRECTOR: Ralph Nelson

STARRING: Rock Hudson as Dr. Paul Holliston
    Dianne Ladd as Martha Douglas
    Anne Schedeen as Helen Holliston
    John Elerick as Gordon Holliston
    Jack Colvin as Dr. Jim Winston
    Roddy McDowall as Frank Riley
    Barbara Carrera as Victoria    

QUICK CUT: After a scientist saves an unborn puppy with a new medical treatment and rapidly grows it to adulthood, he decides to try it on a human foetus.  What could possibly go wrong??


    Dr. Paul Holliston - Our lead, a determined doctor who is doing the right thing, for the right reasons, but has a few ethical and moral issues he should work out before being given the scalpel.  He lost his wife in an accident, and lives with his sister-in-law, Martha.

    Victoria - The embryo Paul save and raises to adulthood in the matter of a few weeks.  She's smarter than everyone, never got a normal education, and has even worse morals than Paul, and less social skills than me.

This movie better scramble, or getting over won't be easy.

THE GUTS: Embryo starts off in one of my favourite ways, with a text piece about how this movie isn't science fiction, but based on real things that might be possible today!  It is such an over the top, yet simple way to try and sell your terror.

After the credits, we get horrified right away by Doctor Paul hitting a poor dog with his car in a rain storm.  But that's not the most horrifying thing.  That would be the audio.  I swear they stuck the microphone out in the rain while this was going on, because it clears up once they close the door to his home.  And this is only scratching the surface.  I'll go into the audio at length later.

Fortunately, the guy is a doctor, and fortunately he has an operating room in his house.  He checks the dog out and decides to operate, so it's even more fortunate he just so happens to have canine plasma on hand!  He was clearly a Boy Scout as a kid.

Hey, wait, this is not the park!!

Paul seems to vary between the dog being doomed and having hope, but he calls his son Gordon to go get more supplies, so I guess it's not a completely lost cause.  At the very least, the puppies might pull through.

Gordon and his pregnant wife Helen arrive shortly with the supplies his dad asked for, and see he has removed the dog's unborn puppies and set them up in life support incubator thingermajiggers.

Dr. Paul determines there's not much hope for any of the canines, outside of a very experimental procedure for the last remaining puppy foetus, so naturally he tries it.  The serum should accelerate the growth of the puppy, so it will be large enough to survive without its mother, which is going to pass away shortly.

Dead puppies aren't much fun.

Fortunately, the procedure appears to be a complete success, and the puppy lives!  Paul decides, what the heck, and continues to perform experiments though, testing the effectiveness of the new growth hormone, and what any side effects might be.  For funsies.

The downside is, he ends up with a puppy that looks like it is a year old, but with the mind of a puppy only a few weeks old.  So he tries *another* form of stimulation to try and nudge the dog's mental growth forward as well.  Also, another resounding success!

Paul tries to keep the success a secret by telling everyone that the dog running around is the dog he hit, and none of the puppies were saved.  The dog seems to be well trained, and even moreso than that.  It understands complex human language, and can complete tasks like feeding itself and cleaning up.

When are we going to hire a maid??

Being quite taken with his success, Paul decides, hey!  Let's try this out on a human embryo!  Oversight and standard practices be damned!  I can forgive him experimenting on the dog to try and save it's life, but we're moving into the realm of mad science here.

He takes Number One with him on a drive, and leaves the dog in the car while he goes to do whatever.  Number One gets bored easily and lets itself out of the car.  For a smart dog, it sure doesn't listen very well.

A tiny, yappy dog runs towards Number One, and in my mind, I picture this like when you run into that person with a high pitched or nasally voice, and they won't shut up, and they are saying absolutely nothing of value.  So I can't blame the dog when it grabs the yappy mop head and shakes it around like a chewtoy.

In fairness, it kinda DOES become a chewtoy.

Number One quickly disposes of the toy, corpse, and jumps back in the car, even closing the door itself.  I love how smart this thing is being protrayed as.  There's a genuine sense of cleverness and danger behind it.

Meanwhile, Paul meets up with a colleague to try and sell him on his project.  He tries and talk Paul out of it, naturally.  What with all the lawbreaking, natural and actual real laws.

Paul does his best to try and talk Jim into it, saying he doesn't want anything that has any chance of living, something that will surely die.  All he would be doing is either nothing at all, or actually succeeding.  Okay, reasonable requests, if still possibly morally ambiguous.

I didn't do it, nobody saw me do it, you can't prove anything.

It isn't long, at least as far as movie time goes, before a young pregnant woman commits suicide and Paul collects her foetus for playtime at the lab.  Weirdest adoption ever.  His sister in law tries and joins in on the experiment, but gets the door slammed in her face.  I love her muttering off to wherever, because it makes it seem like this happens all the time.  Paul's back in the lab again, oh well!

After a few days, the baby reaches a point equivalent to a newborn, and she gets smacked into life.  Um, how will he be explaining this one, then?

Unlike the dog, when Paul discontinues the use of the drug, she continues to keep growing faster than normal, which quickly represents problems.  And even worse, the growth is even accelerating, moving from one month in a day to a year in a day, and beyond.  Oops?

Eventually, the growth stops, and the cells change over to rapid aging.  Which is rather worse, considering.  But on the upside, shows some signs of normalacy, since that's what would happen eventually anyways.  And maybe he can do something to slow the aging, where he could do nothing about the growth in the time he had.

A lot of this lengthy scene is done with recorded voiceovers, like any scientist recording his work.  This is a good way to get across the information, keep the plot moving, and not have it seem like the guy has gone even crazier by talking to himself about what's going on.  Pretty effective storytelling that fits the story and character.

Paul finally arrests the growth and aging of the girl, after several discarded ideas, since they would have, um, killed her in all likelihood.  Good for her, I guess.  But now Paul has to figure out what to do with a fully grown human girl with the brain of a child.  Fortunately, we know he can fix that last part.

They grow up so fast! One minute they're a baby, then...

While the kid learns, she's watched over by Riker the dog, and eventually Paul comes home to find her, awake.  And out of her isolation chamber.  Which is probably for the best, because he's been expanding that thing like he was slapping additions on a house, and it was getting excessive.

He hastily throws a shirt over her, names her Victoria, and sees if she remembers anything of the learning tapes he played for her.  She seems to have issues speaking, so I hope he didn't accidentally teach her spanish in her sleep.  But no, while he records the latest findings, she starts croaking out words, since she's a fast learner.

While Paul shoos away his sister in law, so he can teach Victoria things other than how to count, she's busy playing with fish and exploring.  I love that she walks away from a fish she nabbed from a tank and left on a table, and Riker picks the thing up to dispose of it properly.  Good boy!!  Who's good at hiding the evidence?  Yes you are!  YES YOU ARE!!

The biggest problem they point out is that she's not developing as quickly emotionally as she is mentally, and this is gonna be our main plot complication, isn't it?

Victoria is given a copy of the Bible to read, and is less than impressed.  Paul tries to explain that it's the moral values many find most important, and I am gonna not say a word here.

While the girl studies Paul's notes and tapes, Martha returns home to pick up some junk from the attic.  She encounters Riker and starts calling out for her husband, but he doesn't answer.  The dog chases her around, and she almost encounters the newborn woman, but instead leaves before anything bad can really happen.

Because we wouldn't want anything to happen, would we?

So close to actual events occurring

Victoria convinces Paul to take her out to actually see some of the world before he announces his achievments.  He takes her to meet Martha with an acceptable, is still questionable, backstory.  Yes, this is my new, hot research assistant that appeared out of nowhere and I thought I would introduce you to her.

Anyways, he finds Martha is actually at a gathering his son and wife are having, and he thinks it's a bad idea, but again is convinced that it's perfect.  This is like My Fair Lady gone horribly wrong.

Of course, every guy at the party is all over Victoria, and she's about as clueless as I am when someone shows interest.  It's all terribly awkward.  I love a guy trying to pick her up with a smooth line, and he botches it so she corrects him.  Good way to show off her smarts.

This actually endears Victoria to Helen, since the guy hitting on her does this to everyone, and she put him in his place spectacularly.  Cute stuff.

Victoria then encounters Roddy McDowall popping by as a chess master, to show off her skills some more.  He acts like a bit of a pig, and even admits to it, and Victoria then proceeds to trounce him at his own game.

A movie where chess players evolved from apes?!

Paul does his best to try and get her to throw the game, and she picks up on the signals.  Sigh.  It's a bit of a sign of the times that a woman must make herself seem dumb to appease the men.  It's only saving grace is that Roddy knows she let him win, and that infuriates him all the more for it.

Things take a sexy turn later, when Paul takes Victoria home and after a shower, finds her nearly naked and begging for sex, for the...experience.  Afterwards, she's basking in the glow and starts to exhibit pains.  She wants to tell Paul, but fears it will only lead to her being experimented on by others.

She fears the worst, and tries to replicate his procedure to halt her rapid aging, afraid that it has resurfaced.  She takes another dose of the highly addictive and deadly drug that worked before, and it seems to do the trick once more.  And this is how addiction works.

Later, Victoria goes to meet quote boy, who runs a computer company, and oh.  Oh, the computers of the early 1970s.  Filling up entire rooms, and only a handful of people even know how to use them.  But Victoria has read books, so knows how, and wants to ask the system a question.  I hope the answer is 42.

Yes. That is a printer from the 70s.

Unsurprisingly, she's seeking an antidote to her condition.  I find it hilarious that she just had to ask a computer to solve these problems and boom!  It spits out a cure.  The downside being, she needs to harvest the pituitary juices from a five to six month old foetus, exactly the time frame Paul would not experiment on, because killing it then would truly be murder.

She's actually developed some moral center by this point, so such a decision does weight heavily upon Victoria.  I like them having her ponder it, giving her some time spent with kids, and she almost behaves like one, which works really well with her backstory.  Since she is one.  It's a subtle thing, but a good character moment.  But while she's playing on a beach, her pains return.  Riker pulls her out of the water, as everyone else watches on.  Thanks, guys!

Things don't seem to be going well, or subsiding any time soon, so Victoria is faced with a terrible choice.  And it's not made any easier by Paul's daughter in law being exactly a week shy of being six months pregnant.

Martha's been suspicious for awhile now, and confronts Paul with her thoughts, and that she's discovered that Victoria doesn't really exist, and certainly is no research assistant.  She's afraid, and decides to move out rather than live with this stranger.

A maid AND a butler, damnit! I do everything around here!

Before she leaves, Victoria does something to Martha, and when we find out in the next scene that the woman died from a heart attack, I presume the two are linked.  Not the best storytelling there.  Paul needs to go and deal with arrangements and things, leaving the woman alone to plot.

Once Paul is gone, she starts destroying all of his notes, both written and recorded.  Likely to protect him in case anything goes wrong.

She studies up on c-sections, and raids Helen's gynecologist's office, finding another appropriate donor.  Victoria cons the pregnant woman into some cooked up scheme to get her to the house where she can perform her tasks.

While she's mucking about with that, Paul is finding out that Martha's death wasn't natural causes.  I guess Victoria needs to read more Sherlock Holmes novels to better plot her murders.

Due to some plot device I barely care about, Helen comes over when her husband goes off on his own, right as Victoria is botching her first c-section.  She tries to get Helen to go away, but she's worried about Victoria.

This quickly leads to Victoria drugging Helen, while Paul tries to get ahold of her and his son to tell him about the murder.  When he hears where Helen is, he urges his son to get home as soon as possible.

Once they get home, and avoid Riker, they find Victoria in the midst of surgery.  She's actually managed to get the foetus out, and is doing her best not to kill anyone else, but she's ready to do so if it means her own survival.

They try and do a reveal with her in the shadows, and then they shine a light on her face, and I dunno if she's supposed to look ragged, or old, but she just looks like she's been crying a lot.  Which she would have, with the tough choices she's making.  It may just be a bad transfer not selling the look, but I have to wonder...

Everything goes wrong about as fast as it can, as Paul tries to help her, Helen starts to have trouble breathing, and Gordon tries to help his wife.  Victoria gets a shot, she gives a shot to Gordon, he topples over and knocks over the tank holding his unborn child, and the kid spills all over the place.  This is one of those moments when everything goes horribly bad, in the blink of an eye.

Clean-up on aisle 13!

Victoria makes a run for it, and Paul gives chase, leaving the EMTs to deal with the pile of bodies all over the place.  As we get treated to a car chase, we see Victoria looking old, with wrinkles and grey hair.  Finally.

Paul finally makes the car go off the road, and in typical Hollywood fashion, it bursts into flames.  As the car burns, he grabs the aging woman and shoves her head into a conveniently nearby body of water.  It's a reverse baptism!

The authorities arrive and stop him before he can finish the job, and needless to say it does not look good to the cops that they see a guy trying to drown an old woman besides a burning car.

Oh, and as an added complication, Victoria is pregnant with Paul's child.  As the movie ends, we hear a baby crying, so I presume we are meant to believe Paul did the same procedures to his unborn child, and will hopefully have better luck.  But the credits roll, so who the hell knows what happens after the car crash?


Video: The transfer here is pretty bad, with washed out colours, grainy image, looking like it's from a bad VHS copy.  You can at least follow the movie well enough, and even though people look like oompa loompas half the time, it's not the worst looking thing I've seen.  But oh, so close.

Audio: OH, the audio.  I mentioned it at the start, now let me get into it.  The video was bad, but the audio is BAD.  It's scratchy, it's warbly, and you know how if you have a recording of something, and you set the levels wrong, and that upper limit clips, and everything gets crunchy?  Yeah, that's this movie.  I either got used to it, or it got better after awhile, but it started out terrible and only got bearable.

Sound Bite: "An interesting story, but not very logical."  Victoria, upon reading the bible.  And the pot calling the kettle black.

Body Count
An honourable mention to the dog and fish that gave their lives early on.
1 - Martha, from a medically induced heart attack.  An hour and 24 minutes in, damnit.
2 - Random pregnant woman after failed surgery at Victoria's hands.
3 - Helen maybe from the procedure.
4 - Gordon maybe from being injected in the back.
5 - Helen and Gordon's baby after it gets tossed across the floor.
6 - Victoria from...take your pick.  Car crash?  Old age?  Drowning?  All of the above!

Best Corpse: It's a three way tie of carnage, thanks to everything going tits up when everyone tries to stop Victoria.  So congrats Helen, Gordon, and the little bitty baby!

Blood Type - F: No real blood to speak of, and their attempts at effects are laughable, even for the time.

Sex Appeal: Victoria walks around naked a few times, and Paul goes shirtless on occasion.

Movie Review: This movie is slow.  But not entirely in a bad way.  Not a lot happens until the final ten minutes, but they do a decent enough slow burn and character work that you are waiting for that shoe to drop.  It's more a product of the time it was made, than anything.  This was just what was normal in the pre-Star Wars age.  It's not a bad movie, but it's not great either.  It's a pretty straightforward plot, that does what it does in a merely adequate way.  There's no real wow moment.  The acting isn't terrible, but everything is just kinda there.  Number One is arguably the star here, carrying way too much of the plot and fun.  Average in every way possible.  Three out of five oven-sized printers.

Entertainment Value: It does have that certain cheese factor, and it is a bit crazy with its science, but most of the entertainment comes from watching how 70s it is.  Again, Number One is the best reason to watch this, and you almost wish this was about a morally bankrupt dog, turned evil by bad science, going on a rampage.  Or even if that happened to Victoria.  But no, it's just people doing their thing, and being good people, until they need something to be done.  No one is really BAD, and you just end up not caring.  But there's a certain nostalgic charm to it, and the story isn't terrible, it just doesn't do anything.  Three out of five dead fishies.