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Atom Age Vampire

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Oh, those lovely Italian horror movies of the early 1960s… You can expect more than your average fang-wielding villain in a cape. Case in point: the bad guy in "Atom Age Vampire" (1961) is only an ambitious scientist who simply wants a little love with his limitless power. What could be bad about that?

In the Atomic Age, plenty. Let's start with the heartless way Dr. Albert Levin accepts the unstinting allegiance of his talented (and lovely) assistant, Monique, then callously breaks her heart by falling for a test subject she recruited for a trial of his revolutionary serum: Derma 28. The test subject, Jeannette Morineau, is a nightclub entertainer who was jilted by her sailor fiancé and disfigured in a car crash all on the same night. On the verge of suicide after her doctors assure her nothing can be done to remove her hideous scars (which are conveniently located only on one side of her face—so you can see she's really quite a beauty), Jeannette is susceptible to the idea that she might as well try Levin's experimental formula.

Though the treatment works, the effects vanish faster than an injection of Botox. Now infatuated with Jeannette (and flirting with her shamelessly), Levin hatches an evil plan that might make her transformation permanent: injecting her with a substance brutally extracted from another woman's neck. As you might expect, Monique turns up dead, Jeannette starts to suspect something's wrong in her world, and the good doctor jumps into his radiation machine and turns himself into a hairy monster…

As Levin explains to the inevitable police inspectors, he had been a cancer researcher who sought to heal the traumas of Hiroshima victims. He doesn't mention that his cancer research led him down the path to discover the means to restore Jeannette's beauty. While curing cancer and healing scars might in general be considered good things, the technology Levin develops is too powerful an evil in his corrupt hands. Scientific objectivity and moral authority fly out the window when Levin's desire for Jeannette blinds him.

This provides the link to the film's title, which invokes classic questions of the era about morality and scientific advancement. The chief justification for using the atomic bomb to end World War II was the argument that it would save more lives than it took. Sci-fi movies such as "Atom Age Vampire" explore the shadow of this fateful decision, inviting viewers to ponder whether limits should be placed on scientific research when it may result in harm to human life. How should we measure the potential good versus the potential harm when the scale is so grand and the stakes are so high? After all, once humanity has proved willing to unleash untold destruction for what it considers a good cause, might it be overcome by th

The Science

Dr. Jeffrey Anderson

Dr. Jeffrey Anderson Dr. Jeffrey Anderson, Assistant Professor of Radiology at the University of Utah, talks about radiation and the Atom Age Vampire.


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