Looking for a campy scare? Embryo (1976) achieves a perfect mid-seventies blend of horror, sci-fi and L.A. vibes. It’s directed by Ralph Nelson, whose previous credits included Requiem For A Heavyweight (1962), Lillies of the Field(1963), Once A Thief (1965) and Charly (1968). Nelson had previously guided two actors to Oscars — Sidney Potier in Lillies and Cliff Robertson in Charly — but he falls somewhat short of that mark here with Rock Hudson as the obsessive widower Dr. Paul Holliston, though not for the lack of trying.
As Holliston, Hudson’s a laid-back, hunky Victor Frankenstein, toying with cocktails of genetic therapy and steroid-like substances to first create a virtually ‘instant’ doberman pinscher, then ‘Victoria,’ played by hot, future Bond-girl Barbara Carrera. Not only do these creatures possess a fierce beauty, but they are highly intelligent as well. The dog serves as a sort of canine fixer who cleans up ‘messes’ as well as brings in the groceries, and Victoria, after being taught through subliminal recordings, promptly adopts a posh English accent, humiliates chess genius Roddy McDowall (in a classic one-off), and gives bitchy cooking advice to the subtly soused Diane Ladd, who plays the Doctor’s oddly affectionate live-in sister in law.
After the rather subdued first third of the film (highlighted by strange prosthetic dog and human embryos and a great jazz-moog score by Gil Mellé — following a run of scores that included Night Gallery, Colombo, The Six Million Dollar Man, Killdozer and Evel Kneivel ), Carrera appears on the scene, and Hudson begins to fall for her. Then things start to go horribly wrong, but in entertainment terms, oh so right — tremendous party scene with lots of leisure suits and pick-up lines, frolicking followed by camping on the beach, pregnant hookers, a chase pitting an Olds ’98 against a Yellow Firebird (pre-dating by about 30 years the Transformers’ ‘Bumblebee’), primitive computer printouts, and gratuitous fingernails. Besides McDowall, there are great appearances by ’70s character actors Jack Colvin and Vincent Baggetta, and even Dr. Joyce Brothers. If you like your horror under the warm California sun ( and who doesn’t miss indian summer), Embryo is for you.