The sci-fi thriller Embryo is one of a zillion movies patterned after Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein, because it’s a cautionary tale about a scientist who pays a terrible price for attempting to create new life. You know the drill: madman makes monster, monster causes havoc, madman and monster meet in a final confrontation. Yet Embryo imprudently alters the familiar formula by adding a love story, which drains energy from the middle of the story. For a good 40 minutes, viewers are subjected to repetitive sequences of the scientist bonding with his creation—and, as every good dramatist knows, there’s nothing more destructive to narrative momentum than characters getting along. So, while Embryo isn’t awful, it’s not the lean-and-mean shocker it could and should have been.
Rock Hudson stars as Dr. Paul Holliston, a widower who specializes in the use of chemicals to stimulate fetal development. After successfully experimenting on a dog fetus, which matures to adulthood in the space of a few days, Paul repeats the experiment on a human embryo. Thus he begets Victoria (Barbara Carrera), a beautiful young woman who grows from fetus to twentysomething in the space of a month. Once Paul arrests her rapid growth, he educates her and introduces her to the world, concealing the secret of her birth from everyone except Victoria. Predictably, the two develop feelings for each other, and Paul happily satiates Victoria’s curiosity about sex. (As if you couldn’t have guessed, she’s hot.) Unbeknownst to Paul, however, the dog he created develops violent tendencies—so when Victoria discovers she possesses built-in abnormalities that might prove fatal, it’s no surprise that she goes on a rampage. (Paul’s inability to recognize danger signs is one of the movie’s biggest logical lapses.)
As directed by skillful journeyman Ralph Nelson, Embryo is okay on a scene-by-scene basis; among other things, Nelson does a fine job of turning Paul’s lab into a forbidding place simply by using shadows. But on a macro level, Embryo falls apart. Subplots are handled poorly, with plot twists overly telegraphed and rich veins left unexplored. Leading lady Carrera’s performance is another weakness—appearing in one of her first movies, she’s pretty but unconvincing. (Hudson is merely okay, hitting his marks with crisp professionalism.) It’s tempting to say that Embryo is ripe fodder for a remake, since a more exciting version of the story is easily envisioned, but it’s also possible that this middling interpretation is as strong a treatment as the hokey premise deserves.