Horror, Sci-Fi | 104 mins | Released: 1976
Director: Ralph Nelson
Starring: Rock Hudson, Barbara Carrera, Diane Ladd, Roddy McDowall, Anne Schedeen, John Elerick, Vincent Baggetta
Our Rating: 5
In Embryo, Dr. Paul Holliston (Hudson) is a geneticist who has been living alone in his rambling clinic, which he operates out of his home, after the death of his wife in a car crash in which he was the driver. This leads to his feeling constant pangs of guilt from his sister-in-law Martha Douglas (Diane Ladd), who has become his assistant.
What finally motivates Holliston to resume his medical work is another automobile accident where he is the driver; his car accidentally strikes and kills a dog one dark and stormy night. In the process of attempting, vainly, to save the dog’s life, he does manage to save one of her unborn puppies, utilizing a new serum, which speeds up the growth and intelligence of the animal. But the dog develops a savage side to its personality.
When Holliston manages to see what his discovery can offer the world, he applies the same technique to an unborn human. This unborn human to whom he applies the technique develops into a beautiful young woman (Carrera) who emerges, fully grown, from the incubator in two weeks. Holliston names her “Victoria” because he considers her a victory.
Victoria Spencer, as Holliston introduces her, is highly intelligent, and she becomes Holliston’s protégé–the lessons culminating one night in sex.
Unfortunately for Victoria, she displays a dark side. When the serum begins to have an adverse effect on her, she commences to age rapidly, and discovers that, owing to a flaw in Holliston’s research that he had mistakenly believed he had corrected, she requires serum from unborn fetuses to stay alive.
Embryo ends with the dying Victoria announcing that she is going to have a baby, causing Holliston to scream “Noooooooo” in horror before he apparently has a “nervous breakdown.”
An ectogen is a person who was, or is being, gestated in an artificial womb.
Notable Quotes from Embryo:
Frank Riley: [Stunned during the chess match with Victoria]
“Hold on! You’ve played this game before!”
Nonsense but not too boring
18 May 2013 | by Rrrobert (Australia)
“Nonsensical nonsense but pretty entertaining too. The story is ridiculous with Rock Hudson’s character stumbling upon a scientific breakthrough single-handed and having fetuses grow to adulthood with the offspring super-fast learners, highly skilled and super intelligent.
The Doberman which is the first successful offspring is a fabulous character (like the diabolical dog in The Omen.) She is beautifully trained and does some great stunts, and is chilling in other scenes. The second success is Victoria (Barbara Carrera) who – surprise – is a stunning beauty. Carrera is good in the role and creates a believable character.
Diane Ladd provides great support as Rock’s cynical sister-in-law/assistant who is suspicious of Victoria and hates the dog! The most chilling (and high camp) scene has Ladd’s character who has been staying with Rock’s pregnant daughter-in-law, arrive home to the sprawling estate where she lives with Rock (and now Victoria) to rummage through the attic and retrieve a hideous frog-shaped lamp, only to be followed by the snarling dog the entire time. The dog carefully escorts Ladd from the premises, clearly glad to be rid of that horrible lamp.
The opening scenes are rather dull, padded out with Rock endlessly recounting plot exposition into his refrigerator-sized reel to reel tape recorder. The film really begins to feel like a TV movie with its tiny cast and few locations. But once Victoria’s up and talking (and disrobing) the pace and interest picks up.”
Great horror from a lost decade
Author: tostinati from United States – 4 May 2004
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
“Aside from great high profile work like the Exorcist, the 70s threatens to be eclipsed in the history of the horror film. It is remembered as the decade of slasher junk (the best of the sad field possibly being Halloween). Outshone by the pacesetting 30s, the lovable drive-in schlock of the 50s, the emergence of Hammer-style horror in the 60s and the flashy 80s (whose mature arrival was heralded by Alien in 1979), the 70s can really slip through the cracks. That’s a pity too. Films like Embryo and Sisters, which tried to disturb you at a primal level rather than simply shock, deserve their place among the gems of any decade.
Those who have seen this film generally relate that Carrera’s character in Embryo evolves into a murderous psycho, and they imply that is the crux of the thing. Her willingness to kill anybody in her way is certainly one of the sources of tension in the scenario. But when I saw this film for the first time yesterday, it struck me primarily as a tragedy. A double one at that…
Hudson and people he cares about deeply are threatened life and limb by Carrera’s Victoria. But this isn’t just another raging serial nut flick. One need only look at WHY she is killing. She is eliminating obstacles to the continuation of her existence. It’s not putting too fine a point on it to describe her as a woman fighting for her life as though she is drowning. –Survival. Dropped more abruptly than most of us into a world into which she never asked to be born– like Roy Batty in Blade Runner or the running, thinking clone in Simak’s classic short story Goodnight Mr. James– she learns that life, having once been tasted, is worth doing anything to hang on to.
Complicating matters is the way she came into being, skipping the first 24 years of life, subliminally endowed with a staggering encyclopedic breadth of knowledge while in the incubator. This leaves her lacking a crucial something: the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. If she needs it, it’s right to take it. If someone tries to stop her, they’re wrong. She really doesn’t know any better. That simple. As the story develops, to know her is to be in peril. It’s her furious drive to survive that will eventually cost her and several characters everything.
Hudson’s Dr. Holliston is compared to Dr. Frankenstein in this role, but he’s actually a pretty good guy. His intentions are essentially altruistic. We learn that his wife miscarried twice before his son was born, and he’s had an interest since then in research that could help miscarried infants survive. When he hits a dog at the beginning of the film, he plays a hunch and takes advantage of the moment to see if he can make the fetus within the dog survive. His success at this emboldens him to try it on a human. I wouldn’t even say temerity or even too much ambition is the doctor’s downfall. –Maybe just possessing a personal curiosity about life and death that the situation can’t bear.
Perhaps inevitably, the end of Embryo contains an echo of the stronger Hudson flick Seconds. But it still packs a wallop in its own right. Ralph Nelson also directed Lilies of the Field. If he is only a hired hand as a director, and not an auteur, he is a really deft storyteller anyway. Newer viewers may complain about the effects, but they do all they really need to. The special effects are simple, kept in a secondary, supporting relationship to the story; doesn’t it seem silly, when you see a film like this, to think that things have become inverted to the point that it should ever be otherwise?
8 Stars. It’s a well-done film. Definitely worth a look.”