The Brain from Planet Arous
Science-Fiction's most astounding story!
Year of Release: 1957
Genre: Science Fiction
Running Time: 71 minutes (1:11)
Director: Nathan Juran
John Agar ... Steve March
Joyce Meadows ... Sally Fallon
Thomas Browne Henry ... John Fallon
Robert Fuller ... Dan Murphy
Dale Tate ... Prof. Dale Tate / Voices of Gor & Vol
A strange alien ship crash lands in the California desert bringing a terrifying and evil intelligence from another planet whose mission is to conquer the world using subversive mind control.
The Brain from Planet Arous, remindin' us that mind rarely triumphs over matter when melee weapons are involved.
And speakin' of psychological scarring, the first snowfall's always a little bittersweet 'cause it usually signifies the end of spooky season and brings with it the realization that all the horror's gone outta your life for another year. Or so Jeannie Bigelow was explainin' to me at the Gutter Bowl last week while she was kickin' my hinder at air hockey.
Jeannie's pretty sharp for a 14-year-old, but she ain't been around long enough to learn that the most terrifyin' time of the year comes at the end when everybody realizes another one's slipped away and they still haven't accomplished diddly squat. Some people call it Seasonal Depression, but really it's Achievenal Depression, and given that I really shoulda known better'n to let the ladies Sadie in when they showed up at the house offerin' tidings of cheer and thick crust pepperoni. Think I musta been about halfway through my second slice when they subtly drew back the curtain and unveiled the details of their insidious plot.
"We wanna have a baby and we need your help," Mrs. Sadie blurted out, sendin' a shower of Dr. Pepper out my nose and onto Apollo who'd been patiently waitin' for a bite of crust.
"Way to work up to it," Sadie mumbled through the palm firmly attached to 'er face.
"Well, YOU weren't saying anything!" Mrs. Sadie snapped.
"I dunno... agh... I dunno how long it's been since you two watched a porno flick... but... ow... umm... nobody really does plots anymore... the pizza wasn't necessary," I managed as the acid burned a hole through my nasal membrane.
"We know this sounds a little awkward, but--" Mrs. Sadie started sayin'.
"Nuh uh. 'Awkward' doesn't begin to cover it. 'Awkward' is when the lifeguard notices the yellow cloud formin' around your shorts at the pool. You're gonna need a much stronger adjective for this proposal," I said, tryna dry the corn syrup off Apollo's face before it sealed his eyes shut.
"She doesn't wanna bump uglies you chud nugget. She wants your baby formula," Sadie explained, passin' Apollo a sympathy slice.
"Oh. Don't wanna buy the cow when you can get the milk for free. Sure know howda make a guy feel special, don'tcha?" I sulked.
"I'm sorry... I just don't think of you that w--" Mrs. Sadie stumbled.
"Look, I get it - you like innies and I've got an outie, it'd never work. Still, I'm a traditional kinda guy and I don't think children oughta be havin' children," I asserted.
"What are you implying? I'm four-- erm, I'm THIRTY years old and I'm tired of people treating me like--" she began ranting.
"I was talkin' about me," I clarified.
"You wouldn't even need to be involved," she tried assurin' me.
"Oh, sure. Strong independent women don't need no man, right? Okay, but what happens when one of those lesbionic sex machines of yours goes haywire and kills you both in a freaky freak accident? Then *I'm* on the hook as next of kin," I insisted.
"Are you absolutely sure you want *that* DNA mixed up with your genes? Mental health disorders are hereditary, ya know," Sadie asked, dismissin' my perfectly plausible Maximum Overdrive-esque scenario out of hand.
"Have you two really thought about this? I mean, by the time this kid drops outta high school to run off with the carnival you'll be 68 and... whatever years old on the off chance we haven't been wiped out by Terminators by then," I told 'em.
Sadie got this look on 'er face like 'er underwear'd suddenly shrunk three sizes, but the missus remained undeterred.
"If you won't help us that's all you have to say," she replied coldly.
"I'm not sayin' I wont. Yet," I answered, surprisin' myself a little. "When you say 'us' though, you do understand that Sadie'll be at work for ten-hour stretches at a time with no cell phone service, right?" I asked.
"What's your point?" Mrs. Sadie demanded, looking slightly unsure for the first time.
"Well, you remember that time you clogged my dumper and tried to sneak out the window before anyone found out?" I queried.
"I don't see what that has to do with--"
"My point is, you couldn't scoop up your own butt dumplins - how're you gonna deal with a baby's fudge volcano eruptin' three times a day?" I challenged.
"I guess that'll be MY problem, won't it?" she seethed, barely holdin' onto the decorum with which she normally comports 'erself.
Damned if I wasn't impressed with the way she stood up for 'erself. Still, I wanted to be sure that it wasn't just my mansplainin' gettin' 'er hackles up, so I decided to lay it all on the line.
"Tell you what - take Shankles--" I started sayin'.
"I was hoping for something a little less hairy," she quipped.
"Guess that's why you asked me instead of Duke Tankersley. Take Shankles - for two weeks. I'll take 'im back after Thanksgiving," I finished.
"I don't have to prove myself to you," she glared.
"That's not what he's doing," Sadie muttered, tryna avoid eye contact.
"Shankles is a good friend, but he's gettin' old, fussy, stubborn, and he was kind of a dick even before he started goin' grey. If I didn't think you could take care of 'im I wouldn't offer 'im. This isn't a test, it's a free trial. He needs cleanin', attention, reassurance, and he's nocturnal - he's basically a baby who sleeps hangin' upside down from the shower rod. Take 'im, and if you still want a kid after two weeks I'll help ya out," I promised.
Feels weird watchin' movies just Apollo and me, but it's only for a coupla weeks. Apparently Shankles leaked on Mrs. Sadie's lap on the ride home and screamed mosta the night until she finally got up and gave 'im the bag of fish heads I sent over, but I guess they're gettin' along alright. I'll tell ya one thing, though, if she spoils 'im with that jacuzzi foot massager she got for Christmas last year she's gonna catch hell 'cause I can't afford the kinda creature comforts required to keep artificially pampered creatures comforted.
Anyway, once the child protected cervixes left, Apollo and I polished off the pizza and turned our attention to one of the great mysteries of the universe - specifically, what can a guy do to hold onto his chick when he's bein' possessed by a horny, metaphysical space brain with a God complex? It's one of the great conundrums of our time, but thankfully John Agar set about showin' us how to handle just such a situation. Effective methods of wardin' off sexually aggressive nebular noodles ain't all this flick has to offer, though, and hard as it was to choose, I've picked out a few of the flick's most exemplary thought experiments so that we can all partake of its big-brained bounty.
First, even a genderless brain from outer space can't help thinkin' with its pecker every now and then. Second, when a man shows signs of a brain aneurism it is imperative that his company immediately and discreetly exit his home to prevent awkward social discomfort created by the implication that he might be anything less than the very model of a modern major general. And third, if you're inhabitin' the body of a dog and the dog starts lickin' its junk, you will be judged.
The movie begins with the reflection from somebody's wristwatch comin' in for a crash landin' on the side of a mountain, the result of which causes a disruption in the HAM radio broadcasts of two guys (Steve and Dan) who're tryna exchange dirty messages with horny singles in Brussels until their citizen's band sex lives become so garbled that they hafta dress up like Panama Jack and drive out to Mystery Mountain to find out what's jammin' their clammin'. They find a cave and go rootin' around inside where they get jumped by a tourist from Dimension X (Gor) who turns Dan into a bucket of KFC Extra Crispy and knocks Steve unconscious so the giant, pulsating organ can force itself inside 'im and take away all his personal agency. Gor now controls the horizontal, the vertical, the parietal, and the occipital, and once he drives Steve's body home he decides to play the part and tells Sally (Steve's gal) that Dan went to Vegas, but Sally notices subtle differences other people might miss - like the way he tries tearin' 'er blouse off to get at 'er mama lama ding dongs, and how the dog suddenly wants to play tug with his jugular vein and so she's a little concerned. Then Gor uses asshole projection to appear outside its new body and explains to Steve that it needs a place to hang its hypothalamus while it's on Earth scopin' out our technological prowess and that if he behaves 'imself like a good bio-helmet it might return Sally in serviceable condition once it's done screwin' 'er brains out.
Meanwhile, Sally confides in 'er dad (John) that Steve's been treatin' 'er like a pool hall floozy and so John hasta remind Steve that he can't be roughin' up his daughter until she's legally his property. 'Cept while John's sharin' his tips for a successful marriage Steve's eyeballs turn into ball bearings and he's struck by a case of Excedrin Headache #39 that gets so intense John hasta politely excuse 'imself before things get too uncomfortable. The next day, Sally and John drive out to the mountain to look for clues and find Dan's barbecued backside and a second galaxy brain (Vol) who's been sent by the Neuro Bureau to capture Gor before its Brawlzheimer's Disease consumes it and causes an insatiable lust for conflict and demure, deferential women. 'Course by now Gor's already blowin' airplanes outta the sky with his telephoton contact lenses and grinnin' like an 8-year-old with a pillowcase fulla Chuck-E-Cheese tokens, and so Vol decides to possess the dog when Gor takes Sally up to Maternity Mountain and tells 'er that the city below and everything in it can be hers if she'll just show 'im how to bypass the confounded enigma we call a bra clasp. Then Gor and Sally stop to rubberneck at the site of the plane crash and Gor hasta try concealin' its murder boner while baskin' in the glow of its interstellar superiority and the atomic fallout driftin' downward before droppin' Sally off at home and workin' off some frustration with the aid of Steve's neurological textbooks.
Elsewhere, while Gor's havin' a dopamine eruption, Vol explains to Sally and John that Gor hasta leave Steve's body once every 24 hours or else he'll lose sight of his plan for world domination and end up buyin' a home in the suburbs and succumb to a life of stifling conformity, and that if they can just catch 'im in his corporeal form they'll be able to put 'im into permanent concussion protocol. Only about that time the sheriff starts gettin' suspicious about all the people in Steve's orbit bein' hickory Curied to death, and when he confronts Gor it whips out its chromium corneas and sears his rear. The next mornin' Gor drives out to Alamogordo to meet with the nerds charged with keepin' the peace through superior firepower, only instead of just watchin' the atomic test Steve'd been invited to observe, Gor sets off a little thought experiment that blows Roswell off the map and then microwaves the senior officer like a Swanson TV dinner. Gor then demands to meet with the heads of the world's superpowers and France to explain how things're gonna work from now on, before cautioning the attendees that anybody who doesn't show is gonna find themselves livin' in a Mad Max sequel. Gor's pretty well got the world by the axis now, but he's gonna hafta have an out-of-body experience real soon or risk passin' out in the punch bowl at his own victory party and, unfortunately, while he was out kingpinnin', Sally's sneaked into Steve's lab and hidden a step-by-step lobotomy guide on Steve's workbench for 'im to find when Gor finally leaves 'im to recharge its nuclear fissures. I'm gonna stop right here 'cause I don't wanna spoil the endin', but if you're thinkin' about votin' for Herschel Walker in the Georgia runoff, I'd especially recommend checkin' out the rest of this one just so you understand what you're gettin' yourselves into.
Alrighty, well, sometimes ya think you've got a foolproof premise just waitin' to take an eager public by storm, only to find out the country just isn't ready for your killer brain flick. I guess 1957 was a simpler, more innocent time, 'cause it wasn't until 1958 when The Fiend Without a Face brought its own killer brains to the big screen and science fiction history was made. Fiend Without a Face would later be distributed as part of the Criterion Collection series of DVDs, while The Brain from Planet Arous would be packaged as part of a quadruple feature with the likes of Cat-Women of the Moon. Soon as I finish this review I'm gonna go do some heavy-duty research and try to find out just what the heck happened between 1957 and 1958 that caused such a dramatic shift in the American public's attitude towards cerebral cinema. Maybe it's the outer space thing, ya know, a man can accept the idea of TERRESTRIAL brains crawlin' around tryna creep up peoples' pantlegs, but bring in a FOREIGN brain and everybody gets uptight and starts worryin' about how they're gonna take all the domestic disembodied brains' jobs.
Regardless, The Brain from Planet Arous is surprisingly competent right up until the last five minutes where, I'm assuming, Ed Wood stopped by the set, tricked the entire crew into goin' out into the parkin' lot to look at an oil stain alleged to look exactly like a nekkid Jayne Mansfield, and finished the film by 'imself. 'Tweener' seems to be the best way to describe it, 'cause it's got too many talented people workin' on it to compete with the real crapola like Invasion of the Neptune Men, but a little too much inter-planetary pinata action at the climax to warrant a seat at the grown-up table with The Day the Earth Stood Still and War of the Worlds. I dunno about the rest of ya, but given the way that extraterrestrial lech'd been bruisin' Joyce Meadows' produce the whole movie I was pretty pleased by the conclusion even though ya do get a little worried about the possibility of John Agar gettin' wrapped up in that fishin' line and accidentally stranglin' 'imself to death. In all seriousness though - everyone plays it straight, it moves right along and finishes up at a brisk 71 minutes, and once the credits roll after that satisfyingly predictable ending you're better for having sat through it because it gave ya a temporary reprieve from all the trivial bullstuff that'd been draggin' ya down.
It's actually been scientifically proven that one's own mental health improves in direct proportion to the decline of Gor's once John Agar regains control of his body and starts workin' through all that pent-up locked-in syndrome frustration he's been buildin' up throughout the movie, but I'd like to assure everyone that the film's scientific significance will not influence my assessment. Now let's see what kinda dopamine response this brain can trigger.
The plot's kinda testing the level of ambition that can be supported by the film's budget, but with the inclusion of atomic bomb stock footage and aliens that spend the bulk of the film inhabiting human bodies, they were able to stretch their britches without blowin' out the seat. I do believe that a little credit is in order given that, in the '50s, aliens were either comin' to Earth to fry our hash or save us from ourselves, and this flick manages a high-stakes premise that can be delivered with a scenario that's a little more nuanced and keyed in on its characters. And yes, by the standards of the time having "good" and "bad" aliens in the same movie is anomalous enough to draw a certain level of distinction between it and most of its contemporaries. I'm not gonna sit here and claim the script is a roller coaster of twists and turns, and you'll definitely find yourself wondering what happened to all the big talk about Vol haulin' Gor's fissure-ridden fanny back to Arous to face justice when it's the humans who ultimately do all the heavy lifting, but I'd imagine that audiences of the time probably preferred humanity overcoming the threat on its own without outside interference anyway. So yeah, it's a little unfocused, but there's nothing egregious enough to get your hackles up.
The acting is solid, with Agar giving a superbly smug, condescending performance in the early stages before going full-on cartoon supervillain in the final act. You'll get no argument from me regarding the hammy, over-the-top nature of Agar's acting once it becomes clear that he's got humanity by the short 'n curlies, but at the same time, if that wasn't what the director wanted he could have asked Agar to tone it down and reshot it. You'll note that he did not do so. Probably not a wise decision if you're concerned about the critical response, but Agar's performance is a major contributing factor to the cult status the film enjoys today. Joyce Meadows is kinda stuck swimming against the current given that her character is written simultaneously as an assertive woman who insists on leading an excursion into the desert to find out what happened to her boyfriend while also allowing him to tear 'er blouse en route to 'er groceries, but that's on the writers. She does slip up when talking about the "fissure of Rolando," which is explained as being the alien's weak point, and although she refers to it as the "fissure of Orlando," it hardly seems important given that one-half of one percent of the audience both noticed and knew whether the fissure of Rolando was even real. Bottom line - it's essentially an ensemble piece until the atomic testing scene with no other characters featuring prominently in any of the proceedings, but Agar chews the scenery and delivers an entertaining, if occasionally ridiculous performance.
Here's who matters and why ('cept for the legend, John Agar): Joyce Meadows (I Saw What You Did), Robert Fuller (Repossessed, Megaforce), Thomas Browne Henry (How to Make a Monster, Space Master X-7, The Thing That Couldn't Die, Blood of Dracula, 20 Million Miles to Earth, Beginning of the End, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers), Ken Terrell (The Purple Monster Strikes, Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Zombies of the Stratosphere, Radar Men from the Moon, Flying Disc Man from Mars, Captain America 1944, The Mummy's Hand), Henry Travis (A Bucket of Blood 1959), Tim Graham (Two Lost Worlds, Abbott and Costello Go to Mars), Bill Giorgio (The Spider, Attack of the Puppet People, War of the Colossal Beast), Kenner G. Kemp (Ben, Marooned, The Strangler, Tales of Terror, The Lost World 1960, A Bucket of Blood 1959, The Land Unknown, Them!, The Maze, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Scared Still 1953, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet the Invisible Man, Destination Moon, The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1939), Dale Tate (Attack of the 50 Foot Woman).
Prior to the final confrontation, you could reasonably call most of the special effects decent. The composite shots of the brains entering and leaving their hosts are competent for their time, the silver contact lenses are a bit cheesy but charmingly so, and the radiated body parts of Gor's victims are suitably gnarly and even a little more grotesque than people were used to, but however you wanna slice it the brains are still pretty pitiful, and the exploding toy planes are about a half step below the Godzilla standard. The brains' eyes never blink or even shift, and although the models don't reach their full absurdity until the film's conclusion, there's never a moment where they look or feel like anything more than the papier mache or possibly styrofoam constructions they were; styrofoam seems likely given the way it lends itself to carving and the fact that the material had to be light enough to be supported by the frequently visible wires from which they were suspended. So yeah, mighta been able to give it a pass if not for the tour de farce climax, but under the circumstances, that's just not possible.
The shooting locations involve a heavy dose of that old familiar canyon in Los Angeles where so many low-budget filmmakers' hopes have gone to die over the years, and although the Bronson Caves never fail to boost a film's production values, you can't help but find yourself briefly taken out of the movie just for the simple fact that you've seen it so many times. As far as the interiors go, Sally's house, seemingly located some distance from civilization and surrounded by well-manicured trees, is unique and gives off an unusual isolated, rustic atmosphere for a woman living alone in the 1950s. The science lab in Agar's house is fairly authentic as well, with its sprawling chemistry beakers, electronic gizmos, and minimal living space succinctly telling the tale of a man obsessed with his work. The one weak point is the conference room set up to accommodate the various big wigs brought in from all over the country to witness the country's latest atomic test, which bears a strong resemblance to a storage room in an office building.
The soundtrack is of the usual upbeat but purposeless variety that fills the running time of most science fiction flicks of the '50s - composed to pique the audience's hope for a fun-filled adventure that may or may not materialize. Whatever the result, you can rest assured that the music won't have much impact -- positive or negative -- and that the brass section will talk a big game that the story is rarely able to live up to. At the very least, it can be said that nothing's tonally out of place here, but if you've heard one science fiction score from the '50s you've heard 'em all. No piece of music is written with any particular scene in mind, and although they can be charming in their simplicity (and amusing when paired with absurd special effects), the scoring feels like an afterthought composed to satisfy the audience's expectation and doesn't seem to be seen as a tool to increase the film's production value.
Overall, The Brain from Planet Arous' technical problems are all of a type that boost its entertainment value and it's a shame that Mystery Science Theater 3000 never got to take a crack at it. Nevertheless, it holds your attention, the monsters get a reasonable amount of screen time, and the 71-minute duration keeps it from draggin' too badly in the middle. It's very middle-of-the-road as schlock sci-fi cinema goes and makes for a good measuring stick for the viewer who's not sure just how far they wanna go down this particular rabbit hole. I'd recommend givin' it a shot, but if it makes your eyes glaze over you're probably gonna wanna turn back before pursuing classic science fiction much further 'cause it can get a whole lot worse than this.