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Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension


 

 

Important Announcement

This review is only part of Brainathon '99.  The idea was simple; several "bad movie" reviewers and analysts take a shot at one movie at the same time.

Before reading this review, you might want to have a look at the others.  Simply follow the link here.

The Movie with Two Brains, or...
 

The Brain from Planet Arous (1957)

Directed by Nathan Juran
Written by Ray Buffum
Details at the IMDB, US.IMDB
Think about buying this at Reel.com

Pride goes before destruction and haughtiness before a fall.
Solomon (? - 930 BC)


Not long ago, an older college student with a background in mythology and folklore was finishing up an accelerated program for a bachelor's in computer science.  This meant he was taking several programming courses at once.  Normally, one or two would take up a lot of time, but five at once meant he was swearing off sleep for days at a time while he worked diligently on individual problems.  This began to affect his personality.

His wife talked to him about how he was becoming a zombie.  He thought about it for a moment, and said, "No, not a zombie.  A dybuk."  After waiting for the expected quizzical expression, he explained.  "A dybuk is a Jewish thing.  It's sort of like demonic possession, but it's more a ghost.  The possessing spirit was someone who'd died before finishing something important, like finding the answer to a tough intellectual question.  It would possess someone like a student and force him to continue the work.  The victim ambitiously continues the work, completely focused on it, while forsaking things that were important in his life before the dybuk took him over."  He paused and smiled at his wife before continuing.

"Other people in the village would see how this new ambition had changed his personality and mumble, 'A dybuk must've gotten to him.'  Sometimes the victim would die before finishing the work, and the dybuk would seek out the next person to continue the task."

"Oh," said his wife, who was satisfied that the man in her life was finding something to hang onto.  "So at least one culture thought that a man with too much ambition was possessed by an evil spirit."

"Yes."  He hadn't thought of it that way, though.

And after she was gone, he (who some call Apostic) stared into space for a while and began to strum his lips with his finger.  "Dybu-dybu-dybu-dybu-dybu-dybu-dybu…."
 

Contents

 

The Plot

If I Only Had a Brain

We open with a shot of a mountain and a single, slowly descending light (which looks a bit like star).  Run credits while the point of light gradually floats down to the mountain.  As soon as it lands (and the credits end), there's an explosion.  (And so it came to pass that the movie opened with a bang.)
 
 
This is your brain. This is your brain on graduate level calculus.  Any questions?

Fade to Steve (John Agar) in a small laboratory fiddling with some electronic equipment.  He's getting some readings that don't make any sense, and he comments about this peculiarity out loud.  His associate, Dan (Robert Fuller), is too busy reading a pulp entitled Science Fiction to be concerned.  Steve explains that the Geiger counter has been going off all morning.  Dan reminds him that radioactivity is a constant thing.  Suddenly, the Geiger counter starts clicking in a burst.

Steve and Dan try to reason it out.  They discard several possibilities, including radon, a plane with an atomic warhead, and cosmic energy.  Steve discounts that last possibility by explaining that its source is Mystery Mountain.  (Amazing.  As presented, Steve has not only triangulated the source to a single location several miles away, but he has also managed to do so from a single location.)

Enter the ubiquitous movie scientist's trophy fiancée Sally (Joyce Meadows).  They talk about Mystery Mountain thing, which Dan says hasn't seen a human soul since 1900.  And it's only thirty miles away.  (We'd nit-pick about the close proximity of such wild territories, but let's be honest; parts of our homes haven't seen a human soul in a long time, too.  Take, for example, the underside of a bed.)  The clicking goes off again.  Steve says it's at one milliroentgen and starts working out the inverse square law to calculate the intensity at the source.  (As I remember my Civil Defense lore, 600 roentgens is a lethal dose.)  Steve wants to head out there immediately, but Sally won't let them go until they eat.

Fade to a shot of a barbecue grill.  Sally asks them what they expect to find out there.  Sally’s father, John Fallon (Thomas Browne Henry), enters.  Steve explains to him about the Mystery Mountain thing.  Fallon reminds them that it’s not pleasant out there (a whole thirty miles away).  When he asks them about the radiation, Dan says between the sun and the bursts of radiation, they’re likely to get fried.

Fade to Steve and Dan moving along in a jeep.  Steve is wearing a fashionable (?) pith helmet for protection from the sun.  (Frankly, if I were going into an area with potentially intense bursts of radiation, I’d consider a less fashionable lead body suit.  At the very least, a set of lead skivvies.)  They stop at the end of the road near their destination and grab their gear.  Dan picks up the scientific equipment, and Steve grabs a rifle.  (A rifle?  They’re walking into an area hotter than ten-year-old kimchi, and they expect to encounter something that’s still running around and needs to be shot?)  Dan takes a pull off his canteen and sets it down while Steve scopes out the area with a pair of binoculars.  He sees a pile of rocks that wasn't there last winter.  (That’s odd; didn’t Dan say the place hasn’t seen a soul since 1900?)

They head down the hill to the cave, Dan carrying the rifle and Steve carrying a funky sensor that looks like a high tech blow dryer.  (For any science junkies that may be reading this, the device in question is a scintillometer.  If you are curious, you can find a description of this device here.  Although this is a useful device for this trip, we suspect it was selected for its stage presence instead of its scientific value.)  They arrive, hot and sweaty, at the entrance of the cave.  Steve concludes that it was blasted out recently.  He also notes the absence of footprints.  They go inside, but Dan hedges on the potential for discovery by suggesting they will only find some beer cans.  (Sure, if those cans were left behind by levitating college students with high explosives; I shared an apartment with such a group, but that’s another story.)

They walk through a tunnel while shining their flashlights around, but they hit a dead end.  Suddenly, their Geiger counter pegs the scale.  (And these guys plan on having kids later?)  They walk back, into the direction of the source.  (See previous note.  By the way, someone correct me if I’m wrong, but a Geiger counter is not a really a directional device.)

They stop, and the Geiger counter stops, too.  In a side chamber, they see a flash of light.  They go to the entrance.  Steve draws a semiautomatic pistol and shouts, "Hello in there.  We're friends, come on out."  No one answers.  (Perhaps their announcement would seem more sincere if they weren’t porting arms.)  They chamber their weapons and go into the room.  After they enter, a mist falls behind them.

It’s another dead end.  The Geiger counter starts clicking again.  They decide to leave, but then they see a giant, semi-transparent floating brain with glowing eyes.  It blocks their way out.  They try to figure out how to get past it.  Steve advances, firing his semiautomatic.  This doesn’t seem to have the desired effect; Steve falls, clutching own throat.  Dan tries with his rifle.  A bright light flashes him and he falls.  The superimposed brain (hereafter referred to as a Suped-Up Brain™) drops onto Steve.
 

 
Dan stares in disbelief while Steve tells him how he fixed his stereo.  ("And I had a lot of parts left over, too.") While cruising on the weekends, Gor would also turn on his high beams and fog lights.

The Right Brain/Left Brain Problem

Fade to the Fallon house.   Sally answers a phone call from her father.  Steve and Dan have been gone for a week, and she’s wondering where they are.  After the call, she sees Steve peeking through window.  She gives him a big passionate hug.  He says they didn't find anything.  Then he gives her the kind of kiss that could double as a tonsil probe.  She asks him (after that kiss, of course – she’s not a ventriloquist) where Dan is.  Steve backs off.  (After a kiss like that and she’s thinking about another guy?  Not a good sign.)  He tells her that Dan went to Las Vegas.  Sally remarks about the difference in Steve.  He says he’s no different, and then he flinches with pain.

Sally tries to get the truth out of him.  Steve denies that there’s anything wrong with him; the pain was a tooth.  She tells him that he's acting funny, and he kisses differently, too.  (Could be from the bad tooth.)  At this last observation, he turns up the romance by darn near raping her.  That's "darn near" as in (1) it’s not gonna happen in this movie, and (2) the Fallon family’s dog, a big white German shepherd named George, registers his concern by attacking Steve.  The ravaging researcher fights off the percolated pooch, punctuating his defense by kicking the dog.  (Many audience members may find Steve’s action against the dog to be more reprehensible than trying to rape his fiancée.  This is not because they wouldn’t think rape is horrible.  You can wipe out an entire army in a movie, but just let one dog or horse get hurt….)  Sally catches her breath and tells Steve he's been working too hard; he should see a doctor.  He continues to deny there’s anything wrong with him and leaves.

Later, Steve is relaxing at his place.  The Suped-Up Brain™ comes out of him.  Steve sees it and asks it who it is.  It says his name is Gor (voice of Dale Tate).  (Gor, like many supernatural beings, speaks like he's in an echo chamber, but he has a reverb that sounds like someone beating a chain link.)  He needs Steve's body as a dwelling place.  Why Steve?  He's a respected nuclear scientist and he can go places.  And that Sally dame is a perk, too.  (How can a thing that's evolved to all brain still be thinking with the wrong head?)  Steve gets defensive about Sally.  He throws a knickknack at it, but since this is a Suped-Up Brain™, Steve doesn’t score a hit against the immaterial intellect.  Gor turns up the telepathic dominance thing by awarding Steve some pain.  The aggressive alien tells Steve there is no escape.

Elsewhere, Dr. Fallon comes home.  Sally, who has changed to a less damaged dress, tries to tell him about Steve’s behavior.  (She omits the researcher’s randiness; don’t know what part of the country the Fallon’s are from, but if it was my old neighborhood, that sort of thing moves up a wedding date by force of arms.)  Fallon says he'll talk to Dan.  Sally tells him about Dan’s absence and she’s become more suspicious about that, too.  Oblivious to the depth of his daughter’s concerns, he agrees to visit Steve and talk to him.

Fallon arrives at lab.  He asks Steve a few innocent questions, but he turns up the level of concern in the conversation.  He explains this concern by saying, "I know Sally pretty well by this time."  (Psst, Fallon.  If you really knew what was on your daughter's mind, you’d have this guy’s throat under your foot by now.)  Steve has an acute attack.  He leans on a water cooler and presses his face onto the bottle, which distorts the image of his face.  He asks Fallon to leave, but the future father-in-law offers to make an doctor's appointment for Steve.  Steve brings face up from behind the water cooler, and the audience can see that his eyes have become mystical (if mystical means wearing silver contacts).  He shouts at Fallon to mind his own business and leave.

Later, Fallon and Sally are having dinner.  (He's also wearing one of the damn ugliest sport shirts I've ever seen.)  Sally is concerned, but Fallon maintains that he is not going to pry into another man’s affairs.  (Yeah, sure.  And what he doesn’t know about Sally's recent experience won’t hurt Steve, either.)  Sally won't let it drop, and she's still very suspicious about the absence of Dan.  She says she thinks something happened at Mystery Mountain, and she talks him into going there with her.  (Don't know what Fallon does for a living, but he seems to have time for this.)

In the next scene, Fallon and Sally arrive near Mystery Mountain in their station wagon.  (Obviously, station wagons were built to higher specifications than they are now; the modern equivalent would be rolling on a broken axle while shooting up a geyser.)  They find Dan’s canteen and know they’re in the right area.  They start following the footprints.

Fade to their exhausted arrival at the cave.  Sally says, "Must be 120 out here."  (Some drill instructors at Paris Island will Scotch Guard their uniforms so it won’t look like they’re sweating.  Sally and Fallon must’ve gone through several cans of the stuff, because they haven’t got a hint of dampness on their clothes.)  As they look at the cave, Sally says that she's been out with here with Steve before, and the cave wasn't there.  (For a place that hasn’t seen a soul since 1900, this place gets a lot of traffic.)  Through some arcane ability, Fallon divines that this cave was blasted out within the last two weeks.

Fallon sees the footprints leading into the cave, and they follow them.  While Fallon is investigating another part of the cave, Sally sees a flash of light and freaks.  Fallon tries to get her to leave, but she’s going to see this through.  They continue.  She finds the high tech blow dryer thingie and comments that they wouldn’t have left that behind.  Fallon shines his light on something and quickly turns it off.  Sally tells him that he can turn the light back on; she saw it.  They’ve found Dan.  He was burned to death.  ("Burned to death" is presented in this movie as having some wrinkled skin, but the clothes and hair are intact.)

Suddenly a Suped-Up Brain™ shows up.  In a gentle voice, it introduces self as Vol (voice of Dale Tate again).  He was sent by his leader to get Gor.  (Fortunately, the extradition laws are not pondered.)  After some conversation, Vol tells them Gor has taken over Steve's body.  Vol politely excuses himself, and tells them he'll meet them later, at an appointed time, at their home.  (Note: Don’t mess with Suped-Up Brains™; they know where you live.)
 

The Reigning Brain Falls Mainly on a Plane

Later, Steve is on the phone talking to a Colonel Frogley about a scheduled test at nearby Indian Springs.  He says he wants to be there as an observer, and he gets the come-ahead.  After he hangs up and has a seizure, Gor floats out of Steve.  The insidious intellect chuckles that he has a surprise for them.  Steve starts throwing stuff at Gor.  (Apparently he didn't learn from before.)  The malevolent mind calls him Steve a savage, and then launches into some egomaniacal elocution.

At the Fallon place, Sally and Dr. Fallon are waiting for Vol, who arrives punctually.  George sees this Suped-Up Brain™, but like most dogs in the moves, he can sense good, uh, people; he stays calm. Vol tenderly tells them they can help save the Earth.  He even throws in a "Yes.  The whole Earth."  (Can you say "Earth"?  Sure you can.)  He explains that Gor wants to take over.  They discuss what to do about Gor.  Vol needs a host to keep an eye on the cranial criminal.  Both Sally and Fallon volunteer, but Vol tells them they need someone who won't be suspected.  Sally suggests George.  Vol supers into George, who calmly lies down after the experience.

Over at Steve’s, Gor is transparently floating around again.  Steve asks Gor what they’re going to do tonight.  Gor tells him the same thing they do every night.  Try to take over the…no, just kidding.  The giddy Gor giggles a bit and tells Steve he's going to take Sally for a ride.  Then he supers into Steve, who suddenly acts like he’s, uh, well, let’s just say it looked like a glandular experience.

On the way to the Fallons’, Steve stops his car and gets out.  He looks up at the sky with mirrored eyes.   An airplane passes overhead.  It breaks apart.
 

 
[We thought about running our favorite jarhead jokes here, but we don't care to imagine reprisals from Sgt. Andrew Borntreger, USMC.] He's a pin ball wizard
There has got to be a twist.
A pin ball wizard,
S'got such a supple wrist...

At chez Fallon, the fretful father expresses some concern about the safety of his daughter to the free-floating Vol.   He asks the good-willed ganglia grouping how long this must go on. Vol says it must go on until they can catch Gor outside Steve's body and assures them that he is more powerful than Gor.  (The next question should be, "If you're so tough, why doncha take him down yourself."  Unfortunately, no one bothers to ask.)  Steve drives up.  Vol tells them to do nothing to make him suspicious, but Sally's afraid of Steve like this.  Vol supers into George.

Steve enters, casually saying hi to Sally while playing friendly with George.  Fallon makes conversation about Dan’s decision to visit the fleshpots.  Steve apologizes to Fallon for his earlier behavior – to Fallon.  (We don’t think Sally has said anything yet about the near rape.)  Steve and Sal go, and George wants to go too.  They take him along.

While they’re out driving, Steve stops the car at a scenic overlook to "admire the view."  (We presume that with Gor pulling the strings, the "out of gas" excuse it too primitive.)  Steve offers her the world, and then gives her a hungry kiss.  She protests (about the kiss) and gets out of the car.  Steve walks over to her and asks if she can see the difference in him, because there’s been a positive change in his life.  (If she didn’t know about Gor, Sally might’ve suspected that Steve's been to an EST seminar.)

Steve tells her that he's going to a bomb test, where he'll announce a new discovery. Sally becomes frightened while her bewitched beau begins to rant about power and ambition.  (I was under the impression that girls liked a sense of motivation in a man; I can see I was mistaken.)  Steve turns on the caveman Casanova charm again and grabs Sally.  (Yif!  They should've called this The Brain from Planet Aroused.)  George growls.  She gets back into car (via a jump cut).  Steve apologizes and tells her to not worry.  They turn on the radio, which has a Relevant Plot Info Sensor™.  (I remain indebted to Jason MacIsaac, who gave this abominable exposition device a name in his analysis of Wheels of Terror (1990).)  It’s playing a news bulletin about the crash of the exploding plane.  Sally notes that it’s only twenty miles away.  She wants go help.

They arrive at the crash site.  Some community spirited extras are bringing in the bodies on stretchers.  Steve and Sally run into Colonel Frogley (Henry Travis).  The colonel draws Steve’s attention to one of the bodies, but before pulling back the sheet, he politely tells Sally not to look.  (Actually, he patronizingly tells her this, but this is the ‘50’s)  He uncovers the body.  It’s been flash burned.

A professor named Dale Tate (Dale Tate – you wanna make something outta it?) is checking over some of wreckage.  He says it looks like a radiation flash burn, but there’s no residual radiation.  Steve tells Sally it was caused by a power outside of this world.  Sally asks why would it do a thing like that?  He says as a demonstration.

Steve drops Sally at home.  As soon as she’s through the door of the house, she breaks.  She cries to her father about the people on the plane being burned like Dan.  Vol makes a (semi-) appearance and finally gets around to telling them the rules of engagement.  Gor can't be harmed when he's inside Steve or in his transitory (Suped-Up Brain™) state.  Vol says in his true state, Gor's vulnerable at a spot "your surgeons call the fissure of Rolando."  (Nowadays, it’s merely called the central fissure.  Figure the odds that other beings would evolve into recognizable brains and raise your bets against them having the same structural anatomy.)  They have to go to their true state once every twenty-four hours to assimilate oxygen.  They ask if they can tell Steve about this, but Vol tells them that would be dangerous.

The next day, Sheriff Wiley Pane (Tim Graham) shows up at Steve’s.  He wants to know about Dan.  The body was found at Mystery Mountain.  (Cripes, with all the traffic that isolated, God forsaken place gets, a Starbuck’s would really clean up.)  Steve maintains the Las Vegas story.  Pane tells him that the autopsy concluded that Dan was dead for a long time, and the body was burned to a cinder (we’re going to have to work on our standards of "burned to a cinder.") like the bodies in the plane (ditto).  Then Pane starts kicking up the motives, listing the girl as one, and tells Steve he's in trouble.  Steve tells the sheriff he's the one in trouble, and looks at him with pinball eyes.  After a flash of light, the sheriff goes down.  (And we're singing, "If looks could kill, they probably will….")  Steve carries the body off the set.
 

Mind Blowing

Fade to an important government building.  (You can tell it’s an important government building by the fanfare in the musical cue.)  Inside, military types lead by General Brown (E. Leslie Thomas), are looking over the reports of unusual activity near Indian Springs.  Professor Tate tells them about the nature of the damage.  They figure they have been invaded (and they know it ain't the Soviets) and discuss how this might affect the bomb test at Indian Springs.  A stage-frightened extra brings in a message about Dan.  "Death by intense radiation, same as the plane."  The brass and suits leave for the test site and resolve to be ready for problems.

Steve arrives at the Fallon place.  Sally puts on a brave front while he explains that George was at his place and he's there to bring him back.  When asked about the upcoming bomb test, he tells her that he's looking forward to it.  And then he lapses into his megalomaniacal mumbling.  Fallon (who is wearing that damn ugly sport shirt again) asks what he’s going to show them.  Steve won't say, but he hints that it will make an impression like the bombing of Hiroshima.  After dinner, they make small talk about washing the dishes.

Fallon leaves (hopefully to go burn that shirt), and Steve starts putting the ambitious moves on Sally again. (Hard to tell which is tougher for Sally to take.  Is it the lack of humility or the lack of restraint?)  She tries to cut through the barrage of bragging to find out what he’s up to, but no luck.  He tries the moves on her again, but no luck there, either.  (For a Suped-Up Brain™ that considers himself darn near omnipotent, he takes that rebuffing thing well.  Perhaps he thrives on failure.)  Steve leaves in his car.  George runs after it.

The next day at Indian Springs, Steve talks to the Colonel Howell and General Brown.  The two brass types explain to him that the meeting is Top Secret and his presence is not required.  Steve counters by telling them that he knows what’s been causing the burn deaths.  The general decides to give him two minutes.  They go into a conference room with other brass and suits.

Steve starts his presentation.  As a visual aid, he directs their attention to a closed circuit monitor, which is showing edited footage of a set up for an atomic test.  Steve looks out the window and does the mirrored eye trick.  There's a flash of light and the monitor starts showing detonation and damage footage from an atomic bomb test.  The conference room shakes hard while dust falls from ceiling.  Someone on the PA system announces that was not the planned explosion.  Steve tells them that he did that, and from now on, he'll be calling the shots.  Someone else improvises his own shots by pumping a clip from semiautomatic handgun at Steve, but the possessed physicist shows him that an M19111A1 is no match for mirrored contacts; the bullets don’t hit him, and he severely singes the surprised shooter.
 

 
Fallon gives his prospective son-in-law some valuable advice.  ("For the Love of God, don't ever let her pick you out a shirt!") Although Steve's new aura may have protected him from bullets, we can think of at least one other reason why this man missed.

Steve tells them he wants to meet with authorized delegates from a list of nations, which he specifies.  Those who do not have representatives at the meeting will suddenly have no capital city, and he concludes his presentation with maniacal laughter.  The brass and suits run out of the room and start making phone calls.

Later, Steve visits with Sally.  He's relaxing in a lawn hammock while entertaining her with his power talk.  (For some strange reason, there don’t seem to be several ready snipers waiting for a signal to start shooting.)  She suggests he should take a nap and promises to wake him.  While he's asleep, she pegs his head to the ground with a tent stake.  No, wait; wrong story about a sleepy invader.  Vol tells her that Gor has not had time to do his true form trick, so the belligerent brain will be vulnerable soon.  Sally pulls out an encyclopedia and opens it to a simplified drawing of a brain; the fissure of Rolando is the only clearly marked feature.

Sally wakes Steve and hustles him off to his meeting.  He gets in his car, and George jumps in too.  Steve makes him get out.  (Apparently, his world domination meetings have a "No Dogs Allowed" policy.)

Later, Steve and all the representatives meet.  USSR (Bill Giorgio) arrives at the last minute, and Steve makes a snide remark to the nearly delinquent delegate.  Then he lays out the heavy threats, and General Brown backs him up.  Some of them are still skeptical, so Steve decides to draw them a picture.  He tells them to go to the window.  They see an airplane in sky (which is wiggling on some strings).  He hits it with a glance from his mirrored contacts and it pops apart (and sort of dangles on one string).

The meeting resumes.  Steve wants all means of production and all radioactive materials.  The representatives protest.  He ignores it, and adds the UN building (which will be his new office space) to his list of requirements.  After making these demands, he reveals his ultimate goal; he's going to build a space fleet and invade the brain planet of Arous.  (This would be the logical extreme of a coup d’etat.)  Maniacal laughter follows.

Back at Steve’s place, Sally has arrived with the encyclopedia.  She opens it to the illustration of the brain and marks the target zone with the caption "Gor’s Achilles’ Heel."  (Yeesh, what a mixed metaphor!)  She rips the page out of the book and carefully places it on a table where it will not be immediately conspicuous.  Outside, a car arrives.  Sally runs to hide.  So far, her plan is working flawlessly.  However, as she backs into her hiding place, she doesn’t see (or smell) the blistered body of Sheriff Pane.

Steve comes in and lies down on the couch.  Gor floats out of his body and becomes opaque.  The boastful brain tells Steve (again) what a sweet deal this is.  Steve notices the helpful diagram that Sally has left for him.  (Somehow, the page has reattached itself to the rest of the book.)  Then he looks at an axe.

Unfortunately, Sally has chosen this moment to notice Pane.  She screams, and Gor floats toward her.  (Technically, "float" isn’t the right word.  Not only is Gor opaque in his natural state, but his strings are visible, too.)  Steve grabs the axe and uses it to formally break his partnership with Gor.  (For a scene that shows a man whacking a giant brain with an axe, this is not very [brace for it] Gor-y.  Also, note that Gor has no clearly definable fissure of Rolando.  Well, not until after the axe attack.)
 
 
Those who know old folk tunes may conclude that Gor is related to Ol’ Dan Tucker, who "died with a tooth ache in his heel." The bad news (a) is that Gor has no recognizable fissure of Rolando.  The good news (b) is that he has a recognizable string that looks even more vulnerable.

George has been watching through the window.  Exit Vol, stage left.  (And good riddance.  He's someone who's supposed to be the good guy that's more powerful than his adversary, but he had weaker beings do his dirty work.  And he callously allowed a lot of said weaker beings die, too.)

Steve asks how she knew.  She tells about Vol and George and calls George in.  She tells the dumb doggie to talk to Steve.  Steve laughs at the frustrated girl's imagination.  (Cripes, they got rid of Gor, but Steve’s still a jerk.  Maybe some long overdue snipers will tag him through the window.)  The End.
 

The Good Stuff

Science!

To this movie's credit, there are several technical terms and gadgets related to measuring radiation, and these are (mostly) used convincingly here.  A lot of this is probably thanks to J.L. Cassingham.  He was a technical advisor on this and several other movies and TV shows that featured radiation as a menace.

Furthermore, this movie didn't perpetuate the myth that all scientists work in luxurious super-labs with multimillion-dollar budgets and strange gadgets that make funny noises while shooting arcs and sparks.  The scientists in this movie are closer to the practical engineering side of research, working in a modest lab in the middle of nowhere.

Also, note the poster of a periodic table in the background of Steve’s lab.  They've already put some things in front of it, possibly because they don't refer to it as much as they thought they would.  It's refreshing to see scientists in a credible environment, and it makes it easier to identify with them.

They also do something that resembles a scientific method.  When the abnormality is first discovered, they brainstorm some quick hypotheses and disprove them.  When Steve takes a reading on the radiation at his lab, he makes a quick estimate using the inverse square law to figure the intensity at the source.
 

A Picture is Worth a Good Cinematographer

The cinematography on this movie is very good, with attention to lighting and a crisp focus on individual scenes.  Night scenes are convincing, and although the cave set is not very credible (caves don't usually have flat floors, and artificial caves in the desert are not usually misty), the filmed scenes in the cave are technically good.

Some things, like the mirrored eyes and the "face in the water fountain," are creative.  They may be subject to a sense of goofiness by today's standards, but at least they are creative.  However, the actual compositions of the shots are not inspired, and the most scenes are static with very little use of camera movement and zooms; camera movements seem to be reserved for the Suped-Up Brain™ effect, which looks remarkably tacky.

But there's a drawback to having technically good shots in a movie of this nature.  When Gor takes on his natural state at the climax, it’s too obvious that this strange creature is just a "thing on a sting" (or, less charitably, a dope on a rope).

(There is a valid reason why the cinematography needed to be good on this feature.  See the notes below about Jacques R. Marquette, under Notes on the Cast and Crew, for the answer.)
 

The Bad Stuff

Brain Dead

This movie violates what has become conventional wisdom in creature features: Never show the monster too early.  If you leave the monster to the imagination, it's creepier.  Even if you reveal a little of the monster, you're leaving something for the audience to imagine.  When you've got a cheap looking monster, letting the audience fill in the gaps is more effective than showing them what you really have (or have not).

It's not long into this movie that we see Gor, and although it's a surreal image, it's not going to frighten us after we've seen it.  (Modern audiences will not be frightened at all, but let's give this the benefit of the doubt for when it was made.) Since we see a lot of Gor and Vol, they quickly become passe. What’s worse is that the monster puppets are not what you’d call animated; for example, there’s no eye movement.  Giving these creatures some type of, well, facial movement would’ve been a big help.  (Cf. the critters Paul Blaisdale built.  Some of them are down right laughable as presented on screen, but at least they had some articulated features.)

The only things left to build the suspense are Gor's evil ambitions and his abilities.  Those ambitions quickly become tiresome because Gor's a Johnny One-Note when it comes to expressing himself.  His ability to destroy large areas is revealed a little bit at a time; however, his threat to wipe out an entire country lays it on too thick for the sake of credibility.  When a being is this powerful, you have to ask why it has to rely on an insider to use as a human host.
 

When Aliens Need to Take Cold Showers

This movie follows a convention seen in various other horror and sci-fi movies.  We get something decidedly non-human developing a thing for the lead female.  (The use and abuse of this theme is discussed in the review for Humanoids from the Deep.)

However, we can make an allowance in the movie for this odd motivation.  For one thing, Gor experiences things through Steve, and since Steve has feelings for Sally, Gor probably picked up on them.  Therefore, it’s not so much that a (pardon this) giant gland has got the hots for the girl; it’s possible that Gor is following through on Steve’s sense of desire.  The script touches on this a little, when Steve protests Gor’s interest in Sally, and when Gor comments that this is something his species has long forgotten, but it doesn’t go as deep as it could have.  For example, they could’ve used this arrangement to say something about the difference between love and lust and how people tend to confuse the two.

Another possible explanation is that Gor is not only a callous, sadistic megalomaniac, he’s also got a taste for bestiality.  ‘Nuff said.
 

A Woman’s Place is in the Punchline

Usually when we see women in movies like this, they’re helpless creatures who that don’t understand all that "science stuff" and only exist to be threatened by the monster and rescued by the hero.  To this movie’s credit, Sally has some interest in Steve’s work (she knows what a scintillometer is) and her actions save the day.  However, it’s a serious let down when she becomes the butt of the denouement’s parting gag when she tries to make George say something.  (See also the sense of irony at the end of the movie Fuzz (1972)  "We saved the city."  "Yeah.  And no one will ever know….")
 

The Who Cares Stuff

Notes on the Cast and Crew

Nathan Juran (director) was an architect who crossed over into movies and became a successful art director.  In the '50's, he started directing B westerns and crime dramas.  It wasn't long until he also did features that relied on special effects, and some of them were better than others were.  During the late '50's, he directed several in close order, including The Deadly Mantis (1957), 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), and  (under a pseudonym) the Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958).  In 1999, the Academy of Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy Films presented him with a Life Career Award.

By the time he got to this one, Ray Buffum (writer) was mostly selling scripts with "youth appeal," like Teen-Age Crime Wave (1955) and Teenage Monster (1957).

A regular associate of Buffum was Jacques R. Marquette (executive producer and cinematographer).  Marquette started out in the business at the bottom and worked his way up to camera operator.  It has been speculated that he started his own short-lived B company (Marquette Productions) so he could move up to cinematographer.  It would be difficult to counter this notion, since he tended to hire himself for the job.  If this was the case, the gambit worked.  For the next thirty years, he had steady work as a cinematographer.

Dale Tate was an associate producer for Marquette.  Oh, yeah, and he also did the voices of Gor, Vol, and the equally imaginatively named Dale Tate.

If you know for bad movies, you know John Agar (Steve).  It's not that he was a bad actor, because he was usually at least competent.  Shoot, sometimes he was pretty good.  It's just that he appeared in so many B movies.  He first became famous as Mr. Shirley Temple in 1945.  Four years later and it was "good/bad news" for Agar.  The good news was that began to appear in several John Wayne movies like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and The Sands of Iwo Jima.  The bad news was his divorce, followed by his inability to land good parts in good movies.

Throughout the 50's, he appeared in several westerns, but he's more likely to be remembered for the monster movies he did for Universal.  He dropped out of the studio system and did several B westerns and creature features.  He probably hit bottom for a working actor by appearing in several Larry Buchannan Z movies in the '60's.  However, he has picked up some cult status.  B Movie King?  You decide.

Joyce Meadows (Sally) appeared in several westerns, both in movies and on TV.

People who remember TV from the '70's are more likely to remember Robert Fuller (Dan) as Dr. Kelly Brackett in Emergency (1972 - 1977).  He started appearing in films while working for Marquette, and appeared in several TV westerns throughout the '60's.  For those who are curious about how this actor felt about working for Marquette, there's an interview at the Astounding B-Monster website.

Walter Greene (composer) wrote the music for several B features.  However, his musical cues for the Pink Panther series of cartoons are probably his most recognizable works.
 

Roots, Shoots, and Other Compares

Not all the Best Brains are in Minnesota.   There are various other movies where disembodied brains called the shots, plus a couple of other works that have the eye/brain motif.

Donovan's Brain by Curt Siodmak (1942) – Strong willed, disembodied brain develops a telepathic link with a patsy.  Made into several movies, including The Lady and the Monster (1944), Donovan's Brain (1953), and Ein Toter sucht seinen Mörder (1962, a.k.a. A Dead Man Seeks His Murderer, The Brain (USA), Vengence (UK))  See also the roots and shoots for Frankenhooker for a brief history of the brain transplant theme.

Fiend Without a Face (1957) – Critters that look like brains with antennae go on a rampage.

The Space Children (1958) – Alien space brain takes over the children of rocket scientists.  (See also the roots and shoots for Beast with a Million Eyes for other examples of alien head games of the ‘50’s.)

Journey to the Seventh Planet (1962) – John Agar vs. another brain.  This time, the cranial critter is haunting a planet by making nightmares come true.

The Evil Brain from Outer Space (1964) – Japanese superhero Starman (a.k.a. Super Giant) takes on an evil race ruled by the brain of a dead mastermind.

Star Trek (1966 - 1969) – Two episodes are worth noting here.  In "The Gamesters of Triskelion," the unseen backers of some gladiatorial games are revealed to be three disembodied brains.  Elsewhere, some people desiring a climate control system in "Spock’s Brain" burgle the first officer’s central nervous system.

A Gift from Earth by Larry Niven (1968) – Follows the idea that the eyes are extensions of the brain (as opposed to truly separate organs) by introducing a character with an unusual ability.  He can telepathically force the irises of others to constrict the pupils.  It may not sound like much of a talent, but it causes others to ignore him, which is a useful ability during an armed rebellion….

Brain Damage (1987) – Brain-like parasite has a taste for gray matter.  (This is the easy part to explain.)

The Brain (1988) – Giant brain with telepathic abilities goes on a feeding frenzy.  (After it devours a slow moving scientist, a surprised character drolly comments, "That’s food for thought…")

RoboCop 2 (1990) – Another example of the eye/brain motif.  After the death of his body, the bad guy’s brain, along with his still connected eyes, are pulled from his body.  It continues to sense its whereabouts.

La Cité des enfants perdus (1995, a.k.a. The City of Lost Children) – It squeezes in so many elements from so many other stories, but would it be complete without Irvin, the talking brain?

Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988 - 1999) – Sure, the production company was called Best Brains, but they put their gray matter where there mouths were with the introduction of brain-in-the-bowl Observers in 1997.  ("That’s thought for food….")

See also The Astounding B Monster’s "Lobe Budget Cinema" list.
 

Can’t We All Just…Get Along?  Every now and again, aliens try to work out their differences on modern day Earth (mdE).  For the sake of brevity, the following list does not include troublemakers from alternate realities (as in Masters of the Universe (1987)) or grudge holders from the future (as in The Terminator (1984) and all its rip-offs).

The Love War (1970) – Two small teams of aliens, who are disguised as humans, shoot it out in a covert series of firefights on mdE.  The winning side gets the Earth.

Critters (1986) – Evil aliens get loose on mdE, and then the alien bounty hunters show up.  Followed by various sequels.

The Hidden (1987) – Alien criminal possesses the bodies of humans and goes on a crime spree on mdE.  And then the "good guy" alien shows up.  Followed by a sequel (of sorts).

Something is Out There (1988) – TV series about an alien law enforcement type that chases around escaped alien criminals on mdE,

Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe (1991) – Alien policeman tracks down an alien super-criminal with a universe-beating master plan on mdE.  (This one is more properly a Terminator rip-off, but the basic tenants of "cops-and-robbers" are in effect here.)

Galaxis (1995) – A lot like Abraxas.
 

"I Will...."

Like many alien mind control stories of the '50's, this one resembles a tale of supernatural possession.  That is to be expected, since many sci-fi stories were fantasies with a change of scenery and gadgets.  However, one important difference between this movie and most others is that it also doesn't double as a Cold War allegory.  Gor does not represent his race, and even the Soviet Union is in trouble.  No, this one took went in a more diabolic direction.  Although there are some similarities to the dybuk (as described in the introductory notes), this story has a stronger resemblance to the popular interpretation Lucifer.

For those who are not familiar with this, I'll explain.  In the book of Isaiah (uh, that would be in the Bible), the prophet describes the pride and fall of Lucifer:
 

How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!  How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations!  For you have said in your heart, "I will ascend into heaven.  I will exalt my throne above the stars of God.  I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north.  I will ascend above the heights of the clouds.  I will be like the Most High."  Yet, you shall be brought down to Sheol [in many translations, hell], to the lowest depths of the pit.


As with any prophecy, its interpretation varies from group to group.  Since the context of the passage is about the fall of Babylon, and this is the only place in the Bible where the name Lucifer is mentioned, one interpretation is that Lucifer, "the morning star," is King Nebuchadnezzar.

On the other hand, the popular explanation is that Lucifer was a supernatural being that was kicked out of Heaven for subordination.  This is often supported with other passages referring to rebellion against God, and asserts that Lucifer's shortcoming was pride.  (Pride usually has negative connotations in the Bible.)  Along with these cross-references, it has also been construed that Lucifer became Satan (or the Devil, depending on how you select the words; this is another matter of contention).

Since this latter interpretation is the one most people are familiar with, consider it as the supernatural theme for the story of this movie.  The evil Gor leaves his homeworld of Arous because he is sociopathicly proud.  He diabolically possesses someone to act as his instrument.  His short term goal is enslavement of the Earth, but his ultimate goal is revolt against Arous.  The relatively angelic Vol is sent to stop him.

It’s not as solid as one of C. S. Lewis' allegories, and it’s not as satisfying as the miracle working alien messenger that assumes the name Carpenter and rises from the dead in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).  Perhaps if Gor had tempted Steve, or if Steve "sold his volition" to Gor….
 

The Bottom Line

An evil space brain possesses a scientist, but a good space brain comes to the rescue (sort of).  Well shot but poorly framed story.  Played more like a story of supernatural possession than many of its Cold War contemporaries.  Goofy looking title creature is too tacky to scare anyone, and its early presentation diffuses suspense.  Agar's maniacal performance as the possessed scientist might've worked in a more competent production, but in this one, it catalyzes the banality.  Recommended for fans of ridiculous looking monsters and as proof that showing a monster too early can be a mistake

Published on 6 November 1999







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