Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Brain from Planet Arous (1957)

The Brain from Planet Arous is schlocky 1950s American science fiction at its schlockiest. If that’s the sort of thing you like then this is the movie for you.

John Agar is the star, and you know what to expect when you see his name in the credits. No actor was more synonymous with cheesy sci-fi than John Agar. He plays nuclear physicist Steve March. Steve and his scientific colleague Dan Murphy (Robert Fuller) have been picking up unexpected bursts of radioactivity from the vicinity of Mystery Mountain. Yes, they live near a place called Mystery Mountain. Mystery Mountain is in the middle of the desert and we’re told that nobody ever goes there. But Steve and Dan have to discover where the radioactivity is coming from so they set off in their jeep to find out.

They find a cave that wasn’t there before. Since nobody ever goes near Mystery Mountain it seems a bit strange that they’d notice a cave that wasn’t there a year earlier, but they do notice it. In the cave they discover the source of the radioactivity - a brain from outer space! This disembodied brain takes over Steve’s body.

The brain’s name is Gor. He’s from the planet Arous, and he is not a friendly alien and he has not come to Earth to save us from the consequences of our scientific folly or any of that nonsense. Gor has come to conquer.

Steve’s fiancée Sally (Joyce Meadows) realises immediately that something is wrong with Steve. He’s become much too amorous for her liking. It soon becomes obvious that apart from power Gor wants something else that most aliens seem to want - he wants our women!

Sally and her dad set out for Mystery Mountain to find out what happened there to change Steve so dramatically. And they encounter a second alien brain. This one is named Vol. Vol explains that Gor is an escaped criminal and that he is insane and power-crazed. He must be stopped. Vol will help them to stop him. But in order to do this Vol needs to take over someone’s body. Being a disembodied brain has its advantages but to stop Gor he will need a body. So he takes over the body of George. Since George is a dog this seems a rather silly choice but Sally and her dad weren’t too keen on his original idea of taking over Sally’s body. After seeing Steve go all sex-crazed their coolness about this idea is kind of understandable.

Meanwhile Gor is pushing ahead with his plans to conquer the Earth and eventually become master of the universe (as well as pushing ahead with his plans to have his evil way with poor Sally). Only a woman’s love and an alien brain in a dog’s body can  stop him!

The secret to making a science fiction movie on a zero budget is to find a story that doesn’t require elaborate special effects, since it’s obviously the special effects that are going to let you down. That’s what this movie does for most of its running time. Unfortunately the climactic scene does require special effects that work, and what this movie offers is one of the cheesiest scenes in sci-fi movie history. If you had somehow managed to take the story seriously up to this point (which I admit is pretty unlikely) then that scene entirely destroys the movie.

On the other hand if you’ve been watching the movie all the way through as a delightful example of so-bad-it’s-good film-making then that scene will be the icing on the cake that makes this movie a bona fide camp classic.

John Agar is for once called upon to do some serious acting and his glorious inability to do so is another major attraction. As a megalomaniacal insane alien he pulls out all the stops and chews every piece of scenery he can lay his hands on and it just doesn’t work. But it doesn’t work in a good way, a way that adds considerably to the fun.

I don’t know the name of the dog who plays George but he easily walks off with the acting honours in this movie.

Director Nathan Juran was generally pretty good at making low-budget sci-fi movies that turn out to be rather entertaining but this time around he’s defeated by a budget that is just too meagre to make the idea work. He still gives it his best shot and he does at least keep things moving along. The one thing that is guaranteed to kill a low-budget movie is a low pace and Juran manages to avoid that hurdle. Juran is billed in the credits as Nathan Hertz because he was embarrassed by the movie but he still did his best.

What you’re really watching this movie for though is the cheesy special effects and they don’t disappoint. The floating brains are wonderfully goofy and that climactic scene I mentioned earlier is a total hoot.

Image Entertainment’s DVD release offers a quite acceptable transfer.

The trouble with most ultra-low budget bad movies of this type is that they’re bad but boring. The Brain from Planet Arous is bad but thoroughly entertaining. This movie is sheer unadulterated fun and is highly recommended.

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