B&W, 1957, 70m.
Directed by Nathan Hertz (Juran)
Starring John Agar, Joyce Meadows
Image Entertainment (US R0 NTSC)
Though the title could easily apply to those sexy sci-fi spoofs from the 1970s, The Brain from Planet Arous appears to have mostly serious intentions despite a plot involving huge floating alien brains possessing John Agar and a dog. A favourite of "bad" cinema retrospectives, Brain is compulsively watchable, skillfully made, and boasts nary a dull moment, though it's easy to see why Agar never quite took off as a Hollywood leading man. At least he's moderately likeable and, later in the film, truly terrifying when he laughs maniacally into the camera, his eyes transformed into a horrific, glistening shade of black.
A series of weird radiation emanating from Mystery Mountain (yes, that really is its name) attracts the interest of nuclear scientist Steve Marsh (Agar), who packs up and heads out to investigate with his assistant, Dan (Robert Fuller, who, being the best actor in the film, gets wiped out quickly for his trouble). Inside a dark passageway the two men are assaulted by Gor, a levitating brain from Arous, who zaps Dan and enters Steve's body. Now possessed, the scientist returns home to his girlfriend, Sally (Joyce Meadows); diabolically crazed with a lust for power and sex, Gor/Steve proceeds to make Sally's life hell and plots to bring the worldwide military to its knees. Sally and her father tromp back out to Mystery Mountain where they meet a good brain, Vol, who decides to hide out in the family dog until Gor slips out of Steve's body for some air and becomes vulnerable. After a nasty demonstration involving some A-bomb tests, it's clear that the only way to resolve this situation will involve a fire axe, some sacrifices from major characters, and the intervention of an alien-inhabited pooch.
Under the pseudonym of Nathan Hertz, regular Ray Harryhausen director Nathan Juran (fresh off of The Deadly Mantis) kept a firm grip on this film, guiding it through some silly story patches and making its 70 tight minutes fly by without a wasted minute. The special effects are often well below par, ranging from dime store plane explosions to the unforgettable spectacle of a hovering Gor, actually a painted balloon on a string. How could you possibly dislike a film like this? In many respects this is simply the ultimate '50s brain movie, and there are certainly enough of those around to choose from. Just check out Donovan's Brain, for example, or its closest cousin, the more explicit Fiend without a Face. There's just something so compellingly lovable about this film, its zero budget flaws and all, and the underlying sexual weirdness (it ain't called Planet Arous for nothing) should keep film scholar scratching their heads at the meaning of it all. For years this has been fairly easy to find on video for ages, with Rhino repackaging it numerous times; their laserdisc featured wraparound intros by Elvira, while the print itself looked just fine. The DVD print looks terrific, with only a few minor blemishes visible in the opening credits. Otherwise the clarity is sparkling (occasional stock footage notwithstanding), so you can see the wire holding up Gor even more clearly. A much rougher looking theatrical trailer is also included.