B&W, 1957, 70 mins. 55 secs.
Directed by Nathan Juran
Starring John Agar, Joyce Meadows, Robert Fuller, Thomas Browne Henry
The Film Detective (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Image Entertainment (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
Though the title could easily apply to the silly sci-fi spoofs from the 1970s, The Brain from Planet Arous is a bona fide '50s creature feature involving huge floating alien brains possessing John Agar and a dog. If that doesn't make you want to watch it right now, you need to get more fun out of life. A favorite 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 charismatic and, later in the film, truly terrifying when he laughs maniacally into the camera, his eyes transformed into a horrific, glistening shade of inky silver.
A series of weird radiation bursts 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 (Emergency's 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 (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, George, until Gor slips out of Steve's body for a breather 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) keeps a firm grip on this film, guiding it through some outlandish story patches and making its 70 tight minutes fly by without a wasted minute. The special effects are charming at least, ranging from dime-store plane explosions to the unforgettable spectacle of the hovering Gor, actually a painted balloon on a string. 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 perversity (it ain't called Planet Arous for nothing) should keep film scholars churning out essays for decades.
For years this has been fairly easy to find on video with Rhino repackaging it numerous times; their laserdisc featured wraparound intros by Elvira, while the print itself looked just fine. The DVD from Image released in 2001 looked terrific at the time and still hold up well, with only a few minor blemishes visible. 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. In 2022, licensor Wade Williams brought it back into circulation with a Blu-ray premiere and a DVD reissue with The Film Detective, featuring a new HD scan now offered in both open matte 1.33:1 and matted 1.85:1 aspect ratios. The latter makes a lot more compositional sense as it removes the acres of dead space at the top and bottom, but the 1.33:1 is fun to have since that's how almost everyone has been watching it for years. The film element is in good shape apart from some hairline scratches popping in and out, and the original prominent grain field (which looks more tight on the 1.33:1 version) has been left intact; this was obviously a scan where a lot of clean-up work wasn't done after the fact but it's the best this has looked on home video. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track is in good shape without any significant damage, and subtitles are provided in English and Spanish. As usual, you also get those subtitle options for the new audio commentary by enthusiastic monster movie historian Tom Weaver who peppers his talk with contributions from Meadows, David Schecter, and Larry Blamire. Though he tends to kick around this film and connected titles like Attack of the 50-Foot Woman more than necessary, but he has an observant eye for detail and there's a lot of good info in here involving Meadows' penchant for improvising, the shooting locations, backgrounds of the three significant cast members, Juran's run-in with the DGA over his credit, Agar's issues with his contact lenses, and Weaver's own memories of interviewing producer / cinematographer Jacques "Jack" Marquette. In "Not the Same Old Brain" (11m40s), Meadows (a.k.a. Sally Fallon here) shares her memories of the film while grilling some burgers not far from the shooting location -- plus you get to hear her say "sex-crazed brain." Stick around for the goofy epilogue, too. "The Man Before the Brain: Director Nathan Juran" (11m42s), written and spoken by Justin Humphreys, and "The Man Behind the Brain: The World of Nathan Juran" (13m52s) featuring an on-camera C. Courtney Joyner are overviews of his life and career including his impact on the sci-fi and fantasy genres, ranging from the ginormous mantis to his Harryhausen masterworks. The insert booklet features a new Weaver essay, "The Brains Behind The Brain: The Sci-Fi Career of Jacques Marquette," about the producer's role in the film's origins, filming decisions, and release strategy.
The Film Detective (Blu-ray) (1.85:1)
The Film Detective (Blu-ray) (1.33:1)
Image Entertainment (DVD)
Updated review on June 17, 2022.