Ahh… evil brain movies. Where would we be without them? We probably have novelist/screenwriter Curt Siodmak to thank for starting this gruesome genre – he wrote the best-selling novel Donovan’s Brain in 1942. This story has been made into a movie at least three times: The Lady and The Monster (1944), Donovan’s Brain (1953) starring Nancy Reagan(!), and Vengeance (aka The Brain) (1962). Orson Welles made a kick-ass two-part radio version of the story for the Suspense! radio series, which I like better than the original novel.
Curt was clearly on to something special, but surprisingly few filmmakers caught on to the potential appeal of monster brain movies. Still, we should be thankful for the demented cerebrophobic flicks that did come along, such as these ones:
· Fiend Without A Face (1958): For the first hour, this tasteless classic seems bland and mundane, but stick with it; rarely has patience been so extravagantly rewarded.
Ill-advised experiments in “thought materialization” create a swarm of monsters that terrorize a US/Canadian military base. Victims have their entire nervous systems sucked out through two tiny holes in the backs of their necks. The monsters are invisible, so all we see are a few bit-part characters pretending to be scared before falling down dead. Not quite the nail-biting suspense we’d been hoping for. But wait! Just when you’d given up on the movie ever getting
exciting, somebody throws a switch and the monsters suddenly become visible. The heroes now find themselves surrounded by dozens and dozens of writhing, crawling human brains! Barricading themselves into a small cabin, the surviving good guys draw pistols and blaze away at the waves of brain monsters that keep crashing through windows, wriggling towards their prey and leaping up onto their necks! I can’t think of any other movie that makes such a profound change from boring to thrilling so abruptly. Highly recommended.
· The Brain From Planet Arous (1958): Earth gets visited by a big, floating, glowing-eyed brain from the distant planet Arous. The brain’s name is Gor. Hovering around like it owns the place, this arrogant cerebellum promptly takes over John Agar’s body, and immediately starts up with the usual space-invader shenanigans: designing doomsday weapons, sneering at the puny intellects of the local humans, shooting down airplanes with its laser-beam eyes, pursuing world conquest, discovering how hot these Earth women are, etc. Of course, it’s a mistake to judge an entire alien species based on the conduct of one individual. A nice brain named Vol has followed Gor to Earth and tries to help the humans defeat this otherworldly miscreant. Vol also needs a terrestrial host, and after careful evaluation of the suitability of the human cast, Vol decides to possess a dog. Following Vol’s advice, Agar attacks Gor with an axe when the nasty thing steps out of his body to stretch its legs… er, spinal cord. (Thanks, Vol. We never would have thought of that.) This axe-swinging finalé isn’t nearly as gruesome as it sounds on paper; due to the limited budget, the evil brain is played by an enormous balloon, and when Agar thumps it, it looks like he’s trying to break open a piñata. A classic.