Sometimes, I feel like The Film Detective are catering directly to me with their recent home video releases. I know that they aren’t, but their continuous string of restorations for 1950s’ sci-fi fare sure seems like “targeting”. So, when they asked if I would be interested in reviewing their new restoration of 1957’s The Brain from Planet Arous, which releases on Special Edition Blu-ray and DVD this June 21st, there was no delay in my replying with an emphatic “yes!”
The Brain from Planet Arous was directed by Nathan Juran, who began his career as an art director, winning an Oscar for 1942’s How Green Was My Valley, before stepping behind the camera for his first film directorial effort, Universal’s Boris Karloff-starring The Black Castle (1952), when the film’s original director was fired. Work came fairly fast and steady for Juran afterwards, with 1957 proving to be one of his busiest years. Not only would Juran direct The Brain from Planet Arous that year, but also 20 Million Miles to Earth, Universal’s The Deadly Mantis, and Hellcats of the Navy, which starred both Ronald Reagan and the woman that would later become First Lady, Nancy Davis.
Juran would direct more sci-fi films in 1958, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, before eventually moving more into the realm of television, directing episodes of multiple Irwin Allen creations, namely “Lost In Space“, “The Time Tunnel“, “Land of the Giants”, and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”, as well as numerous episodes of “Daniel Boone”. It should be noted that Juran must have felt some embarrassment by The Brain from Planet Arous and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman as he insisted on being credited as “Nathan Hertz”, which was his middle name. That said, both films have developed respectable fan bases in the years since their initial releases and are now generally considered to be “cult classics” of the era.
B-Movie icon John Agar (Tarantula, The Mole People) takes the starring role in Brain as nuclear scientist Steve Marsh, who discovers a source of radiation emanating from a nearby mountain, aptly named Mystery Mountain. With his partner Dan (Robert Fuller, presumably best known from his later role on the TV western “Laramie“), Steve heads out to investigate, only to encounter a large, floating brain creature (with eyes!). The brain, actually an alien criminal from the planet Arous named Gor, quickly dispatches Dan with a blast of radiation before incapacitating Marsh and inhabiting his body.
Upon returning to town, the now mind-controlled Marsh stops in for a visit with his fiancé, Sally Fallon (Joyce Meadows – The Girl in Lovers Lane, I Saw What You Did). Gor finds himself quite sexually attracted to the Earth woman and basically attempts to rape her, forcing Steve on top of Sally and ripping open her top before being stopped by an attack from her highly-protective dog, George. Deterred for the moment, Marsh/Gor leave her home, but stop just long enough for Gor to mentally explode an airplane mid-flight, albeit one that is quite obviously a cheap prop complete with strings and hangers.
Using its immense mental powers and radiation blasts, Gor plans to take over our world. The first step in doing so is to destroy the site of atomic bomb testing at a nearby military facility as a “show of strength”, using Steve’s military contacts in order to gain access to the base. However, before that can happen, the now “possessed” Steve makes a few more visits to Sally to not only forcibly make out with the woman, but also for the megalomaniacal brain to boastfully drop hints at its hidden agenda.
Convinced that something sinister happened to Steve during his visit to Mystery Mountain, Sally convinces her father (Thomas B. Henry – 20 Million Miles to Earth, Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers, Beginning of the End) to escort her to the mountain. There they encounter another alien brain, named Vol, who has been sent to stop Gor and his diabolical plans of domination. However, Vol will also need a “host” body. After some debate, it’s decided the best, least conspicuous “host” is actually George. You know, the dog! Despite revealing the means by which Gor may be killed, Vol does little else, serving as more of a bystander for the remainder of the film.
While The Brain from Planet Arous features a rather simplistic plot and undeniably goofy premise, the film leans more towards dialog than action or effects sequences. Some may arguably claim that this approach is a blessing as the effects tend to be pretty damned hokey even by the standards of low-budget ’50s sci-fi, resulting in more laughs than scares or chills. That’s not to say that Brain is a failure as a film or even unentertaining. While I generally try to refrain from the mentality that a film is “so bad, it’s good”, many may feel that this one easily fits the label. What would normally be considered flaws or detriments in other films undeniably serve as some of The Brain from Planet Arous‘s strongest, most memorable elements.
This includes a wonderfully hammy performance by Agar. While I do not claim to know the actor’s opinion on the film or his performance within, Agar clearly appears to be whole-heartedly enjoying his turn as the egomaniacal and egotistical villain (although I do know that he did NOT enjoy the large metallic contacts that he was frequently required to wear in certain scenes), gleefully delivering threatening lines with a wide grin and evil laugh. In my opinion, his performance is the film’s strongest aspect, helping Brain rise above the rank of cheap schlock. While actors in many of these classic (and not-so-classic) sci-fi and monster films tend to become secondary to the creatures and effects presented within, Agar easily outshines both here… which, admittedly, may not have been too difficult of a task.
The Film Detective’s “Special Edition” release of The Brain from Planet Arous is presented with a choice of either a 1.85:1 “Widescreen” format or a 1.33:1 “Full Frame” format. While many will undoubtedly choose the widescreen format to not only fill their modern large-screen TV’s (or for projected presentations), I personally found the full-frame format (which is quite close to the 4:3 ratio of older cathode-ray televisions) to be the more appealing aspect ratio. Not only was there no “cut-off” of the film image, but I also felt that this ratio presented the stronger quality picture. Personally, I didn’t sense a huge difference in clarity and sharpness between the two, but I did find the widescreen presentation to be a little less crisp and that film grain might be a tad more intrusive. While noticeable on both options, the film grain is never what I’d call a distraction or annoyance on either format.
While maybe not as strong as some of The Film Detective’s previous blu-ray releases (particularly the impressive restoration for Monster from Green Hell), the restoration for Brain is still quite pleasing, offering a decent level of clarity, most noticeable in clothing and hair, as well (maybe somewhat unfortunately, depending on your point of view) as in exposing the limitations of the film’s special effects.
There were a couple quick instances of film scratching, but these were minor enough as to almost be negligible and worthy of little mention. There also appeared to be a couple instances of missing frames. While this was more noticeable, they are so brief in nature that no important aspects of the film or its plot are disturbed.
The audio is listed as a DTS-HD Master Audio Mono 2.0 track. While I once again remind readers that I understand little of what that may actually mean, I will say that while dialog and sound effects were quite clear and discernable, there was little bass present. While not something that will ruin enjoyment of the film, it does deprive scenes such as those featuring explosions of that extra level of “weight” that a bass-heavier track would have provided.
The Film Detective’s presentation of The Brain from Planet Arous comes with 3 featurettes. Included are:
“Not the Same Old Brain” with Joyce Meadows – The film’s co-star reprises her role as “Sally Fallon” for this featurette, providing the viewer with a brief history of the actress’s career, as well as some quick discussions on her other films with Agar, the plot of The Brain from Planet Arous, and its shooting locations (primarily the legendary Bronson Caves). The presentation is fairly entertaining, but occasionally a little awkward, with Meadows’ dialog clearly scripted. Part of the featurette is essentially advertising for the new restoration and home video release, which is somewhat odd considering that viewers would have already purchased it.
“The Man Before the Brain: Director Nathan Juran” – A look at the early life and film beginnings of director Juran, written and narrated by film historian Justin Humphreys. While highly informative, the piece is somewhat hurt by a certain lack of charisma on Humphreys’ part, who delivers his monolog in a tone somewhat devoid of inflection, often reminiscent to that of Ben Stein. Humphreys also frequently fails to give (my opinion) adequate pause at the end of sentences, causing them to run together. Your opinion on his delivery may differ, of course.
“The Man Behind the Brain: The World of Nathan Juran” – While fairly similar to the first featurette, this one is written and hosted by C. Courtney Joyner, who I personally always find to be highly entertaining and informative, delivering his presentations in a much more conversational manner. As with the previous featurette, Joyner starts by discussing Juran’s beginnings as an art director before segueing into his beginnings as a director of film.
Unlike Humphrey’s presentation, which completely omits mention of The Brain from Planet Arous, this featurette does discuss the film, albeit briefly, including some of the difficulties between Juran and Brain‘s producer Jacques Marquette (who also produced Attack of the 50 Foot Woman).
Also included is a commentary track featuring film historians Tom Weaver and David Schecter, actress Joyce Meadows, and filmmaker Larry Blamire (The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra).
The Brain from Planet Arous is a fun slice of vintage sci-fi cheese, although its tale is one that is far from what one would call “thought provoking”, unless, of course, that thought is “What were the filmmakers thinking?” The film features a highly entertaining over-the-top performance from leading man Agar, and generally respectable performances from its other cast members. Outside of maybe its titular brain creatures, special effects are unimpressive for the most, and sure to provoke more than a few laughs and eyerolls. While it surely won’t impress those unappreciative of such things, fans of campy cinema should find more than enough on display to keep them highly entertained throughout the film’s rather brief runtime. Brain surely isn’t the best classic genre film ever made, but it’s most certainly not amongst the worst. Despite featuring 2 giant super-powered brains, this film is best enjoyed by turning your brain off.
The Brain from Planet Arous may not have received the strongest restoration in The Film Detective’s catalog, but the presentation is still quite solid and should please fans of the film or other films like it. The audio half of the presentation may be a little lacking in bombast, but provides clear dialog, which is of more importance as there honestly aren’t a vast number of scenes that would have truly benefitted from a more robust soundtrack.
The included special features provide solid background on The Brain‘s stars and director, but might be a little lacking on insight on the film itself. That said, this will presumably only be a disappointment to the film’s most ardent fans.
Overall, The Film Detective has presented The Brain from Planet Arous with a quite pleasing release, and fans of the film, as well as fans of classic schlock and camp, should find enough to be entertained. The Brain from Planet Arous is available for purchase on Amazon and other online retailers.