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Rest Your Brain with Brain Eaters

My favorite part about Brain Eaters (1958) was that the characters spend a lot of time driving places.  I like to see the old cars.

Spoiler Alert!  I’m going to just tell most of the plot of this movie, at least, as much as I can remember (regular readers know how little attention I pay to these things).

The movie was one of the VHS tapes I purchased recently at a rummage sale (perhaps you read my blog post about it), so its cheesy bonafides are impeccable. Steven and I selected it of the several I had bought because it had the shortest running time, just over an hour.  We wanted to watch several movies that day.

After viewing the movie, I made a note in the TV Journal that no brains were actually eaten or in fact used in the making of Brain Eaters.  I’m not sure what I expected.  Maybe a few munching sounds at least.  Nobody gets to die in agony, which I’m sure was a great disappointment to the actors involved.  It can be a great deal of fun to die in agony, I would imagine even more so on screen than on stage.  On stage you have to either get carried off or lie there and try not to let anyone see you breathe.

Be that as it may, Brain Eaters opens with a scary sort of prologue in which one guy attacks another and something gets spilled. A voice-over says something about a nightmare.  I dislike voice-over narration, although I have always narrated in my head about my own life. When I was younger, my voice was a good deal more euphonious than it really was and had that slight echo like in the movies, and I narrated in the third person. Now I use first-person and have the eventual intent of writing it down in this blog.  But enough about me.  Getting back to the movie, this scene is never explained that I could tell.  Of course there is that not paying attention thing.  Perhaps subsequent events made all clear to the more discerning viewer.  If you are one of those and you watch this movie, please clue me in.

The movie proper begins with a a classic car driving along a road surrounded by a wooded area. The guy in the car is the narrator.  He and his fiance are returning from a visit to her parents, where they set the wedding date.  They are about to let his father know.  This bit of backstory never recurs, but I mention it because it is the only real backstory any of the characters get.  Perhaps I should not have a beef with that.  After all, we tuned in to see brains get eaten, not believable characters play out human stories.  Only your really classy horror/scifi movies give you both. It’s not really fair to ding the cheesy ones for not.

I was making a note in the TV Journal, so I missed why they stopped, but when I looked up the Narrator and his Fiance were looking at some dead animals in the woods. Come on, Hollywood!  Be kind to animals! (I wrote a blog post with that title.)

Next, they find a cone-shaped space ship and the plot thickens. At least, it gets so dense I didn’t quite know what was going on (Hey! Do you suppose some of my brains got eaten somewhere along the way?  Oh, you’ve probably been supposing that for years).

A government guy is sent to check things out.  All kinds of cops are hanging around the cone, which is now surrounded by scaffolding.  A dashing scientist type is there along with his beautiful assistant.  They don’t know what’s in the cone, but they can’t damage it in any way.  Typical!  They don’t know what it is, but the first thing they try to do is break it!  Dashing Scientist even fires a gun into the opening, so they can hear it ricocheting off the sides as it apparently travels all around inside the thing.

It gets pretty dull and boring for a while when Dashing Scientist crawls into the hole and starts wriggling along an endless tunnel while everybody waits outside for him.  Things get a little more lively when they go to talk to the mayor, who just happens to be Narrator’s father.

The group converging on the Mayor includes cops, Government Guy, a few scientists (including Dashing and Beautiful Assistant), Narrator and Fiance.  Before they enter, Mayor is struggling against himself with a gun.  He picks up the gun, aims it at his head, pulls it away from his head, puts it in a drawer. It seems he is struggling with some unseen force for control of his arm.

“Is he trying to kill himself or to not kill himself?” I asked.  It was the most interesting bit of acting in the movie.

You’ve probably guessed that Mayor is having his brain eaten. These creepy bugs attach themselves to the backs of people’s necks and feed on the brain.  While making a hearty meal, the bugs can also control the person’s actions, some with greater success than others, apparently.  Really, the movie is not consistent on this point at all.

They figure out the brain-sucking thing pretty easily with a lightning fast autopsy on Mayor (oh yeah, he gets shot in a dramatic scene I didn’t tell you about) (this write-up is getting pretty long after all).  Seriously, one minute the guy’s is getting shot, two minutes later, the doctor is telling us all about it.  That is some damn good forensic science!

Of course, just because they know the problem doesn’t mean they can deal with it right away, especially since it is more widespread than they realize.  They sensibly call for help first thing (they don’t always do that in these pictures), but it does them no good when the brain eatee in the telegraph office assures them the message will be sent then sends an entirely different one.  The phone is no better when the bug-laden operator keeps telling them, “I’m sorry, that line is busy.”

And then a bunch of other stuff happens.  I know I said I was going to tell you the whole plot, but this post is over 1,000 words already.  Is anybody even still reading?  I kept watching till the end, paying my usual sporadic attention.  It isn’t a bad way to spend an hour on a lazy Sunday, if you like cheesy old sci fi flicks.  Which I do.

 

Cheesy Queen

I thought I might have found a cheesy movie when I saw the title Queen of Outer Space (1958) on the TCM schedule. When I saw that Zsa Zsa Gabor starred, I was even more hopeful. My hopes were confirmed with Ben Mankiewicz’s pre-movie commentary. A typical ’50s sci fi flick: low budget, cheesy special effects and a lot of fun. I will say: not the most fun movie I could think of, but considering the cheese shortage I have been experiencing lately, it’ll do.

Spoiler alert: I’m going to give a lot away. I don’t think I’m spoiling much, though, because it’s the sort of movie where you pretty much see everything coming.

My first disappointment was that Zsa Zsa was not the queen. I learned that during the pre-movie commentary. My next disappointment was that the movie takes forever to get started.

The plot concerns that staple of cheesy movies, a civilization of all women. This one is on, what a surprise, Venus. But of course we can’t start out actually on Venus tussling with the ladies. We must start out on Earth, learning the mission of the three astronauts and their important passenger blah blah blah. Important takeaway: these guys are tops in astronauting but the mission is supposed to be a milk run.

I did not notice what year the movie is supposed to take place in — the future of 1958 anyways — but space travel has certainly advanced. The astronauts are taking Important Guy to a space station, which one astronaut refers to as a bus depot.

A word about the three astronauts. They are a captain and two lieutenants. I think they were supposed to have distinct personalities. The stalwart leader, the ladies man and the wise cracker. However, they seemed pretty much interchangeable to me.

Take off is slightly delayed when Ladies Man (I think) pauses on the tarmac to kiss a beautiful blond good-bye.

“Space ships are dangerous,” she squeaks in the approved airhead voice. “What if you get lost?”

As things turn out she should be more worried about his wandering eye than any wandering the ship might do, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Then again, this blond is not seen, mentioned nor thought of again, so I guess the whole movie is hard luck on her.

Stalwart Leader looks out the window (!) at them, then gets on the loudspeaker (!) and tells Ladies Man to get on board. After a few more smooches, he does.

The movie is further delayed when they feel the need to let us hear the whole countdown. Couldn’t they at least have started on five? In your better movies, during the countdown a character is trying frantically to get something done or a villain perpetrates some nefarious act. This movie just flashes on the spaceship, the blond looking worried, and the guys strapping themselves into beds. Apparently space travel has become very relaxing in whatever year this is supposed to be.

It’s gotten pretty hands-off as well. After the space station is blown to smithereens before their eyes and they are under attack themselves, Stalwart Leader puts it on autopilot and they strap themselves back into the beds.

“Who’s flying the ship?” I asked.

Flash to some of those cheesy special effects: either a model or a cardboard cut-out of the ship moves shakily across the screen while fake-looking flames squiggle below.

As is often the case in science fiction, the gravity and atmosphere on another planet are nothing to worry about. As a nod to reality, one of the astronauts says to Important Guy that he thought the atmosphere on Venus was too heavy from… something.

“I used to subscribe to that theory,” Important Guy says importantly.

“But my subscription ran out and I didn’t renew it,” I interjected and thought I was pretty clever for making Steven laugh.

The men disembark from their disabled but not totaled spacecraft and are soon captured by women with some pretty tough firearms. They speak English because, as one explains scornfully, they have been intercepting Earth’s radio transmissions.

I must say I was pretty glad to see the women show up. Who knew single gender movies could be so dull? Naturally the women wear low-cut, form fitting mini- dresses. I expected something like that. I have to ask myself: is it feminist or anti-feminist that with no men around to impress or entice, movie women just naturally pick the sexiest way to dress?

Another thing I wonder about thee all-female societies is the age distribution. It seems the entire population is in the 18 to 29-year-old range (Zsa Zsa might be a little older, but we’ll let that slide). Where are the little girls and the old ladies? Some mention is made about how the men are sequestered somewhere in a “breeding colony.” I wondered if they had figured out a way to make the men be pregnant, because I didn’t see any baby bumps either.

You know I don’t pay too much attention to these things, especially the boring parts like explanations. As near as I could figure out, the women, led by the one who is now queen, kicked out all the men, because the women were tired of war. They promptly built the super-duper weapon that destroyed the space station and now plan to destroy the Earth as well, for reasons unspecified. It is either a profound statement on absolute power corrupting absolutely, some kind of feminist or anti-feminist propaganda, or a typical B movie “Waaaait a minute” plot development.

However, one lets these considerations slide when enjoying a cheesy sci-fi flick. I’m afraid it was not an hour and a half on unalloyed enjoyment, but for an evening’s entertainment and the subject of a blog post, it was OK.