Posted by panelist, The Hateful Jock.
If you listen carefully to the fun fifties sci-fi film THE BRAIN EATERS you may hear an echo of the legendary mind-bending movie DEMENTIA, DAUGHTER OF HORROR. The latter was made by the one hit wonder, John Parker, but was also produced by everybody's' favorite fat guy from the fifties Bruno VeSota, who took up so much space in so many B-movies directed by Roger Corman, his progeny and his imitators. He also directed THE BRAIN EATERS and it is obvious he learned some tricks not only from Corman and company, but also from his association with one of the most interesting film efforts to grace the decade of the red scare. The movie's plot and coherency is marred but by no means is its style or effect. And when you are operating on a shoestring budget with two weeks of filming at the height of drive-in free for all… style is all you got.
The movie begins with a man attacking another man for no reason at all, except that he made him drop his mysterious jar filled with mysterious liquid. VeSota then shows us his dislike of sync sound with needless voice-over narration by a character that was utterly unimportant to the movie. He and his equally unimportant fiancée discover a large metal cone in the middle of the woods and the government is notified. Instead of troops or specialists coming in they send the irritating Senator Powers to conduct the investigation, although all he really knows how to do is threaten people and yell. Doctor Paul Kettering, and his decades older assistant Dr. Wlyer do all the real work, often to the dismay and dissatisfaction of the cantankerous Senator. They investigate what they believe is a spaceship and try to keep the town calm.
While they are doing that, the denizens of the vessel are taking over townspeople a la Pod People. Heinlien sued the producers of this movie because it too closely resembled his novel THE PUPPET MASTERS. The movie was reedited to avoid lawsuits and reduce coherency. The aliens are trying to spread themselves over all the earth to end all war and evil by obeying without question the will of their overlord, played by Leonard Nimoy in a Santa Claus beard. The crack team of two doctors, voice over guy and the Senator eventually find a way to prevent the enslavement of all mankind involving electricity and selfless sacrifice. And we're left to wonder if it wouldn't be actually better if the little space slugs won.
The preachy "man has to find his own way" moral aside, this was an inventive and creative film. The camerawork was advanced for 1958 and the anonymity of the creatures is kept as long as it possibly could to keep the audience guessing at the rather obvious plot. This movie could have inspired every movie from ALIEN to THE EVIL DEAD, but really it was just a hard working crew with a few great ideas that got to work on a script that didn't embarrass itself like many sci-fi movies did. And there's pre-Star Trek Leonard Nimoy in a Wizard outfit proclaiming the doom of humankind. You can easily see why this is a can't miss movie…so don't.
RATING: *** and a half (out of four)