Friday, May 26, 2017

The Brain Eaters

The Brain Eaters
Bruno VeSota

A mysterious cone has beenn spotted in the woods outside Riverdale, Illinois. Its appearance coincides with several local murders. The town’s mayor has been missing, but when he reappears; he acts strangely aggressive and pulls a gun on investigators. He’s shot and killed by a deputy. On his neck is an unusual lump. It seems that the mayor and an untold number of other people have a come under the sway of inhuman creatures. Dr. Paul Kettering (Ed Nelson) and Glen Cameron (Alan Jay Factor) must unravel the secret of the invaders.

"For the last time, I'm not Tor Johnson!"
It’s been well established that fear of being suborned from within was a major anxiety of the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. Whether this was due to the Communist menace, wild teenagers, or the frantic pace that technology was beginning to affect the lives of people, the world always seemed on the verge of collapsing under threats unseen. So, it’s really no surprise that much of the horror and SF genre was obsessed with a threat already among us. The most famous film of this period is probably Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), one of my favorites in this subgenre is the complete strangeness and downer ending of The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1963).

The Brain Eaters is a potboiler take on the idea of aliens possessing humans; it was notoriously similar enough to the plot of Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters novel, that producer Roger Corman settled out of court with Heinlein over a charge of plagiarism. Corman claimed that he had never read the novel, but admitted the ideas were very similar. Both involve small creatures that attach themselves to humans in order to control them. The main difference being The Brain Eaters is much smaller in scope by virtue of its budget.

"You vape, bro?"
The film is only an hour long and this works in its favor. The story sets up its plot hook quickly, a mysterious death and an even more mysterious giant metal cone in the woods. There isn’t time to build on slowly crawling paranoia like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, so instead The Brain Eaters opts for flurries of action and violence. The brisk pace keeps the characters from having much time to catch their breath, and the audience from pondering the point of the aliens’ invasion scheme too closely.

The fact that this film was made for $26,000 (or about $200,000 in today’s money) left little money for special effects. The aliens are little more than white maggoty things, the bodily damage they cause and the interior of their transportation is often described more than shown. Near the end, the interior of the cone is flooded with so much fog, that it is virtually impossible to see what is going on. This is doubly disappointing because it features an early appearance by Leonard Nimoy in some old age make-up.

Short and sweet, The Brain Eaters is a decent enough entry in the 1950s invaders subgenre to entertain but little else. It offers few surprises, and it probably won’t leave much of an impression on you after the finale... unlike the mutant slug currently on your neck.

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