I love Futurama, and one of my most favorite scenes in the series involves a character asking a giant, diabolical, floating brain questions only an eternal being can answer. One question is “what really killed the dinosaurs?”, in reply to which the brain bellows “MEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!”. Cut to giant floating brains zapping dinosaurs with lightning bolts.
While I never consciously stopped to consider it, I now realize there was nagging question buried in the back on my own diabolical brain: was Futurama referencing a real movie or TV show? I discovered the answer is “yes”, and now my life has been enriched by 1957’s The Brain From Planet Arous.
Most low-budget movies suffer from their financial constraints, but a few b-movies instead create something more special than what would have resulted had there been more funding. Arous is a good example of the latter.
First, there’s the floating alien brains (yes, plural). One brain is an evil escaped convict while the other is an intergalactic police officer, yet both are the same prop. The balloon used for the brain(s) has half-lidded eyes on the front of it. This sounds laughable (OK, it still is hard to not to laugh at it at times), but those static eyes manage to be mildly unnerving simply through their unchanging expression of…boredom? Smug superiority? What? It’s like talking to somebody and not being able to gauge their feelings through their expressions.
John Agar plays one of the two scientists who encounter the evil brain when they investigate a radiation pulse emanating from nearby Mystery Mountain. I love how the cave in which the brains were hiding is in a place called Mystery Mountain. It’s like if Texas Chain Saw Massacre took place in the town of Cannibal Redneckville.
The scientist who isn’t Agar (too lazy to look him up) is killed immediately, but our star is possessed by the evil brain. Per the era, and every aspect of this film, the evil brain wants to take over the Earth and uses Agar’s body to put a plan in motion. As a scientist, Agar has access to the facilities and government officials the brain needs.
I’m unsure as to why the brain needs access to government resources, because the possessed Agar is able to blow up planes flying overhead without any other means. We also see he doesn’t need anything like nuclear weapons, as he easily obliterates several structures set-up to be destroyed in an atomic test.
When Agar is performing such tricks, the actor was outfitted with contacts that turn the entirety of his visible eyeballs silver. It is a surprisingly effective technique.
The chief effect employed throughout Arous is simple double-exposure. When Agar is talking to his possessor, the brain will sometimes appear in overlay. It starts small before enlarging (heyyy, I know what you’re thinking) and floating to the other side of the room, so a man and his brain overlord can have a more civil discourse.
I need to compliment Agar on his performance. In most of the other pictures I have seen him in, he has delivered serviceable performances but…not much more than that. Here, he gets an opportunity to expand his range and is gleefully sinister when channeling the evil alien.
The creepiest moments in the film have the evil alien brain lusting after Agar’s girl, as played by Joyce Meadows. I guess a life of the mind gives a giant floating brain the hots for the first available female. It’s a gross idea, and Agar maximizes the skeezy potential from it.
The Brain From Planet Arous is a hoot. It is something I simultaneously enjoyed on its own terms and as a thick slice of cheese. I wasn’t bored for a minute; albeit, the movie only takes 71 of them. Recommended for everybody.
Dir: Nathan Juran
Starring John Agar, Joyce Meadows
Watched on Film Detective blu-ray