Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Brain Eaters

No brains are eaten in THE BRAIN EATERS, a very cheap horror picture obviously based on Robert Heinlein’s 1951 novel THE PUPPET MASTERS. However, none of the filmmakers — not director Bruno VeSota (INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES), screenwriter Gordon Urquhart (FEMALE JUNGLE), producer Ed Nelson (PEYTON PLACE), nor executive producer Roger Corman (ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS) — bothered to buy story rights from Heinlein, who sued. Corman settled out of court by buying film rights to two other Heinlein works, though he never made the movies.

Nelson, who worked with Corman many times at the beginning of his career, also produced THE BRAIN EATERS and built the titular creatures, because, well, somebody had to do it. Director VeSota reportedly spent $30,000 on the whole picture, and it looks it. Set in rural Illinois, but filmed in Pomona, California (which doesn’t look like Illinois), the picture runs only an hour and only played the bottom half of AIP double bills. While it isn’t very good, THE BRAIN EATERS shows signs of care in VeSota’s occasional flair with the camera and Nelson’s earnest lead performance. Good thing Nelson didn’t quit his day job, because the creatures — actually toy windup ladybugs with pieces of a fur coat glued to them — look ridiculous, no matter how sinister VeSota and cinematographer Larry Raimond (T-BIRD GANG) try to photograph them.

The plot, as mentioned above, is similar to that of THE PUPPET MASTERS (which received an official film adaptation starring Donald Sutherland in 1994). A fifty-foot metallic cone is discovered in the woods outside Riverdale, Illinois. Is it from outer space? It’s impervious to pressure, heat, acid, and diamond drill bits, and scientist Dr. Paul Kettering (Nelson) is perplexed. Meanwhile, the town’s mayor (Orville Sherman) is acting erratically and is gunned down in self-defense. The autopsy reveals a furry creature attacked to his neck and secreting a mysterious acid into his brain. Think it’s connected to the big cone?

Science fiction fans may recognize PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE’s Joanna Lee as Alice, Kettering’s assistant. They may or may not recognize 27-year-old Leonard Nimoy (erroneously credited as “Leonard Nemoy”) as the elderly Professor Cole. Why the future STAR TREK star and not an actor of appropriate age? Probably because Nimoy was a friend of Nelson’s and presumably worked cheap.

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