Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Brain From Planet Arous

The movie which proves that the brain is the most important sex organ; in that it's kind of a dick.
The Brain From Planet Arous
Directed by Nathan Juran (as Nathan Hertz)
Written by Ray Buffum

One of the lens flares from J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek crash lands on Richard Dreyfuss’ mashed potato mountain from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and startles John Agar, whom we’ve apparently caught on his day off, as he’s engrossed in curating his large vintage toaster collection.

But John can’t relax, because he keeps picking up mysterious radioactivity readings on his waffle iron, so he decides to cross the room to bitch at Robert Fuller, who tries to hide behind a magazine and just wait until it’s the Seventies so he can star in Emergency! But John demands that Robert come out of there and act with him, so together they determine that this radiation is so mysterious, it could only have come from one place: Mystery Mountain.

Joyce Meadows, last seen being strangled to death by Jack Elam in The Girl in Lovers Lane, has an even more depressing role in this film (she’s John girlfriend) and gamely drops by to declare that she has to make them lunch, because vagina. John and Robert scarf down burgers with Joyce’s father, who’s there primarily to panhandle spare exposition, then load their Jeep with pith helmets and drive into the blistering desert to check out this “hot blast of gamma.” Should I stop here and make the obligatory “sounds like a Japanese bukkake video starring the Incredible Hulk” joke, or can we all just stipulate to the monster semen gag and move on?

Let’s move on. Our heroes drive into the desolate and remote nuclear proving grounds of Griffith Park, where they pretend John's blow dryer is a Geiger counter and explore Bronson Caves, in a scene that would be really suspenseful if I wasn’t so distracted by John’s incredibly extensive network of sweat stains, which change from shot to shot like Rorschach’s mask in Watchmen.

Suddenly, they’re accosted by a large, brain-shaped Happy Birthday balloon.  Robert is shocked, but he’s also a scientist, and with the curiosity typical of his profession, asks, “What is it?”  John, on the other hand, just bugs his eyes out and fires wildly at it with a .45.  Their teamwork proves that it is indeed possible to reconcile the Scientific Method with Tea Party doctrine.

The Brain flashes his headlights, which causes John to stagger around like Fred Sanford faking a heart attack, then it sits on his sweaty chest and presumably dangles loogies in his face and makes him say “Uncle.”

A week passes. Joyce is worried and tells her father that she’s leading a group of men on a rescue mission to Mystery Mountain, but first she has to make them lunch. Just then, John shows up and tongue-kisses her so aggressively she nearly faints from passion. Or disgust. Actually, I think it’s an artful combination – the character is overwhelmed, while the actress is clearly repulsed.

Joyce notices that Robert didn’t come back from the desert with John, and asks him, basically, “Say, you didn’t get possessed by a big, superimposed brain balloon in Bronson Canyon, did you?” John is coy, and tries to allay her suspicions by throwing her down on the chaise lounge, kissing her like a drunken frat boy, and tearing her blouse off her shoulder. Apparently there’s a typo in the opening titles, and this film is actually called The Brain From Planet Aroused.

On a side note, this is the second film I’ve seen Joyce Meadows in, and the second film in which she's had a blouse torn off her shoulder.  Maybe it’s a coincidence, or maybe this was her signature bit, like that popping noise Fritz Feld made with his mouth. I’ll have to check to see if it also happens in that 1987 episode she did of Punky Brewster.

Fortunately, Joyce’s dog comes to her rescue. John leaves in a huff and goes back to his lab, where he sits down and proceeds to sweat, grimace, twitch, and jiggle so violently he looks like a death row inmate in an electric chair just after the switch is thrown, and just before the Executioner realizes he also accidentally turned on the Magic Fingers feature.

John chats up the Brain, who reveals that his name is Gor, and like most things called Gor, he’s into bondage and rough sex. But he’s not only going to use John’s unattractive body to create a hostile work environment, he's also going to lay waste some capital cities and conquer the world.

Joyce’s dad goes to the lab, where he tells John that he looks terribly, terribly sick, and should come over immediately for lunch. John responds by making goofy funhouse faces in the water cooler, then pops in a couple of creepy contact lenses – the universal sign for “I’m Possessed” -- and starts screaming. I would too; they look painful.
Joyce talks her dad into driving out to Bronson Canyon. They enter the dark cave, but where John wet his pants and ran, leaving his friend to die, Joyce fearlessly tracks the radioactive signal to its source, and barely flinches at the sight of Robert’s corpse.

They meet Vol, a cop-brain from the planet Arous. He was given just 24 hours to track down the criminal-brain, Gor, or it'll mean his badge! Which might not be a bad thing, since the badge is pinned to his Olfactory Bulb, and it's making him hallucinate the smell of toast.

John makes plans to party-crash an atom bomb test, then he does a jerky, Joe Cocker thing while Gor floats nearby, laughing lustily and calling him “stupid.”

Vol shows up at Joyce’s house and explains that he needs to arrest Gor while he’s outside his host, since Arous doesn’t have an extradition treat with John’s body.  He also needs a host of his own. Joyce and her dad both bravely volunteer, until he explains what it involves, then they get squicked out and say, “Oh, uh, maybe you should possess our dog instead.”  Vol sighs, but agrees to occupy Sandy, the Anti-Molestation Mutt. Now he’s an alien cop on Earth disguised as a dog, which would make for a great black-and-white Japanese cartoon series of the 1960s.

But just as Joyce’s pet becomes a brain, John’s brain plans some heavy petting with Joyce. First, he’ll put on a nice suit. Then he’ll pull over to the side of the road and make a badly superimposed airplane explode. With his mind! Then maybe they’ll go dancing.

Vol says they mustn’t make Gor suspicious – Joyce must treat John the same way she always does.  She agrees, and when John arrives she chirps, “Ready to go, Master?” So maybe that whole BDSM thing wasn’t actually Gor’s idea…

They take the dog to Lover’s Lane (I don’t know why; maybe they played that Chinese fortune cookie game with dog food jingles – “My dog’s better than your dog…in bed”), and John-Gor gets aggressively kissyface. When Joyce rebuffs him, he gets self-conscious and makes awkward small talk, basically telling her his entire plan for world conquest in excruciating detail.  Then he maneuvers her onto a chaise-like rock and prepares to tear the blouse off her shoulder again, apparently thinking that human sexual intercourse begins and ends with a targeted exposure of the glenohumeral joint. What do you want to bet that back in school, Gor totally tanked his Xenobiology mid-term?

“I want you! And what I want, I take!” he snarls, thereby sacrificing all the good will he’d previously built up by pretending to be someone other than John Agar. Fortunately, this skin-crawling scene is broken up the heroic barking of Detective Dog.

They hear a radio bulletin about the plane John-Gor blew up with his brain, and Joyce convinces him to drive out to the crash site and see if he can help. Once there, however, all he does is stand around and gloat, so she goes home and complains to her dad that it was the worst date she’s ever had – except for that one time at Junior Prom when Tommy Matthews got drunk on a mixture of cooking sherry and Sun Drop soda and puked on her dress at the Dairy Queen.

Vol reveals that alien brains have to turn solid every 24 hours in order to assimilate oxygen and cheap plot devices, and when that happens, Joyce can kill Gor with a sharp blow to his “Fissure of Rolando,” assuming she bothers to do the minimum amount of due diligence and figure out where this vulnerable spot is located, which she doesn’t.

The Sheriff drops by John’s lab to accuse him of murdering Robert, but John-Gor roasts him. With his mind! Meanwhile, at the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs learn the plane was destroyed by an unearthly force, and realize we’ve been invaded by aliens. But that’s fine, because we ourselves want to “invade the moon,” so maybe we can find these visitors “and work with them.” Sure, they killed a hundred innocent people, but we’re already employing Nazi war criminals, so at least they’ll all have something to chat about in the break room.

John-Gor goes to the nuclear test, where the military has built a fake town to test the blast effects, and blows it up prematurely. With his MIND! Then he cackles evilly, probably because he noticed that Dr. Indiana Jones survived the blast by hiding inside a refrigerator, and even on a planet populated by semi-transparent brains that float around like The Red Balloon, that’s hilariously stupid.

John-Gor comes back to Joyce’s and falls asleep on her chaise lounge, and Vol reveals that Gor is now helpless. Joyce asks, “Oh, you mean I should whack him in the Fistula of Orlando?” and finally decides to quit procrastinating and pull down the Encyclopedia Americana, Volume B.  But she gets distracted by the entry on Bullfinches, and the moment passes.

John-Gor goes to a meeting of all the major nations, does his airliner-blowing-up act again, and the whole world promptly surrenders to him like a puss.

Joyce decides to pass the buck, and just leaves the torn-out encyclopedia page on John’s desk, with the words “Gor’s Achilles Heel” and a big arrow scrawled on it. It’s a stupid plan, and works perfectly; Gor evacuates John, John sees the brain diagram, then glances meaningfully at his axe. But Joyce screws it all up by bumping into the Sheriff’s corpse and screaming her head off (even though she’d remained perfectly calm at the sight of Robert’s dead body, and he was a personal friend and frequent lunch patron).
John grabs his axe (every physics lab should have one) and starts flailing away. He never gets close to the alien brain’s Ficus of Mongo, but since it's just a painted balloon on a string and can only take so much punishment, the body-snatching invader eventually gets its implied off-screen desserts.

So: happy ending, right, with John back to being the patronizing dick he always was. Unfortunately, Vol has vacated the dog and gone back to his own planet (where he will later be killed three days short of retirement, forcing his rookie partner to go undercover as a cat), which means there’s no space alien left to corroborate John’s story that he was infested with brain balloons.  There’s also the little matter that John is legally culpable for downing civilian airliners, frying local law enforcement, and killing about a division worth of troops, all in front of witnesses. Of course, the world did just surrender to him, so if I were in John’s place I’m not sure I’d immediately go back to the global leaders I’d terrorized and announce, “Hey guys, good news! I’m regular ol' me again! Totally free of super-powerful aliens, and vulnerable to any—“ (SFX: Sounds of multiple overlapping GUNSHOTS from every corner of the room).

Instead, I think I'd rather see a sequel about John, now king of the world but totally powerless, and his frantic, zany efforts to maintain his guise of omnipotence -- sort of a sci-fi Moon Over Parador.

So what would you guys do if an alien brain used your body to conquer the earth, and then left you holding the bag?


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

But she gets distracted by the entry on Bullfinches, and the moment passes.

Completely understandable.

Dr.BDH said...

"So what would you guys do if an alien brain used your body to conquer the earth, and then left you holding the bag?"

You mean like Dick Cheney did to G.W. Bush?

Weird Dave said...

Pinky, are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Yes Brain. do they manage to make so many bad movies?

grouchomarxist said...

Great review, Scott. I think I must have been six, maybe seven years old when I first saw this on the afternoon Big Show. And it scared the bejeezus out of me.

Since John Agar's the guy who first porked America's Sweetheart, Shirley Temple, I'm normally inclined to cut him some slack. Without a doubt, though, this is one of his worst performances, in one of his worst sf films. And that's pretty impressive, considering he starred in not just one, but two Larry Buchanan flicks.

Chris Vosburg said...

Nice one Scott!

My favorite scene is when Steve (Agar) and Dan are approaching Mystery Mountain (no sign of those meddling kids and their dog) and Agar slams the jeep right the hell into an enormous boulder blocking the road with a hearty BAM, as the engine block crushes the radiator and the front fender crumples. Also, ow, whiplash.

Pretty sure this wasn't in the script, and no reshoot, because cheap, plus Agar's probably just rendered the jeep undriveable.

But no reason to not dutifully say the following line of dialog anyway, which makes for some comedy gold as Steve exits the jeep and blithely states the bloody obvious:

"Mmm, I guess we can't make it any further in the jeep."

Also got a kick out of Steve's sweatstains wandering all over the place, at one point disappearing altogether and then in one scene looking like John was lactating-- but seldom actually under his armpits.

And then there's the creepy pawing that Gor gives poor Sally (Meadows), whenever he's around her. The boy's definitely from the James T Kirk screw-anything-that'll-hold-still-long-enough school of planetary exploration.

And George the Dog looks an awful lot like Chris the Dog from Revenge of the Creature.

All in all, one of my favorites.

Carl said...

That cop brain looks suspiciously like a spermatozoa.


Chris Vosburg said...

GrouchMarxist writes: this is one of his worst performances

Actually I thought it was one his better performances, especially as SteveGor-- probably owing to the fact that being a real dick comes naturally to him.

Scott said...

You mean like Dick Cheney did to G.W. Bush?


And it scared the bejeezus out of me.

I've got to admit, GM, that it had the same effect on me as a kid, and I was half-afraid it would still hold up, and wouldn't make good fodder for the BLTBM treatment.

My fears were allayed at the 82 seconds mark.

"Mmm, I guess we can't make it any further in the jeep."

This delighted me too, Chris, and I desperately wanted to include it, but the review was already running long, so I had to cut it for space, since it's not strictly plot related. More of a character moment, really. Or at least a cautionary tale about hiring drunk actors.

I guess if I learned one thing from The Brain From Planet Arous, it's this: if your leading man is John Agar, just tow the Jeep from the Camera Truck!

grouchomarxist said...


You may be right. I just remember it was such a let-down when I saw TBfPA for the second time, many years later. Which could have colored my impression of Agar's performance.

A bit, anyway. He was just so eeeeevil ...

Although SteveGor was admittedly a change from what seemed to be his usual mode of acting: trying to figure out how John Wayne would play this scene -- if for some utterly inexplicable reason the Duke ever found himself in a shitty little scifi like Zontar, the Thing from Venus or the Sid "Reptilicus" Pink extravaganza, Journey to the 7th Planet.

That ersatz-Wayne schtick worked well enough for Agar when he was doing a Western, especially when he actually worked with Wayne. And Jack Arnold got a couple of passable performances out of him.

All I can say is, he managed to star in one hell of an impressive list of sf turkeys. Going from Nathan Juran (who would shortly afterwards direct the immortal Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) to Bert I. Gordon to Larry Buchanan describes not so much a career arc as a career plummet.

grouchomarxist said...

Wait ... SteveGor? Shouldn't that be JohnGor?

I should know better than to comment at this hour.

Carl said...

SteveGor IS JohnGor IS Tarl Cabot in the new epic blockbuster Caffeines of Gor

Keith said...

The brain flagellate featured on the promotional poster looks vaguely familiar ... hmmm.

acrannymint said...

I will always have a fond spot for The Mole People as featured on MS3TK.

Anonymous said...

ANNTI said...

1. Even though I haven't seen this one, it'll definitely never match-up to "The Brain That Wouldn't Die!" and it's a VERY pale/distant 3rd to the "FUTURAMA" full-color invasion of the flying & humorless eeeevvilllll brrraaaaaaaainnnnssss!!!

2. "Suddenly, they’re accosted by a large, brain-shaped Happy Birthday balloon. Robert is shocked, but he’s also a scientist, and with the curiosity typical of his profession, asks, 'What is it?' John, on the other hand, just bugs his eyes out and fires wildly at it with a .45. Their teamwork proves that it is indeed possible to reconcile the Scientific Method with Tea Party doctrine.


3. While I pity anyone who was FORCED into those contacts for a paying gig (though I doubt it was ever on anybody's resume'!), one thing that you NEVER wanna do is look up from a moving tattoo needle and see that SAME SCHTICK, IN ***PURPLE***, in the batshit-crazy eyes of your soon-to-no-longer-be-tattoo-artist!!!

4. I don't have the brain, foreign or factory-installed, to go no from here, so I hope to return soon to do this fabulous post justice.

Carl said...

The brain flagellate featured on the promotional poster looks vaguely familiar ... hmmm.

You can't spell "AROUSE" without "AROUS"

Chris Vosburg said...

Hee hee, "Arousians."