Far more years ago than I care to remember, there was some TV station or other which kept running a film over and over again which was (at the time) one of my all time favorite guilty pleasure movies: Ed Hunt’s 1977 Starship Invasions. It was a strange combination of Sun Classics UFO documentary and Republic SF Serial, complete with Flying Saucers, alien abductions, Christopher Lee as a telepathic alien commander, an underwater Pyramid in the Bermuda Triangle, Robert Vaughn in the lead, and, naturally, a robot.
I finally caught up with it again a few years ago and found it wasn’t as deliriously silly as I remembered – although I’ll probably have to go back and re-assess it again one of these days.
Ed Hunt only directed a handful of other films, and most of them are considered fairly bad. He’s sometimes called by that most generously applied of all cinematic labels – a “Cult Director” – which somehow seems hard to justify.
The Brain is his entry into the late Eighties Horror cycle and somehow reminds me of Re-Animator without actually resembling it very much. We have the sinister Doctor Blakely, who’s “Independent Thinker” TV series is turning everyone in town into a mind-numbed robot, with the help of the giant brain he has in a tank at the studio.
When we first see it, it resembles (I suspect deliberately) an overgrown version of the brain monsters in one of the best SF films of the late Fifties, Fiend Without a Face. But after it eats its first victim, it sprouts a hideous face with lots of pointy teeth sticking out in odd directions. For all that we frequently see it in a tank, it doesn’t seem to feel any great need to stay in it, and instead wanders around the Doctor’s Institute whenever the plot calls for it.
This being an Eighties film, we’ve got the (mildly) rebellious young hero who reminds me a bit of Jake Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko a dozen or so years later. As one of the few people who can resist the Brain’s hypnotic power, he instead finds himself hallucinating when it tries to control him. This, of course, gives the excuse for a number of creepy creature “dream” sequences, which one suspects may have been inspired by Nightmare on Elm Street or perhaps Phantasm (and yes, I’m talking about that Brain coming out of the mirror, Ed!).
It also gives them the excuse to throw in the requisite bit of totally gratuitous nudity no film of this sort would be complete without.
There’s a lot of running around, some of which just seems to be in there to fill time. But we’ve also got a beheading, people getting eaten by the even-expanding brain, a random chainsaw murder, and David Gale from Re-Animator as the villain.
Naturally, Gale gets to be a bodyless head at the end, when we learn that he is apparently (as the crazy guy has been saying all along) an alien – as, of course, is that evil brain. We do learn that the Brain needs to keep controlling more people so it can get bigger and has to expand or die, but we really never learn anything more about it than that – or where it came from or how it got here. Whether that’s enough to make it Science Fiction is debatable.
This is a goofy and basically weird little film which – if it weren’t for the aimless running around between the good parts – would be strange enough to be a genuine guilty pleasure. It just misses that, although there is a lot of good material in here – I particularly like the anatomical specimen mounted human skeleton that spies on the hero and his girl while they’re hiding in the High School science lab. Sure, it is a simple effect, but the creepiness factor is higher than most of what we see in the film. Also notable is the bravura opening sequence, which introduces the Brain before we have the faintest clue what’s going on, and the nicely satiric statement towards the end that, if it is on television, it has to be true.
However, if you’re willing to accept its limitations, this one is cheesy fun and will keep discerning Eighties B-Movie horror fans happy until they feel like watching Phantasm again.
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