DirectorNathan H. Juran
Release Date(s)1957 (June 21, 2022)
Studio(s)Howco International (The Film Detective)
- Film/Program Grade: D
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
One of the many independent sci-fi quickies of the 1950s, The Brain from Planet Arous offers a typical paranoia plot about an invader from another world attempting to use a human as a host in order to enslave humanity, but also adds an odd sexual element to the mix. John Agar (familiar to fans of films like Tarantula and The Mole People) stars as Steve, a scientist who becomes possessed by a brain-like alien creature called Gor who has psychokinetic powers of destruction. Another alien, Vol, arrives soon thereafter, seeking the help of Steve’s girlfriend, Sally (Joyce Meadows). Gor must be stopped before either obliterating or subjugating the people of Earth.
Directed by Nathan Juran, who also directed several other genre films including 20,000 Million Miles to Earth, The Deadly Mantis, The Black Castle, and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, The Brain from Planet Arous was made very quickly with a minor budget, later becoming the poster child for laughably poor 1950s B movies. In fact, people are likely more familiar with images from the film than the actual film itself, particularly John Agar—in character as Gor—wearing a very uncomfortable set of metallic contact lenses (which to this day, is still a bit creepy). Otherwise, the effects aren’t very good and the plot is ultimately humdrum, but the idea of a gigantic brain creature not only trying to take over the world but being attracted to a woman while inhabiting the body of a man is certainly not conventional science fiction movie fare. It certainly has its charms (look no further than Vol taking possession of a dog or John Agar swinging an axe at Gor and repeatedly missing him as to not damage the prop), and with a brisk 71-minute running time, The Brain from Planet Arous mercifully moves speedily toward its lackluster conclusion.
The Brain from Planet Arous was shot by producer and cinematographer Jacques R. Marquette on 35 mm black-and-white film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The Film Detective brings the film to Blu-ray for the first time from a “new 4K restoration” of what may or may not be an interpositive or internegative element, with the option of viewing it in the original 1.85:1 or more commonly seen 1.33:1 aspect ratio. It’s worth nothing that this release was made possible through Wade Williams, who owns a number of sci-fi and horror B movies from this era. Up until now, many of them (including this, Invaders from Mars, and Monster from Green Hell) have been unavailable on home video. As such, this presentation begins with a “Wade Williams Productions” logo before the film starts.
The positives are clear at the start as this is definitely a step up from lower quality presentations over the years. Grain is heavy to moderate, though the encode handles it well, allowing for fine clarity. Transitions, including fades and wipes, are intact, and the majority of the damage is limited to vertical scratches that occasionally run through the frame or along the sides—dependent upon which aspect ratio you’re watching the film in. The full frame presentation offers much more head room, perhaps too much, while the widescreen presentation is much tighter. Neither presentation really offers much substantially over the other, leaving it up to personal preference. Black and white gradations are decent with excellent shadow detail and strong blacks, though it also appears to be graded a bit too bright at times as whites occasionally wash out. It’s a mostly stable picture, though the element is clearly a bit worn as certain reels tend to waver. Otherwise, this is a very nice, and very much welcome, high definition presentation of the film.
Audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English and Spanish. It’s a surprisingly strong mono source that’s clean and gives ample support to Walter Greene’s score. Dialogue exchanges are clear and precise as well.
The Brain from Planet Arous on Blu-ray sits in a black amaray case with an insert that resembles a portion of the original theatrical poster. Tucked away inside is a 12-page insert booklet containing the essay The Brains Behind “The Brain”: The Sci-Fi Career of Producer Jacques Marquette by Tom Weaver. The following extras are included on the disc:
- Not the Same Old Brain (SD – 11:40)
- Audio Commentary with Tom Weaver, David Schecter, Larry Blamire, and Joyce Meadows
- The Man Before the Brain: Director Nathan Juran (HD – 11:42)
- The Man Behind the Brain: The World of Nathan Juran (HD – 13:52)
Film historian Tom Weaver provides the primary commentary duties, featuring contributions from Joyce Meadows, Larry Blamire, and music historian David Schecter. As usual, he offers his personal thoughts on the film while simultaneously covering its inception and production, as well as the careers of the cast and crew. He provides many anecdotal pieces of information, particularly from various interviews that he conducted over the years with the film’s creators, most obviously director Nathan Juran. David Schecter also provides a lengthy evaluation of the film’s score towards the end of the commentary. Not the Same Old Brain features Sally Fallon (Joyce Meadows), which serves an extended introduction to the film. She talks about the film mostly in character while surveying Bronson Canyon in Griffith Park where much of the film was made (with a surprise appearance by David Schecter toward the end). The Man Before the Brain features narration by author Justin Humphreys who discusses the director’s history and career, quoting highlights from interviews with him. The Man Behind the Brain showcases an interview with author C. Courtney Joyner, who discusses much of the same subject matter, but offers a wider overview of Juran and his career.
One can only hope that The Brain from Planet Arous is one of many titles under license from Wade Williams that will soon be released to Blu-ray (let’s hope the Susan Hart-owned AIP titles are not far behind). The Film Detective’s release of the film is certainly music to the ears of fans who’ve had sit through much lesser presentations over the years, and with a nice batch of bonus materials to go with it, it’s more than worthy of an upgrade.
- Tim Salmons