Movie Review: The Brain Eaters (1958)
“Crawling, slimy things terror-bent on destroying the world!”
The Brain Eaters (1958)
Director: Bruno VeSota
Cast: Ed Nelson, Alan Jay Factor, Cornelius Keefe
Synopsis: An alien structure protruding from the earth heralds the start of an invasion from outer space.
The producers of ultra-cheap 1958 B-Movie The Brain Eaters were sued by SF writer and founder of the Scientology movement Robert A. Heinlein for plagiarising his novel The Puppet Masters, but most viewers will find it more reminiscent of Don Siegel’s vastly superior Invasion of the Body Snatchers in the way that a number of the residents of the small Illinois town of Riverdale are transformed into mindless slaves by alien invaders. Instead of pod people, though, we have furry bugs that attach themselves to the backs of their victims and inject a kind of acid into their central nervous system that enables them to then assume control of their host.
In the real world, the mysterious appearance of a cone of indeterminate – and apparently indestructible – material from the bowels of the earth would trigger a major military and national security exercise that would exclude ordinary citizens from getting within a mile or more of the area in which it was found. But The Brain Eaters was made in simpler days – and producer (and star) Ed Nelson’s $26,000 budget wouldn’t stretch to all those military vehicles, arms and uniforms – so the only security seen in this movie is two men on a scaffold. While a pair of mystified scientists puzzle over the structure and speculate on what might reside within, the alien invaders take their first modest steps on the path to world domination by latching onto the town’s key citizens.
While the plot of The Brain Eaters is strong enough to make an effective movie, it’s undone by B-movie actor Bruno VeSota’s lack of financial and creative resources and some amateurish editing which, to be fair, could be a result of that legal action by Heinlein which uncredited associate producer Roger Corman finally settled out of court for $5,000. Continuity is also a problem, with night and day sometimes alternating within the space of a scene, and the possession of the victims also lacks consistency – sometimes they’re emotionless zombies mindlessly obeying some kind of collective consciousness, while at other times they’re sweaty wrecks psychologically combating the parasite within them.
The Brain Eaters does at least strive to be a little different, but it feels half-finished, as if it was rush-released midway through post-production. Look out for a young but unrecognisable Leonard Nimoy as one of the first of the invader’s hosts who is now co-ordinating the invasion from within the cone. He probably didn’t enjoy being reminded of his participation in later life, but at least had the good fortune of having his faced obscured by a heavy white beard and his surname misspelled as Nemoy.
(Reviewed 16th January 2017)