neath luna

Of Horror and the Brain

“Brains … brains,” squeal the undead. Sometimes, anyway.

Considered either as a candidate for horror movie excision and subsequent separate-from-body life (in a jar or out), or as the subject of trauma (ref. my previous post), the brain is the most horrifying of organs.

When I was a kid, I thought blobs were the scariest monsters. I … just don’t know what that says about little me. But one of my most persistent movie memories is of a very bad Danish-American sf movie called Journey to the Seventh Planet (1962). I won’t trot out the whole shebang — suffice to say that astronauts land on the planet Uranus and are subjected to reality-warping illusions by a monstrous, outsized brain (with a single cyclopean eye) living in a colorful cave.

One of the astronauts, a fairly feckless young fellow named Karl, is eaten or absorbed by the brain monster during a failed attempt to kill it. The odd thing is that, in most prints of the film, this is not shown at all — instead, there are rapid cuts between shots of the brain creature (which in many of the shots looks like a swath of tripe with a marble in it) and Karl’s cohorts (John Agar among them) making queasy, disgusted faces while Karl rather disagreeably squeals and gurgles through his ingestion.

Apparently this was so confusing to audiences that, for some showings on American TV, a bit of footage from another bad sf film by some of the same forces — Angry Red Planet — that showed the comic relief character being absorbed/dissolved by a blob were inserted at this point … just so you’d have a better idea what had just happened. All of the uncertainty, moreover, is evidently a function of the fact that the original special effects for the film were found to be so laughably bad that they were replaced at the last minute with others, which sometimes fit and sometimes didn’t. I’ve never ascertained whether or not there was an original sequence of Karl being eaten that got excised and sometimes replaced — I say sometimes, because DVD/Blu-Ray releases of the film do not have the cut-in footage from Angry Red Planet.

One obvious question is: how/why would a disembodied brain … eat anyone (I am aware there is a much more explicit, uhm, rendition of this in the 1988 film The Brain)? How would that even work? None of this can be answered, of course. Who would even bother to ask such a question of an obviously ramshackle sf film from the early 1960s? Apparently I would.

Those of you who share my love of movies like Journey may protest that Fiend Without a Face (1959) is a much scarier presentation of brains-as-enemies, and I will absolutely not presume to argue with you about that — those Austrian stop-motion FX are, to this day, beyond price. However, there was always, for young me, something particularly horrible … something icky I could not articulate, about Karl’s fate: the lurid colors (though, full disclosure: I would have seen this on a B&W television set), the eerie music, Karl’s queasy retching as he’s munched or absorbed or … who knows what ? the inexplicable sounds of … what is that? a lion’s roar? from the giant brain … the indefiniteness of it all. Sick-making, somehow, despite the undeniable cheapness.

We may never understand what plucks the twangy bottoms of our guts, or why.

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