The Brain from Planet Arous (1957) Retrospective

SUMMARY
After their monitoring equipment indicates abnormal radioactivity emanating from a mountain some distance from their laboratory, two nuclear scientists, Steve March and Dan Murphy, go to investigate. In searing heat, they reach the mountain and discover a recently created cave, blasted out of the rocky terrain. Inside the cave, their Geiger counter reads wildly off its scale and, suddenly, a giant, sinister, brain-like object floats toward them. Steve shoots at the brain, but it is impervious to his bullets and beams a light ray at both men. When they collapse, the brain passes into Steve’s head. A week later, Steve returns alone to the laboratory and explains to his fiancée, Sally Fallon, and her father John that he and Dan had found nothing unusual and that Dan has gone on a trip to Las Vegas. Although Steve appears normal, his behavior toward Sally is much more sexually aggressive than before, and because he is also experiencing blinding pain, Sally realizes that something is wrong. In his laboratory, the brain leaves Steve’s body and, suspended in air, talks to him, revealing that its name is Gor and that he is an alien from the planet Arous. Gor also states that he needs to inhabit Steve’s body temporarily, as Steve is in a position to provide him access to certain top secret locations, and that he can instantly modify Steve’s behavioral impulses. Sally persuades her father to accompany her to the mountain as she feels it holds the key to Steve’s erratic behavior.

Inside the cave, after Sally and John discover Dan’s burned corpse, they are approached by another brain, which tells them its name is Vol and that it has been sent from Arous to capture Gor, an escaped criminal now manipulating Steve’s mind. Vol arranges to come to Sally’s house the following evening to plan a strategy to rescue Steve. Meanwhile Steve, totally in Gor’s control, phones Col. Frogley at Atomic Energy HQ and tells him that he wants to attend atomic tests later in the week. When Vol meets with Sally and John, he informs them that Gor intends to rule the earth and that they must try to destroy Gor during the period, once every twenty-four hours, that he must leave Steve’s body to replenish his oxygen. Sally agrees to help and allows Vol, also in need of a terrestrial host, to enter the body of her dog, George. Later, Gor emits a death ray through Steve’s eyes and disintegrates an aircraft in flight, killing all thirty-eight people on board. Sally becomes more alarmed when Steve tells her that he has a discovery to unveil at the bomb test and that he will soon have infinite power.

The local sheriff visits Steve and tells him that Dan’s body has been found and has identical signs of incineration to those of the plane passengers. As Steve has lied about Dan’s whereabouts, the sheriff attempts to arrest him, but Steve kills him. At the atomic test site, Steve asks to address the scientists and informs them of his power. When some of the scientists express skepticism, Steve provides a demonstration by detonating an atomic explosion with his death ray vision and tells the group that he can destroy any city or country. After one of the military officials shoots at him, Steve vaporizes the man and states that he wants to meet with representatives of all the major world powers that evening. At the meeting, Steve demands that the nations turn over their uranium and atomic resources, as well as industrial facilities, to him so that he can enslave the earth. Within two days, Steve intends to preside over another meeting at the United Nations building where he expects the world members to comply with his demands. Meanwhile, Vol has helped Sally to find a diagram indicating Gor’s most vulnerable area and she leaves the drawing in Steve’s laboratory. When he returns, Gor leaves Steve’s body to replenish his oxygen and Steve, on seeing the diagram, attacks Gor with an axe, destroying the alien. His mission accomplished, Vol silently departs. Steve quickly reverts to his old self and, when Sally tells him about Vol and tries to persuade George to talk to her, he accuses her of imagining Vol, then embraces her.

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BEHIND THE SCENES
The tacky tale of a floating brain with delusions of world conquest, Planet Arous pitted genre veteran John Agar against a terminally horny alien invader, in an all-out battle to save mankind from an onslaught of stock footage and cheap special FX. The brainchild of cinematographer-turned-producer Jacques Marquette, it was shot in little more than seven days on three sets for a paltry $58,000. When it was released in 1958 by fly-by-night distributor Howco International, the film bore the directorial credit “Nathan Hertz

Producer/Cinematographer Jacques R. Marquette

Where did the idea for Brain come from?
Jacques Marquette: It was a story which I had halfway stolen from Amazing Stories. I used to read that, Astounding Science Fiction, all of those loved science fiction. One of them ran a story about a guy on a beach in the summer, and this thing came out of the ocean, went up into his foot and took him over. I used that idea. John Agar and Robert Fuller are scientists working out of a house in the desert; their equipment tells them that radiation is emanating from one of the mountains in the desert nearby. When they set there, they’re attacked by the Brain from Planet Arous, which kills Fuller and takes over Agar’s body. We shot those scenes in the cave at Bronson Canyon.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, your shooting title was Superbrain.
Marquette: We never called it that. What The Hollywood Reporter and Variery would do is this: They would call me up and ask, “What pictures have you got starting?! would say, “Well, we’re about to do…” whatever it was. They would say, “What other ones are coming up?” “At the moment, we don’t have any other ones.” And then they would say, “Well, just make up some titles and tell ’em to me!” Honest to God!

And the budget?
Marquette: The budget, as I recall, was about $58.000. I did all the optical effects in the camera; otherwise, it would have cost

Where did you shoot interiors?
Marquette: My neighbor, an optometrist, had a much bigger house than we had. We used his house, and also part of the backyard, I think. We were there about three or four days. (Part of the film we shot in my house, too.) He also came up with the silver contact lenses for John Agar to wear when the alien brain was in control. Agar didn’t like ’em, but he wore ’em he had no choice! It was very uncomfortable for Agar, the lenses couldn’t be worn for more than 15 minutes at a time.

Do you remember anything about your brain prop?
Marquette: We told the people making it what we wanted, and thar we wanted lights inside. It was made of plastic and held up with wires. Later, after we finished the picture, my kids got ahold of it. They would get other kids together, charge ’em live cents and put on a show with the brain in there!

Where did the Brain from Planet Arous eventually go?
Marquette: In the garbage! That’s right. That’s where everything eventually goes!

Dale Tate, the associate producer, also voiced the brains.
Marquette: Dale worked for Consolidated Film Labs, which did all the processing of our films. He was dying to be an actor. but never quite made it. He did the voices for the brains and also played a scientist.

What made you think of Nathan Juran as director?
Marquette: We had worked together on something in the past. We got together and talked a little bit, and I hired him. He worked for scale.

What prompted you to take on the added responsibility of director of photography on two of the three films you produced?
Marquette: The dual roles of director of photography and producer grew fundamentally out of my previous role as camera operator on a variety of Hollywood feature films at 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers and MGM. My career in the film union hierarchy was stagnated. To jump the next step up to director of photography required by union rules that a producer hire me as director of photography and (by union contracts) producers can only do that when nearly all of the available directors of photography are working. So, as producer, 1 hired myself, at an opportune time.

Did you derive more creative satisfaction directing, producing or photographing?
Marquette: Photographing was always the most satisfactory task, Producing, second. Directing was not my favorite job-dealing with agents, actors and egos was not enjoyable. In photographing, I feel more directly involved in the medium and process of filmmaking, rather than the personalities and bureaucracy that seem, so often, to get in the way.

Why is director Nathan Juran credited as Nathan Hertz on The Brain From Planet Arous?
Marquette: Nathan and/or Jerry Juran and/or Hertz used several names on projects based upon the budget of the film, Arous, being low budget, got the budget name… Hertz. Juran was also involved, with myself and others, in the art direction for these films, which as you might imagine was sometimes pretty spontaneously conceived.

In a 1974 interview, John Agar revealed that he was offered a percentage of Arous profits in lieu of a salary. Was this standard procedure?
Marquette: John Agar was, as you suggest, offered points in the film in lieu of a salary. This practice existed then, as it does today. Operating on very low budgets required the investment by some in money and time. Agar was the man for the role from the beginning with a fair background in this same genre of film. An interesting anecdote: when Agar became “Mr Hyde in the film with silver contact lenses (full retina), I want you to know that this was the first such application of this effect, and it was developed by my neighbor, optometrist Walter Studt, whose house served as the primary set in the film. It was most uncomfortable for Agar; the lenses could not be worn for more than 15 minutes at a time.

Where were some of your other locations on Arous?
Marquette: Mystery Mountain was, of course, Bronson Canyon caves, from the outside. Once inside it was the small Marquette Productions sound stage on Ventura Boulevard in North Hollywood. Our budget for Arous was $58,000.

Tell us a little about the giant floating brain seen in Arous.
Marquette: The brain was built by a special effects company in Hollywood. It breathed” with a hose that could make it inflate and deflate. It was lighted from within, giving it a minor glow. These eyes opened and closed. It was suspended, of course, by wires, which along with the hose and electric line were removed from the black-and-white negatives, then superimposed over shots.

Who was Dale Tate, who served as your associate producer on Arous?
Marquette: Dale Tate was a neighbor and an investor in Marquette Productions. He was, at the time, a technician at Consolidated Film Industries, a major film processor. I believe he’s an executive there now. I guess Dale always wanted to be an actor, and Arous was his break. A certain element of vanity required that his character name in Arous be his real name.

How did these early productions fare at the box office!
Marquette: Howco International was a dishonest outfit: one or too many distributors who take your product and “creatively account their costs, leaving you, the independent producer, without a dime. On paper, Teenage Monster and The Brain From Planet Arous all lost money and returned nothing to the 30 investors in Marquette Productions.

SPECIAL EFFECTS
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Perhaps the silliest prop monster ever propelled by wire was the ridiculous Brain from Planet Arous (1958). The lightweight brain prop, which actor John Agar said “looked like a balloon with a face painted on it,” was created by makeup artist Jack Young. Although there were two alien brains in the film, Gor the evil brain and Vol the good one, the picture utilized the same prop for each one. The brain was made from extremely lightweight materials so it could easily be hand held or suspended by wiring. The grey matter body had a richly textured latex skin, and the eyes were not painted on as actor John Agar suggested, but inset objects lit up by small light bulbs.  Prolific prop artist Richard Rubin operated the brain for the hand held close-ups and the high wire floating effects. Unfortunately the visible wires glistened in the climactic sequence when John Agar first strikes at the hovering head cheese with an axe.

DISTRIBUTION
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Distributed by Howco International
Howco Productions later Howco International Pictures, was an American film production and distribution company based in South Carolina, specializing in low budget B pictures designed for double features.

In 1951 Joy Newton Houck Sr. (born 10 July 1900, Magnolia, Arkansas died 8 July 1999, Texarkana, Texas), owner of 29 Joy Theatres in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, teamed up with producer/director Ron Ormond and J. Francis White, owner of 31 cinemas in Virginia, North and South Carolina, to contract with independent film producers to create product for their combined theatre chains. Their initials, “H, O, W,” provided the name of the company.

Initially Howco released Westerns from Ron Ormond’s company featuring Lash LaRue, then moved into monster, science fiction and exploitation films. In 1954 Howco started a television distribution company called National Television Films. Howco released Roger Corman’s Carnival Rock (paired with Teenage Thunder), Ed Wood’s Jail Bait (paired with The Blonde Pickup, a reissue of 1951’s Racket Girls), double features such as The Brain from Planet Arous and Teenage Monster (1957), and Lost, Lonely and Vicious and My World Dies Screaming (1958). Houck Sr.’s son Joy N. Houck Jr. directed two of the company’s final double bills, Night of Bloody Horror and Women and Bloody Terror (1970).

INTERVIEWS

Actor John Agar

Throughout your career, you’ve played both heroes and heavies. I think the most despicable character you ever played was your role in The Brain from Planet Arous.
John Agar: I got that characterization when they told me I wasn’t going to get paid.

Did you enjoy playing a villainous Jekyll and Hyde-style role in the Brain from Planet Arous?
John Agar: Yes, and I wish I had gotten more opportunities to play against type. I’ll tell you one thing, that picture was a very painful experience for me. When that alien being took over my body, they inserted these full contact lenses in my eyes. They’d painted ’em silver and they forgot that that doggone paint would chip off. Every time I blinked, some of that silver would come off the lens and it was like having sand in my eyes. But it was the best they could do; that was 1957, and they didn’t know that much about contact lenses. It was very, very painful.

The style of directing in that picture reminded me of Nathan Juran, and yet the credits of the film listed “Nathan Hertz” as the director.
John Agar: Sure. That was Jerry Juran. He was real excited about that picture. Thought it was going to make a lot of money. They said anyone who wanted to could work for a percentage of the profits. I looked at them, and then at that balloon they were using for the monster, and I told them I’d work for salary and wished them luck.

What did you think of that film’s floating brain prop?
Agar: Oh, I thought it was terrible – just awful! They really could have done a heck of a lot better than that, it looked like a balloon with a face painted on it. And that’s probably about what it was, too! I can’t really remember exactly what it was, I just know it was ludicrous.

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Actress Joyce Meadows

How did you get the leading role in The Brain from Planet Arous?
Joyce Meadows: I got the interview because Jacques Marquette remembered me from a television show I did, The Man and the Challenge (1959-60] with George Nader. It was a science fiction series produced by Ivan Tors, and Jack was first cameraman on that show. Jack was not only cameraman on this film but producer as well. It was Jack who cast me in the role.

What was your impression of the script?
Joyce Meadows: I was very excited by it. I mean I was playing the lead. I was also a science fiction fan from way back. When Star Trek (1966-69) came on, I was one of the show’s biggest fans. I thought The Brain from Planet Arous was a wonderful opportunity for me. It certainly helped my career by getting me more guest roles on television.

You certainly were very good in the picture.
Joyce Meadows: You know, they didn’t have a lot of money for it, so Jack would do these creative things. They would set up a shot, and Jack would move the camera in and out. He would start from a longshot and later work out to a close up and then move back again. Today, people are fascinated by the camera technique on this film, and he did it that way to save money. There wouldn’t be cuts or the need to cover the same scene twice. So we had some very long takes, and the camera work was quite interesting. It was a technique that Ingmar Bergman liked to use as well I was still very of John Agar’s face through the water cooler. My only disappointment was that there were so few closeups, but Jack was saving the cost of doing that for John’s close-ups (when his eyes change as he uses the “Brain’s” telekinetic power.) The metal contacts hurt John. Sometimes when we were shooting, we had to stop because he would start to tear. Tons of water would flow out of his eyes. It was a real shock for him when he first put them on. I recall being very happy I didn’t have to wear them.

How long did it take to shoot the film?
Joyce Meadows: Not too long … I think about ten days. Jack put together a crew that he knew, so everyone worked very well together. I had a lot of fun making the picture.

Where was the home where your character lived in the film?
Joyce Meadows: It was a real house, either Jack’s home or the other producer, Dale Tate. That’s where most of the scenes with the “Brain” were shot.

What can you tell us about the “Brain” prop?
Meadows: Seeing the brain for the first time made me laugh. They also brought it to Bronson Canyon, and they had a lot of production problems with it. First they had to light the cave. Then they had to make sure that the “Brain” looked like it was floating by itself. They wouldn’t allow us into the cave until the “Brain” was all set up. Part of it was made from paper-mache and some other materials. It was hooked up with this very fine invisible wire to make it look like it was floating in thin air. Of course everybody claims to see the wire in the film. But I don’t know if you can see it or not. There are not many photos of the brain, incidentally. I don’t know why the still photographers who were on the set didn’t take more pictures of it.”

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The Brain from Planet Arous Press Book

Needle(1stEd)

NEEDLE Hal Clement (The Brain from Planet Arous “Inspiration”)
Needle is a 1950 science fiction novel by American writer Hal Clement, originally published the previous year in Astounding Science Fiction magazine. The book was notable in that it broke new ground in the science fiction field by postulating an alien lifeform, not hostile, which could live within the human body. Also published as From Outer Space, the book would, in 1978, spark the sequel Through the Eye of a Needle.

Plot
The Hunter, an alien lifeform (when not inside another being, resembling a four-pound green jellyfish) with the ability to live in symbiosis with and within another creature, is in hot pursuit of another of his kind. Both crash their ships into Earth, in the Pacific Ocean, and both survive the crashes.

The Hunter makes its way to shore (its erstwhile host having been killed in the crash) and takes up residence in the nearest human being it can find (as it turns out, fifteen-year-old Robert Kinnaird) without letting the human being know. By the time it has figured out enough of what goes on inside a human being to look through Bob’s eyes, it is shocked to find itself within an air vessel, being carried further away from its quarry every second. As it happens, Bob is simply returning to a New England boarding school from his home on an industrial island in the Western Pacific.

Once Bob arrives at school, the Hunter sees no alternative to communicating with his host. After initial attempts produce panic in the boy, the Hunter eventually finds a way to convince Bob of his presence. Bob is very accepting of his guest, perhaps beyond what would be expected of a teenage boy who learns another entity is inside him, observing his every move. The two plot a way to return home. The puzzle distracts Bob from his studies, leading to a decline in grades that the school authorities ascribe to homesickness, and he is sent home for the remainder of the term.

Upon arrival, the two begin to seek out their quarry. Bob is injured by an accident. The Hunter is able to hold the wound together, but he can’t stop Bob from limping, and Bob is sent to the island doctor. They see no alternative to confiding in the doctor (the Hunter is forced to show his own form to convince the man) and the doctor becomes an ally in their search. Which of the many humans on the island is the host to their quarry? It is worse than a needle in a haystack (thus the title) because a needle at least looks like a needle, not a piece of straw.

The Hunter is able to solve the riddle by observing the behavior of the island people. Bob’s father, known for his attention to detail and safety, has been taking amazing risks. He is at least unconsciously aware that an accident will have no ill consequences. The quarry resides within him. The Hunter confirms this, and Bob and the alien have a new puzzle—how to get the alien out of Mr. Kinnaird’s body without harming the man?

This time, Bob comes up with the solution. He places himself in the middle of a large number of (empty) oil cans, uses a little actual oil to start a small fire, making it look like there will be a huge explosion shortly, and calls his father for help. The fugitive alien, fearful of being killed in the explosion, knocks out his host and removes himself from Mr. Kinnaird’s unconscious body. As soon as the alien is a few feet away from Bob’s father, the boy grabs the one full oil can, races over to the alien, pours oil over it, and lights it on fire. He then brings his father to the doctor.

Bob wishes to know the Hunter’s plans now that his job is done. The Hunter knows the chances of returning home are minuscule, and hopes to stay with Bob. Bob is happy for this to happen, at least for now, as there is a more immediate problem at hand: Mr. Kinnaird is fine, but they had better come up with a good story, or the Hunter will have to use the net he has laid under Bob’s skin to assuage the pain of a spanking. The novel ends without revealing whether this gambit is successful.

CREDITS
Directed  Nathan H. Juran as “Nathan Hertz”
Produced Jacques R. Marquette
Written Ray Buffum

Starring       
John Agar
Joyce Meadows
Robert Fuller

Cinematography
Jacques R. Marquette

Makeup Department
Jack Pierce

Special Effects
Jack Young
Richard Rubin

REFERENCES and SOURCES
Starlog Magazine Issue 187
Starlog Magazine Issue 142

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