Friday, March 04, 2016

043. Evil Brain From Outer Space and Bonus Attack From Space

Attack From Space (1965)
Directors: Koreyoshi Akasaka, Teruo Ishii, and Akira Mitsuwa
Writer: Ichirô Miyagawa
Watch: archive.org

043. Evil Brain From Outer Space (1965)
Directors: Koreyoshi Akasaka, Teruo Ishii, and Akira Mitsuwa
Writer: Ichirô Miyagawa
From: Cult Cinema,Sci-Fi Invasion, and Pure Terror
Watch: archive.org

The leaders of the Emerald planet, fearing the effects upon their own of nuclear fallout on Earth, dispatch their creation, Starman, to save our planet from destruction.

The second half of the Starman tetralogy and the one that ends up running into the worst structural challenges. As I said in last week's post, these movies were cut from the nine-part Super Giant series from Japan. Parts 1-6 were three two-part stories so editing them into movies doesn't provide that much of a challenge. Parts 7-9, though, were each complete, individual stories. Added to that, parts eight and nine were filmed in widescreen. So not only were the American producers trying to cobble together one story from three very different ones, the shape of the screen didn't even remain consistent throughout. That work of editing, though, does suggest an interesting way of looking at these films, but I'll get to that at the end.

First is the third Super Giant/Starman film, Attack From Space which wasn't on any of my Mill Creek box sets. I don't know why. Nor do I know why none of these box sets contained more than two of these movies. It couldn't have been for fear of repetition: these sets are the definition of filler. I couldn't see any reason not to include it in my watchlist, though, and so grabbed the copy from archive.org.

Aliens are approaching Earth intent on its nuclear destruction. Meanwhile, a rocket-building project on Earth is suffering increasing acts of sabotage as it nears completion. Starman, naturally, is dispatched to “save the Earth,” aka prevent any fallout from inconveniencing the Emerald planet. Let's be honest, these films are all prequels to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where the Emerald planet finally gives up and just decides to demolish Earth for an intergalactic bypass.

Although Starman swoops in to destroy one of the alien space crafts, the majority of the story happens on Earth with the family of the head designer on the rocket project. His two children double as his assistants and I'll admit to some initial “the goddamned kids” impulses. The kids, of course, see something shady happening and then, of course, follow the villains to their secret lair where, the stupid kids, of course, decide to leave and call the police.

. . .

All right, kids! Way to be! Of course there's another batch of villains to catch the kids immediately, but they were generally making responsible decisions: acquire information from a seemingly safe distance and then turn to the authorities when you have enough to be of use.

The kids are held as ransom to get their father to join the aliens and give them all his technology and research. To make sure he complies, he and his children are put into a mind-control device. As the movie goes on, the control weakens and the kids start to sabotage the aliens and plan their escape.

Starman does very little in this movie, which is to the film's credit. The kids generally make the efforts to save the day, including the young girl shooting the hell out of the space Nazis.

Oh yeah, did I mention the aliens aren't so much aliens as just space Nazis? You get to watch space Nazis get stomped. By a little girl. It's as awesome as it sounds.

So the kids generally defeat the aliens, help their father escape, and Starman comes in at the last minute because he's contractually obligated to be present. In the final battle, it is largely him standing in the middle of a room, grabbing people's guns, and shooting them while laughing. Oh, he has such a joyful laugh as he just kills and kills and kills.

This was my second favorite of the four movies. Even though it didn't have any interesting alien make-up, it had space Nazis and felt the most like an actual movie. Unfortunately, it's followed by the least of the four, Evil Brain From Outer Space.

Balazar, an evil genius bent on intergalactic domination, has had his brain preserved in a jar from which he sends out psychic orders to his mutants who start spreading chaos across the planet Earth.

I don't even know where to begin with this one. On the one hand, “Evil brain seeks to take over Earth!” is right up my street. You want to get me excited? I'm excited. On the other hand, this movie put me to sleep more aggressively than the other three. There's just nothing holding it together and no real through line.

Very funny. Now show me the real costume.
A big reason for that is that this is three hour-long movies spliced together into a 78-minute piece. The Wikipedia page for Super Giant says the three plots are the evil brain, a disfigured doctor turning his dead daughter into some kind of witch monster, and a terrorist army trying to overthrow a peaceful prince.

This movie's just about an evil brain. You don't get to see the brain much and it doesn't communicate psychically with anyone, but it's there and it's bad. Naughty naughty brain. I think Starman steps on it at the end.

More interesting than the film itself is how it was constructed. This is cut from three other movies that, individually, aren't too much shorter than this final product. More than that, though, even though the evil brain plot is used as the dominant one, the witch comes into play and the terrorist army is reimagined as alien mutants facing off against Starman. Knowing those three plots in retrospect, I can start imagining which element from the movie was in which episode, but I didn't have them broken down that way beforehand.

All of which suggests a way to view and use not just these Starman movies, but all the public domain material on archive.org. Viewers fill in an astonishing amount of gaps and will assume a context that may not be there. Rather than watch these movies as films, look at them as bits of raw material. How can they be sliced up, rearranged, and re-understood? Of course that's a way many people do look at these old movies, but with Evil Brain From Outer Space you have a practical example of movies being recut into a new film that almost makes sense. Could the same be done with the entire Starman series? Could you make Starman vs. Flash Gordon or even Starman/Flash Gordon slash with some creative editing? Since the source material is already a rearrangement of preexisting materials, already a remix, is there any moral obligation to some imagined “original vision”? When this is your starting point, is there any original or final version at all? As I tell my students, editing is as much a creative, authorial act as writing itself. So what kind of compositions can you make using these things?

Since Attack From Space isn't on any of my box sets, it's not properly part of the Misery Mill. However, to catch up, next week will be a triple-feature where the third movie proves to be the best in the series.

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