The Bad Movie Report

Evil Brain from Outer Space

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My God. What can you actually say about Starman, aka Super Giant?

There I was, at a science fiction convention, blissfully spending my money on all manner of crap (a lot of which I wish I still had, crap or no) when I noticed that one of the small movie rooms was scheduled to play something called Evil Brain from Outer Space. A title like that has a powerful magnetic effect upon me; I felt myself drawn by some sort of dreadful gravity toward that room; barbed wired barricades could not have stayed my course.

To say that I was ill-prepared is to overstate the obvious.

At the time, I was still a teen-ager, and though I had already amassed a considerable amount of b-movie experience, I don't think I really knew what was possible; in my youthful hubris I imagined I had already seen what depths the world of film had to offer. Oh, I had no idea! (And the fact that I still get blindsided over twenty years later should tell you a thing or three about that world)

I don't know much about Starman, nor is there exactly a plethora of information easily available on the Internet, so much of this is conjecture (and I'm sure if I'm wrong, I'll be set right in short order): There are ten Starman/Supergiant movies listed in the IMDb, and in 1964, four were unleashed in America, doubtless as part of some fiendish television package. They bear titles like Atomic Rulers of the World, Attack from Space, and, of course, this week's entry. All appear to be cobbled together from episodes of a Japanese TV show*.

Evil Brain opens with a soliloquy from a Helpful Narrator, who will become our best friend during the movie. He informs us

At the annual meeting of the B-Master's Cabal...On the planet Zima*, far within the Moveen Galaxy, a de-controlled robot assassinated the omnipotent Balazar, who is known to possess the most brilliant mind in the universe. So powerful was Balazar's genius that as he lay dying, his brain ordered built a mechanism which would keep it alive even though his body was destroyed. And now Balazar's Brain seeks universal conquest!

But here on the Emerald Planet, the Highest Council in the Marpet Galaxy considers the terrible, immediate menace to the solar system of Earth, and to the planet Earth Itself. Balazar's Brain leads the infiltration of Earth, preparing it for the attack forces which will follow. And that attack will be with nuclear weapons. The flood of radioactivity which inevitably will spill out into space, is what primarily concerns these Emerald Planet creatures. High radioactivity, the Emerald creatures realize, will poison even the distant reaches of outer space. As a result, it is possible that in time, others planets such as this will become uninhabitable. The Council now is deciding what must be done.

This speech is backed by imagery of aliens which were apparently culled from my mind in '64 when I was suffering from pneumonia and lapsed into a sleep troubled by fever dreams, after reading my entire collection of Journey Into The Unknown comics. Not only are these aliens truly odd in an Art Deco lamp sort of way, they are arranged around a long table in a manner (perhaps unconsciously) reminiscent of daVinci's The Last Supper. They are also in constant motion.

ZZZZ...*clik*  Who is singing 'Mr. Roboto'?  *clik*  We HATE that song!  ZZzzz!This could, perhaps, be a uniquely Asian thing; I first noticed it while watching Latitude Zero. The only things I took with me from Latitude Zero to the present time are a) the thought, "Wow! Joseph Cotten!" and b) the moment where a monster is standing guard over an ingenue, and although the monster is standing still, its claws were trembling. Not trembling in an uncontrollable, spastic way, but in a very deliberate fashion. I've since noticed it in other movies; rarely so noticeable as it is in Latitude Zero or here in Evil Brain territory - man-in-suit movies tend to be very kinetic, and monsters rarely have occasion to stand still; but when they do, it seems the filmmakers want to be sure the audience doesn't have a chance to entertain the possibility that there may not be a man in that suit.

A special appearance by the Koo Koo KlanThe motions in this tableaus, however, are so repetitive and concise that the effect is to remind one of one of those complicated clockwork toys, as each alien moves its arms in the same gesture, over and over again. Except for the starfish dudes standing in back - they just twist back and forth. (if some of this looks or sounds familiar, yes, these aliens were quoted in the grab-bag It Came from Hollywood - a false title, in this case).

The Helpful Narrator continues:

They have learned that Balazar's Brain already is secretly on Earth, to command the Zimarian spies and saboteurs. If this evil force can be stopped and destroyed before actual nuclear war begins, then the universe will be safe. The High Council agrees that there is only one way in which they may be able to achieve this.

Only $89.95 at The Sharper ImageThe scientists of the Emerald Planet have invented one of the most ingenious mechanisms the universe has ever seen. Called a Globemeter, it is carried on the wrist. It enables its wearer to do three things: to fly through space, to detect radioactivity, and to speak and understand every language on the planet Earth. In order to save Earth from the mass attack by the Zimarians, the Emerald Men once more must present the Globemeter to one of their fellow creatures, and send him to Earth.

This is, naturally, Starman. Who is Starman, you might ask?

He is the creature made of the strongest steel, the creature who can disguise himself as an Earthling!

He is Starman!  He is boring!He is also the creature wearing a transparent shark fin on his head! He is the creature who has no cape, but small little baggy cape-type things that hang down from each arm! He is, therefore, the creature who looks like a Lalique sculpture! And when he flies, he makes the same sound Astro Boy does!

After this is a nice, Earthbound chase scene, in which a young man carrying a large valise is being pursued by ominous men in trenchcoats and (most ominous of all) hats. This is quite well-filmed and choreographed, with the satchel-toting youngster coming within a gnat's hair of capture several times, but always eluding his hunters. It would be quite suspenseful, if the Helpful Narrator hadn't piped up with information that the Hat Squad is actually the local police, and they think their quarry is a bank robber, but his case actually contains... Balazar's Brain!

The baggage handler is eventually tackled and the case goes flying into a river. Rules of Evidence apparently being of a different stripe in Japan, none of the pursuing officers deigns to get his overcoat wet by plunging in and grabbing it, no matter how much their prisoner wails and begs for them to get the case ("...or we're all doomed!"). A radio report states that the Bank Robber got caught somewhere else in the city, but the cops decide to take this poor sap in, anyway.

Good heavens, I just realized... Pauley Shore ISN'T funny!Well, the poor sap's name is Kuroda, and his boss Dr. Kamayama (or something like that. Evil Brain does not inspire precise note-taking) came under the insidious influence of the Brain, and Kuroda stole the Brain to destroy it. The actor playing Kuroda does an excellent job of overwrought acting during this confession, and many teeth marks are apparent on the scenery afterwards.

Presuming Kuroda to be a standard issue nutjob (abetted by a spurious phone call from Dr. Kamakama), the police release him, right into the clutches of a group of Balazar's nasty mutants, sent to kill the little brain-napper. Things look dark for Kuroda, but Starman shows up to kick mutant tail.

I might as well address two things right now, as they will form the bulk Hey look!  Mutants!of my observations about this movie. First, the legion of mutants, who for the most part appear Isn't that right, old chum?quite normal - except for the Featured Mutants, which we will examine later - are also quite easy to spot by their Mutant Uniform - white trenchcoat and snapbrim hat. This gives rise to much risibility later as policemen searching for the bad guys walk right past them, again and again... if only they had read the bulletin about the Mutant Uniform! Admittedly, if you work in one of the many Secret Headquarters, you get a snappy black bodysuit with a skull-topped bat symbol on the chest. Those of sufficient rank also get capes.

Starman usually crops up in the nick of time (doubtless another function of the Globemeter), and wearing a business suit*; he ducks down under the camera shot and rises again (almost always with the background shifting, as the camera was shut off in the interim) clad in the white jumpsuit-and-shark-fin outfit we know and love.... okay, just know.... as Starman! Then the fight scene begins in earnest, with wave upon wave of bad guys launching themselves at Starman. Usually, our hero seems to employ some sort of super-aikido, as he simply slaps most of the evildoers as they pass, and they go hurtling off in the same direction they were already running. Occasionally, guns are pulled out, but as Starman is made of the strongest steel (remember?), these have no effect.

Coppola TOTALLY ripped this guy off for Bram Stoker's DraculaStarman takes the rescued Kuroda to meet with a Dr. Sakurai, and the two men team up to devise a way to destroy Balazar's Brain. You see, it is impervious to most harm, and can heal itself almost immediately. Finding out about Sakurai's research leads Dr. Mammajama to send "one of our new mutants, who breathes radioactive vapors, to get some answers from him!" This beastie is the best creature in the movie - and there are only two monsters, anyway - it has a creepy bat head with wire filigree for ears and cobalt claws. I'll also be charitable and assume that the eye painted on its belly is for decoration, and not supposed to be a real eye. Since its appearance also signals something interesting might happen, I'll also overlook the fact that it's wearing a leotard. If you guessed that Starman arrives in the nick of time, give yourself five more points. And that's our first episode.

I'm already quite late with this review, so let me just provide you with a list of my notes, instead of my usual (shyeah, right) cogent prose:

The dubbed script tries to give the impression that Balazar's Brain and its minions are moving toward a sort of "zero hour" for their global coup d'etat. The truth is, this attack starts over and over again - and the first time, it's apparently our bat-faced friend doing all the heavy lifting, in a horrid display of stock footage and bad miniature work.
This leads to the first of many genuinely delightful lines - if dubbed today, the line would be, "1-Adam-12, 1-Adam-12, go to the corner of Toho and Bates, See the monster."*
Starman gives the local Kenny a crystal sphere - this is his version of the Superman Signal Watch. If there is ever trouble, Kenny is to throw the crystal, and Starman will come. This is especially notable as Kenny (and the crystal) will now vanish from the story until the very end of the picture.
At the beginning of the second episode, the Helpful Narrator informs us that the mutants are perpetrating a series of daring robberies "to obtain money for food and clothing." If I was working for an all-powerful, disembodied brain bent on universal conquest, I think the least I should be able to count on is three squares and a nice uniform. Otherwise, screw you, Mr. Oblongata, I shall hie myself to the local Army recruiter.
The local police chief gives a speech to his men that Humanity Is Counting On Them. In the next scene, one of the scientists working with the Department of defense is walking home when he is waylaid by two murderous mutants, and his briefcase full of secret papers is stolen. Humanity is counting on them, and they let scientists walk home alone at night with secret papers? We're doomed. We're firkin' doomed. (Unfortunately for the deceased scientist, Starman was apparently changing the batteries in his Globemeter when the mutants attacked)
Things you don't hear every day: "You're a policeman, right? Looking for mutants?"
Okay, so another short-pantsed brat saw the two mutants after the theft and BY AN AMAZING COINCIDENCE is checked into a hospital which is a front for the Balazar War Machine. Starman of course arrives to kick mutant butt, but the surprising thing is that the cops attack en masse on the word of a 7 year old girl (but she is the Kenny's sister, so I guess the awesome discretionary powers awarded by the government to Kennys can carry over).
The mutants try to assassinate a visiting head of state, but Starman has taken the leader's place and has a good larf when the bullets bounce off him. Then remarkably, he brings out the real head of state without disarming the mutants first. Even more incredibly, the mutants do not take this opportunity to make Swiss cheese out of the dignitary. Perhaps we are not so doomed after all.
No, instead of taking advantage of Starman's tactical blunder, the head bad guyGood Lord!  That's obviously a nuclear grenade! pulls out a cylinder and announces, "If you try to stop me, I'll throw this nuclear grenade!" Everybody runs when he throws it anyway. Some nuclear. It knocks down a wall, and there is no appreciable radioactivity. I've seen Molotov cocktails that are more nuclear.
Tammy Faye gets up on the wrong side of bed every now and then...Our second monster is a beak-nosed woman who appears mysteriously and kills a couple of people with a single touch. This is, we eventually find out, the physical manifestation of a Super Germ that another evil doctor has devised. Isn't that kind of an inefficient way for a deadly germ that's supposed to wipe out mankind to operate? And the real Super Germ is some pulsating lump in a jar. Super, indeed - it's the size of a Denny's omelette!
While introducing us to the Super Germ, the Helpful Narrator tells us that the mutants are starting to kill people indiscriminately. Then we are treated to a full two minutes of carnival stock footage, leading me to wonder, "Where are the mutants, killing people indiscriminately? Wait! The cotton candy!! ..... No, that wasn't it. The merry-go-round! It's a mutant!, I guess not.... Wait!...."
Let's see, Dr. Hubbabubba is in a wheelchair, his assistant has only one leg... Dr. Super Germ has a horrible burn on one side of his face, and his assistant has a hook for a hand.... yep, cripples are evil.
Man, these Zima guys love their secret panels. There's no such thing as a front door to any of these places.
Starman finally tracks the radioactive Bat-Breather to Balazar's Secret Headquarters..... hey! That's the same secret headquarters as the one under the hospital!

Come to think of it, it also seems to be the same secret headquarters as the one where the Super Germ was being developed. Maybe the Evil Brain just shops at Ikea.

So Kuroda and Sakurai pour their formula over Balazar's Brain - which looks suspiciously like the Super Germ, hmmmmmm- and it expires. Or the guy underneath the table stops working the air bladder, which is more likely. The end.

To the good: the production values are reasonably high in Evil Brain - this was the period in Japanese superheroics where the director threw as many henchmen as possible at the hero, and Starman usually seems to have a staggering twenty or more men arrayed against him at any one time. The sets are good, and the Bat monster is cool.

To the bad: Starman is indestructible, which doesn't lead us to get very tense over these fights. Even when we are assured that the cobalt claws of the Bat monster can harm him, we're not too worried, as the elderly Sakurai got slashed by those same claws and survived. And the title character is a no-show. Dr. Oompaloompa does all his talking for him, and when we finally see him, he just sits in his cake pan and takes his punishment like the recycled prop he is. We are used to evil brains with deep, echoing voices, at the very least. This villain is not particularly dynamic or charismatic.... which makes him a perfect match for the hero, to be frank.

To the bizarre - the flying effects are straight out of the George Reeves Superman TV show. Flying and leaping effects during the fight scenes are accomplished by dint of either running the film backwards, or (my favorite) having Starman and a monster Wheee!  Catch me!jump up, cutting to a rapid swish pan, and them cutting to them landing in another spot. Cheap and creative, and it almost works.

Definitely not as twisted and entertaining as its delirious descendent, the wondrous Ultraman, the Starman movies represent, at best, a chance for one's brain to coast in neutral for a very long time. For a more engaging experience for this genre, you would be well-advised to seek out Mystery Science Theater 3000's treatments of two very similar movies with different heroes: Prince of Space or Invasion of the Neptune Men. At least these take the weight of making snide comments about the movie off your shoulders, enabling you to slip more quickly into that all-important REM sleep.


Bartender: More brains all 'round.

- August 28, 2000