We've Got A New Horror Genre To Add To Your Halloween Movie Binge: Brains!
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Halloween's tomorrow. So now's the time to binge watch those scary movies if you haven't already - vampires, exorcisms, serial killers, whatever you're into. If you're stumped, we've got some recommendations. Author and critic Colin Fleming is with us with his picks from a particular horror genre he enjoys, movies about brains.
COLIN FLEMING: How's it going, Rachel?
MARTIN: So - I don't think I've ever seen a brain movie. I don't even understand what that means.
FLEMING: I think sort of the original idea was that portions of our mind are frightening. And this transitioned into flying brain-based monster films in the late '50s and early 1960s. One of the best examples, the representative one to me, is 1962's "The Brain That Wouldn't Die." We've all seen plots like this. Crazy mad doctor's out with his wife, gets into an accident. She falls out of the car, gets decapitated, takes it back to his workshop/garage and works to find a body for her. Now he's a bit of a swinger, kind of like Larry from "Three's Company" crossed with...
MARTIN: Oh, yeah (laughter).
FLEMING: ...A medico. I'm trying devilishly hard to be on the right side of the FCC here. But let's just say there are a lot of noggin-based double entendres.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE")
VIRGINIA LEITH: (As Jan) I hate him for what he's done to me, if he only knew what it's like being like this. Together, we could have revenge.
MARTIN: First of all, I didn't quite catch this from your description - she's still alive. The head is talking?
FLEMING: Oh, yeah.
MARTIN: Oh, yeah. OK, obviously.
FLEMING: The head's talking to his previous experiment in these matters, which is a monster in the closet near the table she sits on.
MARTIN: Oh, that's who she's talking to. She's, like, let's team up and, like, get revenge on him. I mean, we should say this was a thing. Like, in the '50s and '60s, this was just part of this gore genre that that didn't feel actually so gory. I mean, the stuff - I mean, is it actually frightening when you watch it?
FLEMING: They tend not to be gory because we're still, like, in the black-and-white era. But there was one, from 1958, called "Fiend Without A Face," which has one of the first gore scenes in all of moviedom (ph). And it's quite an artful - strangely artful film. This time, we have brains as vampires who look like airborne scorpions crossed with frontal lobes.
FLEMING: I almost think of it, like, as the id made visual. It's really this sort of sci-fi meets Grand Guignol.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FIEND WITHOUT A FACE")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) The brain, it's gone.
GIL WINFIELD: (As Dr. Warren) That's not all. The entire spinal cord is missing.
MARSHALL THOMPSON: (As Major Cummings) But...
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) That's incredible.
THOMPSON: (As Major Cummings) It's as if some mental vampire were at work.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: Ratings.
MARTIN: (Laughter) So that sounds interesting. But, you know, are there plots? Are there storylines? Like, is any of this actually watchable for longer than 10 minutes while you're laughing at it?
FLEMING: The plots are minimal. But yeah, they're pretty watchable. But really, the absolute lowest of the low - on the bottomest (ph) rung would be 1963's (ph) "They Saved Hitler's Brain." And it sounds...
MARTIN: Wait. I'm sorry.
FLEMING: ...Like I'm making that up.
MARTIN: The movie is called "They Saved Hitler's Brain"?
FLEMING: Yes, that was the thinking. Normally in these films, someone goes to a barrow or a crypt and retrieves a head and reanimates it. In this case, they go to a bunker, head off to South America, and the Nazi regime revisits where they went wrong before as they plot world domination.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THEY SAVED HITLER'S BRAIN")
MARSHALL REED: (As Frank Dvorak) You will see your great victory, mein Fuhrer. That, I promise you.
BILL FREED: (As Hitler) Mach Schnell. Mach Schnell.
REED: (As Frank Dvorak) Take him to the car.
MARTIN: Wait. Was that actually Hitler, or was that just Hitler's brain talking?
FLEMING: Well, it's his head. Again, he gets upset. He's, like, in a little box. He's barking out orders.
MARTIN: Colin, you have rendered me speechless. Happy Halloween brain movie-watching.
FLEMING: Yeah, same to you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.