‘The Brain Eaters’ (1958)

Nelson, VeSota’s big chance

Ed Nelson — billed in “The Brain Eaters” as Edwin Nelson — had what it takes to be a leading man in movies. He was handsome; he could play quietly heroic; and he knew how to communicate with the camera. Heck, the guy coulda been John Wayne‘s young wingman in a color Batjac western, at the least. Instead, Nelson’s only starring movie role was in “The Brain Eaters,” a minor sci-fi film in a flooded market. Them’s the breaks.

Another guy beloved by genre aficionados is Bruno VeSota, a balding, plus-size actor who, no matter how small his role, never failed to enliven a movie. VeSota is fantastic as a hillbilly cuckold in “Attack of the Giant Leeches”; as a detective puzzling over a case while his flabby arms are massaged interminably in “Creature of the Walking Dead”; and as an annoying truckstop patron in the 1954 “The Fast and the Furious.” The camera loved Bruno VeSota.

Joanna Lee and Ed Nelson have a hot time in “The Brain Eaters.”

“The Brain Eaters” is where Nelson and VeSota, and both men’s strongest instincts to do good work, intersect. Nelson produced and starred in the film, which was directed by VeSota.

Having carved out this opportunity for themselves — after all, not every genre cheapie needed to come from Roger Corman — Nelson and VeSota crafted a film that is a bit different from the outer-space movies so prevalent in the period: a sci-fi noir. Much of the movie is set at night, with many night exteriors. The camera is sometimes tilted to establish an uneasy, stressful mood, or accentuate one. When we first see brain-eaten humans claim fresh victims, it borrows from Don Siegel‘s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” albeit in a rushed execution.

There’s edge-of-your-seat excitement in this lobby card for “The Brain Eaters.”

So “The Brain Eaters” is a fairly moody piece — that is, until we actually see the little brain-eating creatures, which look like they were made from socks and pipe cleaners. (You could call them the forerunners of Tribbles.) Yep, “The Brain Eaters” is one of those films with a cool movie poster that promises a lot more than it delivers.

The film boasts two cast members later seen in well-known sci-fi projects – one infamous, one celebrated. Joanna Lee, seen here as a scientist, played statuesque alien Tana in Ed Wood‘s “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” (Lee’s “Is it mad” speech in “Plan 9” is right up there with Dudley Manlove‘s “Your stupid minds” speech.) And speaking of Tribbles, Mr. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, has a small role (though his surname is spelled as “Nemoy”). Doesn’t this make “The Brain Eaters” required viewing for “Star Trek” completists?



Starring Ed Nelson as Dr. Paul Kettering; Joanna Lee as Alice Sumners; Jody Fair as Elaine Cameron; and Leonard Nimoy as Prof. Cole
Written by Gordon Urquhart | Cinematography by Lawrence Raimond
Produced by Nelson | Directed by Bruno VeSota
[American International Pictures]