Throughout science fiction cinematic history, alien invaders have always been portrayed as vastly superior in intellect and development. Though we almost always thwart them in their attempts to take over the world, their initial attacks are usually spectacular and well thought out. Oftentimes the aliens were portrayed as having larger than usual craniums to represent having a larger brain. But what about the aliens whose heads were actually brain-like in appearance, or were actually a brain?
I have always been a fan of the big-brained aliens, like the Metaluna Mutant in 1955’s THIS ISLAND EARTH or my all-time favorite alien, the Saucer-Men from 1957’s INVASION OF THE SAUCER-MEN. Tim Burton kept the tradition alive with his very entertaining film, MARS ATTACKS! from 1996. For actual brain creatures, you need look no further than FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (1958) and THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS (1957).
Though I covered INVASION OF THE SAUCER-MEN in my Film Book Of Fear series (seen HERE), I really didn’t get into the aliens themselves too much. I absolutely love the design of the Saucer-Men, realized by special effects artist Paul Blaisdell. He created so many original and interesting monsters in his career but for me, these guys really stand out. These were the first of the big-brain aliens and done so wonderfully. Though some people may think that their design is goofy, there is a sense of malevolence with them. Their eyes and mouth have an anger to them and since all of their scenes are in the dark, it adds a creepiness to them. Are they smart? I would say yes. After one of their own is hit by a car and killed, they replace the body with that of a human that they kill and then use a tool to dent the car further, making it look as though the driver ran over this person instead of a Saucer-Man. Their appendages also show intelligence. Not only is there an eyeball on the back of the hands, the hand of the alien that got hit by the car separates itself from the body and can walk around on its own, with its own intent on attacking the teenagers in the film.
In the big-budget film THIS ISLAND EARTH, there are actually two types of big-brained aliens. The first we encounter are the “human-like” inhabitants of the planet Metaluna. They look human in every way except for their larger-than-normal-human craniums. Are they intelligent? Absolutely. First off, they save main character Cal Meacham (played by Rex Reason) by safely landing his jet when the engines fail. They then send Meacham a catalog printed on flexible metal pages so that he can order the parts necessary to build an interociter, a machine that will enable the main alien, Exeter to contact Meacham. Eventually these interactions lead our main characters to the planet of Metaluna.
Here we are introduced to the second big-brained alien, the Mutant, a bio-engineered slave. Though their brains are huge, they are not very intelligent and do not, or can not, think on their own. Though they are supposed to be guards of the planet Metaluna, they seem to die very easily on their own without the aid of the hero. The design of this alien is phenomenal and Bud Westmore should be commended.
MARS ATTACKS!, based on the Topps trading card series of the early 60’s, was another big-brained alien movie, realized by Tim Burton. There are many homages to the movies of the 50’s here, especially EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956). The aliens are very intelligent and take absolute delight in their invasion of the planet. Whether they are killing us or experimenting on us, they do it with smiles on their diabolical faces and their conquest of our planet would’ve been successful if it hadn’t been for Slim Whitman.
FIEND WITHOUT A FACE features aliens not from outer space but created through mental thought right here on Earth. A scientist who is experimenting with telekinesis and thought projection ends up creating a living fiend, that then steals the brain and spinal cord of local farmers. Though initially invisible, thanks to feeding on atomic energy from a nearby military base, the fiends soon take form and the airbase is overrun with brain creatures who are being replicated. The creatures have developed tendrils that, with the spinal cord, allow them to become quite mobile, even with the ability to jump. They have also developed two eyes on the ends of two stalks at the front of the brain. They are easily killed with guns but are finally destroyed when the source of their food, the radar installation’s power machinery, is blown up. Though the animation used to bring the fiends to life seem primitive by today’s standards, they are very creepy to look at. They are very realistic and how they move is quite clever.
THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS is about an alien brain creature terrorist called Gor who comes to Earth and possesses a scientist. Gor’s plan is to use his powers to take over the world, threatening to destroy any nation that goes against him. Meanwhile, a second brain creature named Vol, also arrives to bring Gor as his prisoner back to their home planet of Arous. The brains are kind of cool looking and float around like helium balloons. They have large eyes on the front and oftentimes the wires holding the props up can be clearly seen. This is one of those movies that grows on you in its campiness over repeated viewings.
Over the years, mask companies have also released alien masks that featured oversized, brain-like heads. Distortions Unlimited released the amazing Andromeda III in the mid 80’s and more recently created Brainiac the Maniac in the Monster of the Month line. Trick Or Treat Studios also released the only licensed versions of the aliens from Tim Burton’s MARS ATTACKS! The one on the left is called a Drone and the one on the right, a super deluxe version, is called Soldier.
If you know of additional movies or masks that feature oversized brains, please let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading.