Evil Brain from Outer Space (1964)

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After the dispiriting slumps of the third title in the series, Attack from Space, I was starting to worry that I had already mined the Super Giant films for all of the entertainment value they could easily provide. The initial Saturday morning cartoon charm of the superhero Starman and his powers-providing wrist watch, the globe meter, had started to wear a little thin and without a worthwhile villain to thwart, the intergalactic buffoonery felt entirely flat. Thankfully, the concluding film in the series, Evil Brain from Outer Space returned the Starman saga to its batshit insane heights and reminded me of what I found so entertaining in the first place. Evil Brain from Outer Space repeated the formula that proved so effective in the Starman film Invaders from Space (the same formula that makes Batman such a consistently fresh property to adapt): providing Starman with such a wildly entertaining, chaotic villain that the audience is distracted from the fact that the hero is static & unchanging. Instead of Invaders from Space‘s Salamander Men of Planet Kuliman, Evil Brain from Outer Space complicates Starman’s eternal quest to prevent nuclear holocaust by pitting him against, well, an evil brain from outer space. What’s so brilliant about this evil brain is that, like so many Krangs to come, he commands an army of varied, subservient weirdos that keep the film interesting from scene to scene as Starman takes them out one by one.

There really isn’t much to convey here in terms of plot. A council of space alien peacekeepers on the Emerald Planet deploy Starman to prevent nuclear war on Earth . . . but every film in the series literally starts with that exact same premise, even that exact same footage. All that’s different here is the villain. Balazar is an evil genius from the planet Zomar, the most brilliant mind in the universe. He is promptly assassinated, but his brain is kept alive and operating in a transportable briefcase. This briefcase, of course, must be destroyed before the brain takes over Earth, presumably through some kind of nuclear threat. What’s great here is the way Balazar’s brain enlists a wide array of weirdos to exact his evil deeds. This includes eyebrowless alien men who try to throw knives at children, a bunker full of baddies dressed in matching Batman uniforms and constantly doing Nazi salutes, mutants who breathe radioactive vapor, some kind of a humanoid dragon who wears a fiant eyeball belt & multiplies like a Power Rangers villain, a Tom Waits-looking motherfucker with a hook for a hand, and a witch who haunts a ballet studio. Balazar is even so kind as to employ an Earthling in his evil army: a ludicrous-looking mad scientist with a hawk for a pet. Even this widespread of a treat is no match for the interplanetary heroics of Starman, of course, and each foe is dealt with in a tidy, 70+ minute romp. We even get to watch Balazar’s brain die, which is a fun treat, though it’s not nearly as gruesome as the similar conclusion to They Saved Hitler’s Brain. The film concludes as all Super Giant movies do, with Starman waving goodbye to his young child superfans as he flies back to his home planet. This time, however, he wouldn’t be returning to save them again, since the series had officially come to a close.

Evil Brain from Outer Space might be the most objectively entertaining of all the Super Giant films, since most movies in the series were edited down from two Japanese broadcasts in their American TV adaptations while this one was comprised of three: The Space Mutant Appears, The Devil’s Incarnation, and The Poison Moth Kingdom. Cramming three Starman films into a single, paired down vessel makes for an exciting episode in the series, one overstuffed with the one thing that keeps its rigid formula fresh: ridiculous villains. Evil Brain from Outer Space is the Super Giant title that most often winds up on large collections of horror & sci-fi films, despite the entire series being in the public domain, and that extra attention is honestly well deserved. Anyone who gets a kick out of the film should certainly track down Invaders from Space as well, as it boasts just as much cartoonish villainy in its interplanetary threats. Realistically speaking, the series never reaches any sort of mind-blowing heights of cult classic potential, but those two titles are delightfully inane oddities in their own way. Even the first film in the series, Atomic Rulers of the World, is entertaining in its own minor ways and only Attack from Space registers as a thoroughly mundane waste of time, which isn’t such a bad track record for an American superhero series cobbled together from scraps of Japanese television, all things considered.

The Super Giant movies were important when they were first broadcast because Ken Utsui’s portrayal of the interplanetary Superman knockoff Starman (a role he reportedly despised because of the snug costume & stuffed crotch) was the very first Japanese superhero to appear on celluloid. In the years since, after so many similar riffs on that same formula have come to pass, that significance has faded, but Starman has become relevant in a different way. In the era of post-Nolan superhero media “for adults,” I often need to return to a time when Saturday morning cartoon absurdism is the driving creative force in my comic book cinema. I find way more solace in stray properties like Roger Corman’s ill-received Fantastic Four adaptation and last year’s Ninja Turtles sequel Out of the Shadows than I probably should because of that yearning for a goofier time. Starman’s filmography fulfilled that niche nicely. I’d encourage anyone who similarly enjoys a goofy superhero movie with their morning cereal to at least check out Evil Brain from Outer Space or Invaders from Space the next time they’re looking to fill that void. The entire series might not be recommendable to binge on as I have, but Starman is charming & entertaining nonetheless, especially when he has enough goofy baddies to knock down in the face of nuclear destruction.

-Brandon Ledet

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