In the small Illinois town of Riverdale something is up, with violence suddenly breaking out in the streets for no reason anyone can perceive. Could it be something to do with the sudden appearance of a large, tall object in the surrounding forests? The authorities are called by local official Glenn Cameron (Alan Jay Factor) who realises the situation here could become critical at any time, and Government man Walter K. Powers (Cornelius Keefe) is brought in to head the operation, though he is deeply sceptical that anything genuinely out of the ordinary is happening, there must be a sensible explanation. Scientist Dr Paul Kettering (Ed Nelson) is recruited, and the powers that be secretly descend on Riverdale...
Not to be confused with the far healthier The Bran Eaters, this was a minor entry in the "alien takes over human" subgenre of fifties science fiction of which the likes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Invaders from Mars were probably the most memorable exponents, though it was such a great, potent idea that it has never really gone away, especially hailing from an era when citizens were warned to be alert for signs of subterfuge in their neighbourhoods. It's tempting to blame that state of mind on the Cold War, but as we see today it seems this suspicion has never gone out of fashion, and fuels both entertainment and social interaction right up to modern times, suggesting paranoia is the defining sensation of our age as well as what came before.
This was directed by prolific character actor Bruno VeSota, who was a proto-Larry Fessenden of the fifties, having his fingers in many a movie or TV production pie, though his heavyset frame and scowling features would be most recognisable to fans of vintage science fiction and horror. He only helmed three movies, and it would have been nice to see more from him in that regard for he displayed a pulp sensibility that may not have lent itself to impressively budgeted films, but certainly kept them racing along and packed with incident. In this case that incident was lifted straight from writer Robert A. Heinlein's novel from earlier that decade, The Puppet Masters which enjoyed an official adaptation in the nineties, though when Heinlein got wind of this he called his lawyers and settled out of court.
One thing missing from either version was the copious nudity of the book, since within that mystery craft are little furry creatures which attach themselves to the spine of their hosts via pipecleaners, or antennae as they are supposed to be. If you can imagine sinister hamsters, then that's what you had as the enemy in The Brain Eaters, although no brains are actually eaten so don't go expecting a Return of the Living Dead gorefest, even if this modest effort did have unintended connections to more notable cultural artefacts. Lurking down the cast list was, for example, Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek fame, hidden behind a beard and what the Doc finds when he finally makes it inside the craft, patently hired for his commanding voice since you would not recognise him otherwise.
Also, for B movie fans, future television big shot Joanna Lee was Nelson's love interest, though no matter how many serious issues she tackled in her writing she will for many always be the alien Tanna from Plan 9 from Outer Space; minor starlet Jody Fair had a role as well, mostly to look scared and occasionally scream. As for the scientist, he thinks nothing of demonstrating his points with gunfire: he shoots into the craft to illustrate its tough material, and is often seen blazing away when the possessed townsfolk get too close for comfort. Indeed, the use of violence to solve the problems was far more prevalent here than the use of science, suggesting folks were tiring of the more methodical means of answering those difficult questions and leaning towards the "might is right" ways of getting over life's obstacles. This being as cheap as you like, for all its surface foolishness it did have something interesting to say about the America of the fifties, if it intended to or otherwise, though that was not to say you couldn't chuckle along with it should you so desire.
Tubby American character actor who became a minor cult star due to his frequent appearances in exploitation films of the 1950s and 60s, most popularly those of Roger Corman. As a director, he gave us moody thriller Female Jungle and sci-fi adventures The Brain Eaters and Invasion of the Star Creatures.