It's not easy to have a great Halloween when you're in the middle
school/junior high years. You're too old—and, in your mind, too
cool—to go trick-or-treating with the little kids, and you're not old
enough to drive, preventing you from going out with friends and truly raising
some hell. This was the case for me one such Halloween night during those
extremely formative years. Oct. 31 was a weeknight that year, and I ended up
staying at home, with nothing to do. Sure, I helped pass out candy to the kids,
and I watched Charlie Brown or one of the other TV specials, but it wasn't
really that memorable of a holiday. At least not until later.
Well after dark, with all the lights out, I silently crawled out of bed and
switched on the ancient, barely working TV in my room, keeping the volume low so
as not to wake anyone else in the house. The local station had advertised a
night of Halloween monster movies, and I was still itching for some ghoulish
fun. The ad had promised some frightening "classics" but I knew
better. First up, well after midnight, was Plan 9 From Outer Space. I'd never seen it
before, but I knew of its reputation as the so-called worst movie ever made. Of
course I had a blast with the movie, finding its alleged "badness" to
be charming, hilarious, and even creative. Next was Robot Monster, made
in a similar era and style as Plan 9. Not quite as fun, but still cheesy
and laughable, and who doesn't love the gorilla-with-a-diving-helmet awesomeness
that is Ro-Man? After these two films, it was well into the dead of night, and I
considered getting what few hours left of sleep I could, but there was one more
old black and white fright flick to see, and the local station saved the best
for last. In fact, you could say…
…They Saved Hitler's Brain.
What wonderful weirdness this movie was. Secret agents! Doomsday devices!
Exotic locales! Mad scientists! And of course, the deliriously goofball sight of
Hitler's head (not just the brain, mind you, but the whole head) in a jar. My
young self had no idea such beautiful absurdity could exist. The next day,
reconnecting with friends at school, I discovered I wasn't the only one who had
caught the marathon. We laughed about all the movies, but the one that really
got us guffawing was They Saved Hitler's Brain. For years afterward,
They Saved Hitler's Brain was cemented in my mind as one of the all-time
best "so bad it's good" movies, standing shoulder to shoulder with the
legendary Plan 9.
Years later, along came the one-two punch of the internet and DVD, when
obscure cult films of all kinds suddenly not only saw the light of day, but
gained millions of first-time viewers. Plan 9 From Outer Space has seen
numerous DVD releases and fan sites, and even received a glowing tribute in Tim
Burton's Ed Wood. Among the hundreds of other
classic bad movies given new life in the new millennium, poor They Saved
Hitler's Brain remains obscure and forgotten. There's been no elaborate
two-disc set, there's been no god-awful big budget Hollywood remake—heck,
there hasn't even been a ridiculous off-Broadway rock musical version (that I
know of). That's why I jumped at the chance to write this review of Mill Creek's
Drive-In Cult Classics: 32-Movie Set, because one of those 32 movies is
They Saved Hitler's Brain.
The movie is as much of a hoot toady as it was on that Halloween witching
hour all those years ago. The story begins with two secret agents investigating
strange goings-on regarding the fictional country of Mandoras. They abruptly
exit the film, to be replaced by two other investigators, who travel to Mandoras
in person. Once there, the stalwart heroes run into the evil scientists keeping
the titular brain alive, with plans to use a deadly gas as the first step in
bringing a new Reich back to power. Yes, the pacing is slow at first, as it
takes a while to get to the crazy sci-fi stuff, but there's still some enjoyment
to be had. The two actors in the disjointed beginning sequence have some nice,
breezy chemistry. Scenes in Mandoras bring to mind old-school Cuba, often
portrayed as a hotbed of espionage in a lot of classic spy stories. Once we get
to Hitler's brain, though, it's on. I don't know where they found actor
Bill Freed to play Hitler—he has only one other IMDb film credit besides
this one—but he's a riot. Every one of his facial expressions is
hilarious. Either he's smiling with cruel glee when his henchmen are victorious,
or he's frowning with fiery frustration when our heroes get the better of him.
Seriously, the looks on this guy's face are worth the price of this whole
I did a little research, and They Saved Hitler's Brain has an odd
history, almost as odd as what ended up on screen. It was originally a 1963 film
called The Madmen of Madoras. It ran only 60 minutes, though, designed to
be the second half of a cheap double feature for theaters and drive-ins. In
order to air it on television, producers added the seemingly-unrelated subplot
at the beginning to pad it out for a TV-movie running time. Producers also
wisely gave the movie its new, catchier title, and 1968's They Saved Hitler's
Brain was born. This DVD set also features the original The Madmen of
Mandoras, advertised on the packaging as a separate film. It appears to be
better restored than its TV counterpart, but other than that, the footage from
both is the same. The Mandoras side of the disc features a "drive-in
movie experience" with old drive-in cartoons and promos that play before
the movie. The Hitler's Brain side has no bonus features.
OK, so this isn't the optimum DVD presentation for They Saved Hitler's
Brain, but it's a step in the right direction. I'm hereby putting out the
call for all bad movie lovers—take this opportunity to step up and salute
the cheese. If we unite, we have the power to bring this forgotten gem of
ludicrousness the attention it so richly deserves. It's a bad movie classic, and
it's time the world knows it.
By now, you're probably wondering about the other 30 flicks on this set.
Here's the list, in the more or less random order that I watched them:
• Click: The Calendar Girl Murders (1990)
wants to prove she still "has it" when a bunch of younger, prettier
models burst onto the scene. It's bad timing, though, thanks to an evil psycho
photographer stalking the ladies. It "stars" Troy Donahue.
Observation: Whenever the ladies disrobe, they're automatically covered
with shiny body oil. I know this is supposed to be stylish and sexy, but instead
it looks like they've been slimed.
• Hot Target (1985)
In this English film, an
insanely wealthy housewife would seem to have the perfect life, but instead she
feels trapped and suffocated in her upper class lifestyle. She begins a steamy
and possibly dangerous affair with the hunky guy she meets at the park. It's
another entry in the "rich people being naughty" genre.
Observation: So, the creepy tank top-wearing stalker gets our heroine's
phone number by calling her veterinarian? That was…convenient.
• Lurkers (1988)
An abused little girl grows up to be an introverted young musician, plagued by
nightmares of the strange creatures she believed lived within the walls of her
childhood home. You know what? I actually liked this one. The acting is
laughable, but there's a great sense of dark atmosphere throughout.
Observation: Why are female classical musicians, such as violinists or,
in this case, cellists, so often depicted as shy, timid victims in movies? Can't
one of them be dynamic and confident for once?
• Carnival of Crime (1962)
In Brazil, a successful
architect's wife is murdered, and he gets blamed for the crime. This appears to
be another "cut and paste" similar to Hitler's
Brain/Mandoras, with scenes of American characters spliced in
not-so-convincingly with the Brazilian characters, as well as stock footage
Observation: Does every scene have to have that
peppy guitar music in the background?!?
• The Teacher (1974)
An 18-year-old guy is falsely
suspected of killing his best friend, and then he starts a steamy romance with
his unbelievably hot 28-year-old teacher, all while his friend's homicidal older
brother is out to get him. It "stars" Jay North.
Observation: Just what is this movie trying to be? A teen sex romp? A
psychological thriller? A slice-of-life suburban drama? The tone is all over the
• Pick-up (1975)
Two pretty young female hitchhikers
get picked up by a guy driving a van across the country. It's all driving and
nature montages and New Age-y dialogue. A whole lot of nothing happens.
Observation: Clearly not meant to be watched while sober.
• Trip with the Teacher (1975)
A bunch of incredibly
hot girls on a school trip with their female teacher are pursued by a trio of
bikers. Are their interactions just some harmless flirtation, or are these guys
more nefarious than they let on? It "stars" Zalman King.
Observation: Can three motorcycles really tow a broken-down school bus?
Somebody get the Mythbusters on this one.
• Best Friends (1975)
Two couples hop in the
motorhome for a cross-country "no worries" road trip. The two guys are
old military buddies, one haunted by memories of horrors he saw in the service,
and the other wanting to never settle down. It "stars" Richard
Observation: Why do so many of these '70s road trip movies
fetishize motorhomes? Motorcycles I get, as a symbol of rebelliousness, freedom,
and overall cool, but a motorhome? People's grandparents drive those.
• Malibu High (1979)
Teenage wild child Kim is on
the verge of flunking out, she's been dumped by her boyfriend, and she doesn't
get along with her mom. She comes up with a plan to become "a whole new
woman," which involves some special after-hours sessions with her teacher,
if you know what I mean.
Observation: Cautionary tale of youth gone
wrong, or sleaze for the sake of sleaze? I'll let you decide.
• Cindy and Donna (1971)
The titular teen sisters
spend their time partying, screwing, drinking, and getting high, unbeknownst to
their clueless suburban parents. There's no plot.
There's so much alcohol consumption in this movie, I thought I was going to get
• The Stepmother (1972)
Crime, murder, and
suspicions are all around when an architect learns his second wife is having a
tawdry affair with his son from his first marriage. It's like someone took the
first five minutes of a '70s detective show, where the crime is committed before
opening credits, and stretched it into a whole movie.
This is the only movie on the set to be nominated for an Oscar—Best
Original Song, "Strange Are The Ways of Love" by Sammy Fain. It didn't
• Sister-in-law (1974)
A singer's promising career
is cut short after he is seduced by his wealthy brother's hot wife and gets
involved in their drug smuggling operation. It's more "rich people being
Observation: Who would've thought that drug
dealers spend so much time lounging around the pool outside their palatial
• Bloodlust (1959)
The oldest movie on the set is
yet another riff on "The Most Dangerous Game," as a group of teens are
stranded on an island with a sinister big game hunter, determined to pick them
off one by one.
Observation: Unlike some of the more dreary
attempts at drama in this set, this movie, refreshingly, doesn't take it too
seriously, and dares to have a sense of humor.
• The Devil's Hand (1962)
A man is troubled by
dreams of a beautiful dancing woman. These dreams lead him to a strange doll,
which of course leads directly into involvement with a sinister cult.
Observation: One of the better movies on this set, it's a great old-timey
black and white thriller in the classic style.
• The Creeping Terror
A bunch of teenagers' high jinks are disrupted by a giant, uh,
carpet monster. It's come from space, and it has a predilection for devouring
hapless humans in a single gulp.
Observation: This one was featured
on a much-loved Mystery Science Theater 3000
episode. Find that and watch it instead.
• Terrified (1963)
A psychology student fascinated
with the effects of fear on the human mind gets the ol' irony treatment when he
is pursued by a masked killer.
Observation: After a promising
opening, in which our baddie buries someone alive, the movie then gets stuck in
"meandering narrative" mode, with way too many uninteresting
characters to worry about. Too bad.
• Land of the Minotaur (1976)
Peter Cushing and
Donald Pleasance are in this? And it has decent production values and a real
script? Well, all right. We're in '70s Satanic horror mode, as tourists are
abducted by a murderous cult.
Observation: It's not a Hammer horror
flick, but it certainly has that Hammer vibe.
• The Hearse (1980)
A young woman inherits a home
and moves in, only to learn that witchcraft was once practiced there. Now, she
faces danger from both the superstitious locals and supernatural evil.
Observation: The ghostly hearse is pretty scary, but the moustache on the
hearse driver is even scarier.
• The Babysitter
A well-respected lawyer has a hot n' sweaty affair with his
precocious teen babysitter, and this gets him in trouble with a vicious
Observation: It's every bit as icky and
uncomfortable as I just made it sound.
• Weekend with the Babysitter (1971)
same movie as The Babysitter, with some of the same actors and character
names no less, only swapping out the deadly bikers for some free-lovin'
Observation: Less icky than the previous movie, but still
• Single Room Furnished (1968)
This one's famous
(infamous?) for being screen legend Jayne Mansfield's final film. She stars as a
teen girl who faces the harsh realities of life and eventually succumbs to drugs
Observation: The movie begins with a reporter
telling us about how much he admired Mansfield, and he goes on and on about her
performance that you're about to watch. What the heck?
• Van Nuys Blvd. (1979)
A small-town teen, after
hearing romanticized stories of the fun and excitement of cruisin' up and down
the titular boulevard, decides to try it for himself. Sexy shenanigans and drag
Observation: This disc features a commentary from
writer-director William Sachs, the only commentary on the whole set.
• Malibu Beach (1978)
A hot female lifeguard has not
one but two hunky guys in love with her. That's pretty much the whole movie,
along with a lot of montages of bikini girls at the beach.
Observation: Uh…those are a lot of bikinis, I guess.
• The Pom Pom Girls
This one's not so much about the girls, but about the guys on the
high school football team, and their pursuit of the girls, as well as dealing
with a jerk coach and worrying about the upcoming big game. It "stars"
Observation: If your opinion of football players
is that they're a bunch of lunkheads, this movie will do nothing to change your
• Double Exposure
A photographer keeps having nightmares in which he murders the
models in his pics. Meanwhile, models really are being murdered.
Observation: Be warned, this one is heavy on the soap opera-ish talking
and light on any actual thrills.
• Blue Monday (1972)
Our "hero" is a
pornographer, who finds himself in big trouble when the government cracks down
on porn. This places a huge strain on his relationship with his otherwise doting
Observation: In case you haven't already guessed, this one's
• Separate Ways (1981)
A married couple faces
financial and emotional struggles, forcing them to decide if they want to stay
together or divorce. Also, there's a lot of stock car racing. It
"stars" Karen Black.
Observation: What is this serious
relationship drama doing in the same set with all these trash pictures?
• Night Club (1989)
A married couple buys an old
factory with the hopes of turning it into the hottest night club in town.
Unfortunately, they face opposition from the city council and from the mob. The
mobster angle only barely qualifies this movie as a thriller. It
"stars" Peter Jurasik.
Observation: Dull movie, but I
liked a lot of the '80s tunes on the soundtrack.
• Blood Mania (1970)
Now this is some
exploitation trash! In this psychological-thriller-meets-glam-rock, a
psychologist with a mysterious past is lured into a world of dark, deadly
Observation: OK, there's a lot of downtime you have to sit
through before you get to the trippy visuals, but, hey, trippy visuals!
• The Pink Angels (1971)
When I read the description
of this one on the back of the box, I couldn't believe it: "Six burly
cross-dressing motorcyclists plan an incursion to Los Angeles. Call them Hell's
Angels with an affinity for lipstick, high heels and brassieres." That
sounds just crazy! I had to see it! I imagined huge biker dudes glammed up in
their best drag queen gowns and wigs while bashing rival gang leaders' heads in
with tire irons. That wasn't quite the case, though. Instead, what I got was six
guys who look just like tough bikers, but when they open their mouths, suddenly
they're all sissy and girly. For example, when a hot girl walks by, the guys all
check her out, only to have one of them say, "I'd look great in that
dress." The full-on cross-dressing craziness doesn't happen until the end
of the movie. This concept might make a giggle-worthy comedy sketch, but
building an entire movie around one joke gets tedious after a while. Is the
movie offensive? I don't know. These guys are either a stereotype or shattering
a stereotype, I'm not sure which.
Observation: Whether you like it
or not, you've certainly never seen a movie like it.
The 32 movies are spread on 12 double-sided discs. What do these movies have
in common, other than relative obscurity and lurid subject matter? They were all
originally released by Crown Pictures International, as you'll notice its
distinctive logo at the start of each one. Different discs have different menus
and logos of their own, so there's not a lot of uniformity to this release. The
picture and audio quality varies from barely presentable to downright awful.
Aside from the Van Nuys Blvd. commentary, a couple of other discs have
the "drive-in movie experience" feature, and there are a few trailers
to be found here and there.