I watched 32 of these movies so you don’t have to.
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 set.
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)
A model 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 padding galore.
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 map.
• 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 Hatch.
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.
Observation: There’s so much alcohol consumption in this movie, I thought I was going to get contact drunk.
• 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.
Observation: 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 win.
• 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 naughty” fun.
Observation: Who would’ve thought that drug dealers spend so much time lounging around the pool outside their palatial mansions?
• 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 (1964)
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 (1969)
A well-respected lawyer has a hot n’ sweaty affair with his precocious teen babysitter, and this gets him in trouble with a vicious motorcycle gang.
Observation: It’s every bit as icky and uncomfortable as I just made it sound.
• Weekend with the Babysitter (1971)
Essentially the 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’ hippies.
Observation: Less icky than the previous movie, but still icky.
• 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 and prostitution.
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 racing ensue.
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 (1976)
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” Robert Carradine.
Observation: If your opinion of football players is that they’re a bunch of lunkheads, this movie will do nothing to change your mind.
• Double Exposure (1983)
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 wife.
Observation: In case you haven’t already guessed, this one’s pretty sleazy.
• 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 sleaze.
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.