- Street Date:
- March 22nd, 2016
- Reviewed by:
- Matthew Hartman
- Review Date: 1
- March 11th, 2016
- Movie Release Year:
- Kino Lorber
- 83 Minutes
- Release Country
- United States
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Part of the fun of so many B-Movie horror pictures is that they were all inspired by something. Some better movie or novel came along and inspired dozens of imitators to the point that the place of origin has become a bit of a mystery. Robert Heinlein's 1951 novel 'The Puppet Masters' inspired not only its own 1994 film adaptation but it also inspired Jack Finney's own novel about possession by an alien organism 'The Body Snatchers' which was adapted into no less than four films. For science fiction novelist and screenwriter Curt Siodmak it is his 1942 novel 'Donovan's Brain' that would be adapted into its own chilling spine-tingling film in 1953, but also inspire numerous ripoff adaptations.
For brilliant surgeon Dr. Patrick Cory (Lew Ayres), his abilities as a healer are out-shined by his ambition as a scientist. When he isn't healing patients and performing life-saving surgeries, he's perfecting an experimental procedure that could change medical science and save lives - in one form or another. With his wife Janice (Nancy Davis - A.K.A. the late former First Lady Nancy Reagan) and his sometimes alcohol dependent partner Dr. Frank Schratt (Gene Evans), Patrick has perfected a procedure enabling him to remove the brain of a human being from a damaged body and preserve it allowing the brain to live independent from a host. After a terrible plane crash killed numerous people, Patrick and Frank were placed in the care of the critically injured W.H. Donovan, a ruthless millionaire who was being investigated by the government.
Because of his extensive injuries, Patrick and Frank weren't able to save Donovan's life - but they were able to save his brain! As Patrick, Frank, and Janice observe the brain around the clock hoping that it doesn't perish, Patrick has the brilliant idea that the brain may be trying to communicate. As they monitor the energy output of Donovan's brain, they sense an increase in electrical output. By increasing the nutritional input to the brain, Donovan's brain develops the ability to communicate telepathically with Patrick. As the brain increases in size, its abilities continue to grow allowing it to take control of Patrick against his will and force him to do its evil bidding ranging from consolidating Donovan's hidden assets to even committing murder!
If it sounds like you have seen 'Donovan's Brain' before or have at least heard of it, you probably have. The original novel was the subject of a two-part radio show performed by Orson Wells, and was essentially ripped off for the 1962 film 'The Brain That Wouldn't Die' as well as later films including 'The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant,' 'The Thing With Two Heads,' and ultimately topped by the hilarious Steve Martin 1983 film 'The Man With Two Brains.' When a story is taken and used and reused for multiple films over and over again, it becomes easy to forget the brilliance of the original film and its source novel.
Hidden deep down in my lockbox of rare collectibles I have a pulp paper back release of this novel from the early 1950s. It's a heck of a book, filled with some creepy story telling and heavy themes about the ramifications of seemingly benevolent scientific exploration and breakthroughs. It's a rich and unsettling novel that hits on the fears of communism. This film adaptation which was scripted - and was originally was going to be directed by Curt Siodmak - perfectly captures the essence of the novel and the fears of the unknown, that people could be controlled against their will through no fault of their own. Like so many sci-fi and horror stories and films of the era, it latches onto the Red Scare fears and doesn't let go. Sure the movie is a bit cheesy, yes the titular brain in question is basically a big rubber balloon in a fish tank being poked by sticks, but it's the idea behind the movie that makes it so damn creepy.
It's probably a fear of not being in control of myself that keeps me from having any addictive tendencies. It's also why I am eternally creeped out by films like 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers,' John Carpenter's 'The Thing,' and even 'Donovan's Brain.' It had been years since I last saw this movie and it was a great time to reacquaint myself with it. Without giving away spoilers, I was struck by how dark and ominous the ending of the film was. It goes dark in a way that while the film does end on a traditional upbeat note, it left the idea hanging that the technology that Dr. Cory created is out there in the world and the genie won't be going back into the bottle. Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved movies like 'Donovan's Brain.' I can't count the number of hours my Dad and I spent watching movies like this and it's great to see that the movie still holds up over sixty years after it's original release. If you have a love for 1950s era sci-fi, you should take 80-minutes out of your busy schedule to give this one a watch. It's a classic in my book.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Donovan's Brain' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics line. Pressed onto a Region A Locked BD25 disc, the disc is housed in a standard Blu-ray case and opens directly to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Given the film's age and standing as a somewhat forgotten B-level sci-fi flick, the 1.37:1 1080p transfer provided for this release of 'Donovan's Brain' is actually pretty fantastic looking. The film's black levels and grey scale allow for an appreciable sense of depth to the image. Film grain has been retained allowing for a pleasing amount of detail levels to come through - and even risks exposing some of the technological limitations of the creature effects of the era, that brain looks amazing! It's fun to notice all of the details that went into creating Dr. Cory's laboratory. The really impressive aspect of this transfer is how clean it looks. This newly remastered transfer was sourced from a fantastic print and is virtually spotless without any noticeable damage or speckling. As a fan of this flick, I'm very happy to see it in such great shape!
The Audio: Rating the Sound
With a DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track, 'Donovan's Brain' comes through crystal clear and perhaps a tad louder than one would initially expect. I can't tell if this is a part of the initial mix or if it's the result of a transfer issue but you may want to make sure your volume is lowered at the start and adjust it to a comfortable level from there. The leveling of the mix is also a bit odd because I can detect some slight hiss, but it isn't strong enough to be distracting. To that end, dialogue is perfectly registered so you never miss a line. The sound effects, score, and dialogue occupy enough separation to give the track a sense of spacing and atmosphere. All around this is a fantastic audio track - even if it's a bit on the loud side of things.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
Audio Commentary: Film historian Richard Harland Smith provides a solid commentary track for this movie that's loaded with trivia and enough interesting material to keep things fun.
Trailers From Hell: (HD 2:41) Director Joe Dante gives this movie a nice introduction - like many of these 'Trailers From Hell' segments I wish they were longer interviews with their respective filmmaker, Dante clearly loves this flick and has a lot to say about it.
Theatrical Trailer: (HD 2:02)
'The Magnetic Monster' Trailer: (HD 2:21)
'The Black Sleep' Trailer: (HD 1:36)
'Donovan's Brain' is a classic piece of early 1950s sci-fi filmmaking. While it would go on to inspire a number of rip-offs and remakes, the original is still the best and just as creepy as ever. Kino Lorber has nailed this Blu-ray release with a fantastic image transfer and a very strong audio track along with some decent extra features. 'Donovan's Brain' is highly recommended.
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English DTS-HD MA 2.0
- Audio Commentary
- Trailers From Hell
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