B-movie revivalist Larry Blamire is back with "Trail of the Screaming Forehead."
After camping it up in “The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra,” B-movie (or is it Z-movie?) revivalist Larry Blamire is back with “Trail of the Screaming Forehead,” which outdoes its predecessor in ambition and technique, not to mention sheer frontal lobage. Lensed in blinding color (here called Cranioscope), fun pic sticks to 1950s sci-fi conventions while turning a fond, if jaundiced, eye on their more naive qualities. Well-tempered effort, with sharper thesping from helmer’s usual troupe, could blaze wider trails for Blamire if adventurous distribbers scream loud enough. Imprimatur of Ray Harryhausen, who influenced the delightful stop-motion animation here, can’t hurt.
Tale of ’50s small-town academics gone wild hinges on sexy researcher Sheila Bexter (Fay Masterson), who’s come to believe the forehead, not the brain, is the seat of all intelligence — or “thinking-up-stuff ability,” as the pic’s deliberately stiff script would have it. She manages to cajole married colleague Phillip Latham (cast standout Andrew Parks) into taking injections of cranium-enlarging “Foreheadazine” to prove her theory. This, sadly, happens at the same moment a load of furrowed brows arrive from outer space, the better to attach themselves to hapless humans who, naturally enough, keep poking them with sticks and such.
Also on the scene are two superannuated seamen, Big Dan Frater (Alan Hale Jr. lookalike Brian Howe) and his smaller sidekick Dutch “the Swede” Annacrombie (Dan Conroy), arriving in fictional Longhead Bay to sniff out trouble. While shoring up at a local B&B already overrun by pod people, they befriend bubbly librarian Millie (hilariously scene-stealing Alison Martin), who helps them figure out what’s going on around town. (The first clue is that locals keep checking out the surprising number of books on foreheadology.)
Unfortunately, Big Dan’s drinking habits also allow small-time hood Nick Vassedine (Blamire) and his oblivious moll Droxy Chappelle (Jennifer Blaire, nicely channeling Susan Hayward) to overhear the fact that the sailors’ cargo is a boatload of fresh-frozen cadavers. This gives them the perfect opportunity to score more Foreheadazine — although Dr. Latham’s pipe-smoking head is, by then, already as big as a church bell.
The not-quite-right names, nonsensical plot turns and belabored pseudo-scientific gibberish are all nicely tuned, capturing the know-nothing ethos of Eisenhower-era filmmakers angling to cash in on events (and better movies) they only vaguely understood. Dick Tracy colors, wonderfully clunky staging, and lush musical interludes — including Blamire’s “Love Ballad of the Screaming Forehead,” performed by Manhattan Transfer and a cappella by Blaire — add to the sense of a forgotten comicbook sprung to life.
Of course, even at a tidy 88 minutes, pic won’t appeal to auds who don’t find low culture amusing. Oldsters, in any case, will enjoy brief visits from little-seen vets such as James Karen, Betty Garrett (Parks’ mom) and Dick Miller, as well as Kevin McCarthy (“Invasion of the Body Snatchers”), who — as end credits show — arrived too late for actual shooting, but got included anyway.