The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)

“Nothing you can be is more terrible than what I am.”

Directed by: Joseph Green

Starring: Jason Evers, Virginia Leith, Anthony La Penna, Eddie Carmel

In a Nutshell:

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is a schlocky mad scientist flick that has become an object of fun thanks to the likes of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Sure, it has plenty to laugh at it you want to go down that route, but it also creates a genuinely dark, ghoulish, sleazy atmosphere and has everything a cult movie fan could want – severed heads, mutant creatures, murderous schemes, cat-fighting strippers, and plenty of sex and gore (for its time). The Man with Two Brains was basically a comedy remake.

The Plot:

Here’s what happens in the first 20 minutes of this movie..

  1. Brilliant but arrogant surgeon Dr Bill Cortner (Evers) has found a way to reanimate dead tissue. He brings a patient back to life by stimulating the man’s brain, then asks his dad (the senior surgeon) if he can borrow some more limbs from the morgue for his experiments at home.
  2. On the way out to his country house, Cortner drives like a twat and prangs his car. His gorgeous fiancée Jan (Leith) is decapitated in the accident.
  3. With the help of his Igor-like assistant Kurt (La Penna) the mad doctor successfully brings Jan’s severed head back to life.
  4. The monstrous result of Cortner’s previous tinkering with dead flesh is locked in the closet, and it’s pretty angry.
  5. Estimating that Jan only has 48-50 hours to live in her disembodied state, Cortner goes out to find her a perfect replacement body.

That’s just the first act. While Cortner is out looking for the ideal bod, Jan is developing a telepathic link with the closet creature and plotting her revenge…

Virginia Leith in The Brain That Wouldn't Die

Notable Performances:

Virginia Leith puts in some pretty strong work (comparatively for a low-grade B-movie like this) as Jan. With her head wrapped in bandages and only her face visible for most of the movie, she successfully conveys Jan’s anguish, despair, intelligence and resolve, making her a sympathetic and compelling character.

Jason Evers as Dr Cortner is an enjoyably loathsome character. The guy has absolutely no morals or ethics whatsoever, and he’s obviously loving body shopping for his wife-to-be. This tips the movie into sleazy territory as Cortner cruises the cabarets and strip clubs looking for his idea of the perfect physique. He’s totally at ease in this environment, and he certainly seems no stranger to chatting up strippers and prostitutes…

Musical Moments:

The movie’s score by Abe Baker and Tony Restaino contributes hugely to the film’s tawdry vibe. Entitled “The Web”, it adds a sinister edge to the lab scenes, while the sax-and-piano cruising theme is the perfect accompaniment to Dr Cortner’s brothel-creeping and kerb-crawling.

Dated/Troublesome Stuff:

Here’s the surprising thing about The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. For such a cheap exploitation flick, it feels way ahead of its time in how it deals with toxic masculinity. Dr Cortner is a thoroughly gross character, trying to find a hot body for Jan in the same way a guy might choose some sexy lingerie for his girlfriend, basing his choice on what he finds arousing.

Once he’s found his ideal figure, he’s quite willing to take the girl home, drug her, and take what he wants from her. Similarly, he’s not interested in Jan’s protests – he is just not willing to take “no” for an answer.

There’s also an interesting scene when a young model is having her photo taken by a gaggle of enthusiastic male photographers. The woman is in the foreground while the guys are snapping away in the background, but the scene is played in such a way and drags on to such an extent that our attention isn’t captured by the topless girl, but by the desperate behaviour of the photographers – it flips the male gaze back on itself and makes it look absolutely pathetic.

Against this backdrop of sexism and pure sweaty-palmed objectification of the female form, Jan comes across as a strong feminist hero. Reduced to just her mind, her personality and her strength of character, she’s the strong centre of the film, and we’ve no doubt that she will get her revenge despite her obvious disadvantages.

Sex and Violence:

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die was pretty racy for its time, although very tame by today’s standards. Apart from some scantily clad women walking around the cabaret and the previously mentioned catfight and photoshoot, we also have a swimsuit competition, obviously wedged in there as an excuse to have some more half-naked women in the movie.

There is a surprising amount of gore for a film as old as this – one guy gets an arm torn off, another gets a lump ripped out of his face. It’s used sparingly but is pretty effective. When we finally get to see the mutant in the closet, the makeup effects are fairly decent for the time.

Verdict:

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is proof positive that a cheap, badly made film can still be a great movie. It’s campy, it’s sleazy, it’s melodramatic – but it’s also surprisingly intelligent and genuinely creepy, with a terrific central character and some indelible imagery. It’s a great pick for a late-night bad movie night.

Rating: 1.95 out of 2.5

If you love this, also check out: The Man With Two Brains, Re-Animator

Trailer:

 

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The Brain That Wouldn't Die Blu-ray

 

 

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