The key to a great horror film is that one image that can strike fear in an audience while also being the moment the viewers tell friends is why they have to go see it now. “You gotta see it when…” moment is essential to a film’s legacy. The Brain That Wouldn’t Die had that iconic image with a woman’s head kept alive in an unorthodox manner. This was a film that always got a buzz when it ran on the Creature Double Feature in Boston. How could the idea of severed head being able to talk not be a subject of elementary school science. We didn’t know that this wasn’t a medical documentary. The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is now getting an amazing Blu-ray release thanks to Scream Factory so she’s more alive than ever in the pan.
Dr. Bill Cortner (Jason Evers) is a radical surgeon who doesn’t care about those ethics rules about experimenting on patients. His dad (Bruce Brighton) doesn’t approve of his methods when the son does a bit of medical meddling on a dead patient to bring the man back to life. He’s proud that his son was a success, but isn’t quite happy knowing is kid is Dr. Frankenstein Jr. He speaks of a future where human parts will be interchangeable. He has a new compound and techniques to bring this future around. He’s in a bit of hot water for taking off with limbs after various amputations. He also has a sexy nurse assistant (Virginia Leith) that will soon be his bride. He drives her to his upstate retreat in a reckless manner. This leads to an accident where her head gets cut off. Instead of just mourning her passing, he puts her head in a turkey pan and brings her back to life. Turns out his upstate lair is a mad scientist’s lab. There’s a brain creature and a giant hidden away in a closet. Dr. Cortner can’t stand just being married to a head so he makes plan to find a body hotter than his fiance once had. He’s not going to wait for an accident. He hits the striptease circuit looking for the bottom half of the new Mrs. Cortner. At the same time, the head discovers she’s got strange psychic control powers.
It would be easy to write off The Brain That Wouldn’t Die as another low budget film that had a cheap gimmick. The film remains a fascinating tale as it deals with questions of how far can medical science go to maintain life. The head repeatedly begs to die. She’s not excited at getting a new body. She’s tired of being on life support. The film elevates as it deals with medical ethics. What is the price of living? The score by Abe Baker and Tony Restaino adds so much tension to the scenes.
This is the 83 minute cut. AIP had originally snipped it down to 70 minutes so it could be double billed with Invasion of the Star Creatures. If you only have memories of when the movie aired on WLVI 56’s Creature Double Feature, you’ll be getting more of a good thing. There’s a little more gore and a lot more striptease action. The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is more than just a head in a pan. It’s a masterpiece of the screen.
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The black and white transfer is amazing. After decades of crummy prints and washed out video transfers, this 1080p version is sharp. Between the resolution and the longer cut, it’s a new experience for old fans. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. The mix really brings out the richness to the score. The movie is subtitled.
Audio Commentary with film historian Steve Haberman and Tony Sasso dips deep into the movie’s production and legacy.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” (92:25) is the first Mike Nelson episode. The focus is on whether Mike is ready to be the main part of the big experiment. The Bots are worried that their new friend will escape like Joel just did.
Alternate Model Footage (1:26) is a new version of the scene where the doctor meets the body he needs for his head. Instead of modeling in her bra, she’s topless. There’s no sound as she strikes a pose for the camera club members. This was supposed to be for the European cut. Did they advertise this as the first topless and top only movie?
Photo Gallery (3:46) is the various promo pics from the production. They include the lobby cards.
Theatrical Trailer (1:54) warns us of what happens when doctor’s go out of control. It’s a jazzy promo. The “Let me die” moment was probably a shocker for 1962 audiences.
<I>The Brain That Wouldn’t Die</i> is a classic of sci-fi horror. Sure it’s a simple special effect of a head sticking out of the pan. The passionate argument about the importance of medical ethics in the absurdity elevates the film.
Scream Factory presents <I>The Brain That Wouldn’t Die</i>. Directed by: Joseph Green. Screenplay by: Rex Carlton & Joseph Green. Starring: Jason Evers, Virginia Leith & Eddie Carmel. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 83 minutes. Released: December 22, 2015.
Tags: Scream Factory, The Brain That Wouldn't Die