by Larry Ham
The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is a sci-fi movie released in 1962. It was actually filmed and completed several years earlier, but because it’s so sick, twisted, dark, morbid and absurd, its release was delayed. Well, I should correct myself. It wasn’t delayed because of its absurdity. It became a cult classic because of its absurdity.
Dr. Bill Cortner is a scientist and surgeon who has been experimenting with human transplants. No, not in a good way, in an evil scientist way. He hasn’t had much success, as we find out at the end of the movie when we meet the slapped-together monster Dr. Cortner has hidden in a closet.
Dr. Cortner has a fine babe for a girlfriend named Jan. Bill and Jan are driving in the country one day when their car rolls and Jan is decapitated. There were no mandatory seat belt laws back then, and that’s actually a good thing for us, because if Jan had been belted in, she wouldn’t have lost her head, and this movie wouldn’t have been made. Oh wait, that would be a good thing.
Dr. Cortner grabs Jan’s severed head and scurries back to the laboratory, and keeps her head alive by placing it in a lasagna pan partially filled with head juice. This technology was pretty cutting edge at the time, and it would still be pretty amazing today to see it happen, especially when you consider Jan is able to talk. I’m not sure how she breathes without lungs, but whatever. I think this movie is the reason why Ted Williams’ family had his head frozen after he died, but I digress.
Dr. Cortner begins a search for a replacement body for Jan, and interviews a whole slew of floozies, strippers, dancers and other assorted women. This is when the movie is really hard to watch. It’s simply disgusting the way this guy auditions these girls like they were just pieces of furniture. And coincidentally, the girls all seem to have the I.Q. of an end table.
Cortner finally settles on a girl named Doris, takes her back to the lab, and just as he’s about to chop off her head, the monster in the closet breaks out and kills him, right after he pulls the arm off of Bill’s assistant, Kurt. The lab goes up in flames and the entire cast is wiped out, except for Doris, who escapes. And a nice little surprise at the end is when the credits roll, the name of the movie suddenly changes to “The Head That Wouldn’t Die”. The person who was in charge of continuity is currently serving a fifty-year prison term.
This movie has pretty much an unknown cast. Jason Evers plays Dr, Bill, and does a decent job, but this role was tailor made to destroy a career. Evers managed to survive, however, and had a pretty good career in television. He died in 2005 at the age of 83.
Virginia Leith plays Jan, and it’s a role that must have been difficult to get motivated for. I mean, I assume she just sat in a chair with her head sticking up through a table. They didn’t really cut her head off did they?
Everyone else in this insane movie is utterly forgettable, and I’m sure they would just as soon forget it as well.
The Brain That Wouldn’t Die has established itself as a cult favorite because of its dark mood, crazy plot and whacked out special effects. It was shot in black and white, adding to the depressing mood of the film. It’s almost difficult to sit through the middle of the film, when Dr Bill is searching for a body for Jan. But it’s worth the wait because simply put, the monster in the closet is pure fifties sci-fi perfection. He’s everything you’d want to see in a Frankenstein type of monster that looks like he was put together by a blind guy.
The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is a must for any collector of 50s and 60s sci-fi. It’s gross, stupid, absurd, and goofy. But that’s why we love these movies, right? It’s now in public domain and can be downloaded free of charge at archive.org.