‘Alive… without a body… fed by an unspeakable horror from hell!’
The Brain That Wouldn’t Die aka The Head That Wouldn’t Die is a 1959 science-fiction horror feature film directed by Joseph Green from a screenplay co-written with producer Rex Carlton (Unearthly Stranger; The Devil’s Hand; Nightmare in Wax; Blood of Dracula’s Castle).
The movie stars Herb Evers (Barracuda; Basket Case 2), Virginia Leith (Great Ghost Tales; One Step Beyond) and Leslie Daniel [Anthony La Penna] (later a dubbing actor on Italian trash movies such as Strip Nude for Your Killer; Eaten Alive! and Cannibal Ferox).
In 2020, the movie was remade by producer and director Derek Carl.
The film’s working title was The Black Door and it remained unreleased until May 3, 1962, when it was picked up for distribution by American International Pictures (AIP). It eventually lapsed into the public domain and was released many times on VHS and then on DVD in various states of quality but usually poor.
In 2002, an uncut, 35mm print was used for the Special Edition DVD release by Synapse Films. Running 85 minutes, this version features more of the stripper catfight, as well as shocking (for the time) gore. Some stills – featured as extras on the DVD – feature topless nudity shot for an overseas version. Extras include the amusing theatrical trailer and a gallery of ten behind-the-scenes stills that opens with a shot of a topless actress being molested by the monster.
On 22 December 2015, the film was released on Blu-ray by Scream Factory. This version of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is uncut and includes parts of the brain surgery scene that were missing from previous releases. Extras are:
- High Definition (1080p) Transfer from the negative restored to its uncut version
- Mystery Science Theater 3000 Episode – The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (Standard Definition)
- Audio Commentary by Film Historian and author Steve Haberman and Writer Tony Sasso
- Alternate nude scene from The International Cut
- Theatrical trailer
- Still gallery
Doctor Bill Cortner (Jason Evers) is a successful scientist with a beautiful fiancée named Jan Compton (Virginia Leith). After a horrible car accident decapitates Jan, Doctor Cortner collects her severed head and rushes it to his laboratory, where he revives it and manages to keep it alive in a liquid-filled tray.
Cortner now decides to commit murder to obtain an attractive new body to attach to his fiancée’s head. As he hunts for a suitable specimen, Jan begins to hatch some murderous plans of her own. Filled with hatred for Cortner because he won’t let her die, she communicates telepathically with a hideous mutant in the laboratory cell, telling it to kill the scientist…
This gleefully lurid 1959 sci-fi horror has built a deserved cult reputation over the years. The camp scenes of Virginia Leith’s supposedly severed head arguing with a deformed lab assistant, or grimacing wildly while using her mind to control a dreaded thing-in-the-closet are priceless.
Meanwhile, the chain-smoking mad doctor’s search for the perfect female specimen provides the obvious excuse for cheesy scenes in which he checks out buxom babes via beauty pageants, gyrating go-go dancers, a high-heeled catfight and a model he hires to pose for ‘glamour’ shots. Naturally, the latter has a scarred face, making her the prime choice for the randy would-be Doc Frankenstein.
The movie looks more recent than its 1959 vintage, due to writer and first-time director Joseph Green’s use of location shooting, point-of-view shots and hand-held camerawork, of which gives it an urgency lacking in many of the studio-bound genre pics of the period. It also features some surprisingly graphic black-and-white gore. For some reason, all the original promo artwork features a brain floating in a tank of liquid, which is fine. Except that the brain has a large beady eye!
Adrian J Smith, MOVIES and MANIA
“It is perhaps more popular than if it was superior – under a less-exploitive title. The Shout! Factory Blu-ray offers a lot! – and it’s one we can wholeheartedly recommend to any fans even remotely keen. Such fun.” DVD Beaver
“It actually starts out like a serious movie by raising some good issues about medical research. Later on, it briefly raises some issues about personal identity and the relationship between the body and the mind. But these thoughtful moments seem accidental. The movie is really about cheap sleaze. It’s campy, misanthropic, almost immoral…” David Elroy Goldweber, Claws & Saucers
“Yucky stuff, as lowbrow as Z movies get, with an awful scene where a monster in a closet yanks a man’s arm from its socket. Joseph Green wrote-directed this cheapie, which has developed a cult following among weirdos.” John Stanley, Creature Features
” … jumps between sci-fi-tinged fright flick, filled with the FX-driven campiness that one expects from these golden-era genre films, and sleaze-filled creepshow, defined by the genuinely impressive cinematography and scandalous dialogue. In that sense, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is certainly a cult movie in its own right but doesn’t quite fall into the laughably bad territory that some of its less-capable counterparts may reside.” Fangoria
” … wildly innovative, deeply flawed and fabulously fetishized psychosexual mad science moviemaking at its finest and even if you think you know the film, seeing the extended version presented here via Scream Factory is an even more astonishing revelation.” Shock Till You Drop
“No, the alcoholic has his bottle. The dope addict has his needle. I had my research. I used to be a surgeon. It used to be my life!”
“The line between scientific genius and obsessive fanaticism is a thin one.”
Cast and characters:
• Jason Evers … Doctor Bill Cortner (as Herb Evers)
• Virginia Leith … Jan Compton / Jan in the Pan
• Anthony La Penna … Kurt (as Leslie Daniel)
• Adele Lamont … Doris Powell
• Bonnie Sharie … Blonde Stripper
• Paula Morris … Brunet Stripper
• Marilyn Hanold … Peggy Howard (as Marlyn Hanold)
• Bruce Brighton … Doctor Cortner
• Arny Freeman … Photographer
• Fred Martin … Medical Assistant
• Lola Mason … Donna Williams
• Doris Brent … Nurse
• Bruce Kerr … Beauty Contest M.C.
• Audrey Devereau … Jeannie Reynolds
• Eddie Carmel … Monster
• Tarrytown, New York
• 82 minutes
• Black and white
• Aspect ratio: 1.66: 1
• Audio: Mono
The movie was shot in just thirteen days.
The Psychotronic Video Guide by Michael J. Weldon includes lots of interesting trivia about the film and cast.
Image credits: DVD Beaver