The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962)
the brain that wouldn't die | joseph green | jason evers | virginia leith | anthony la penna | sci-fi | united states | mad scientist | monster | creature | adele lamont | bonnie sharie | paula morris | marilyn hanold | bruce brighton | arny freeman | fred martin
Film: The Brain That Wouldn’t Die
Director: Joseph Green
Writer: Joseph Green
Starring: Jason Evers, Virginia Leith and Anthony La Penna
This is one that I feel like I knew of or heard the title long before seeing this movie. It did appear in the Horror Show Guide encyclopedia of movies that I’m watching. I’ll be honest though, that first viewing, I wasn’t the biggest fan. It had been some time since I saw it though. I will also say that I did see the remake that took this into comedy at a film festival a couple years ago. After seeing that, it made me intrigued to revisit this one. This movie is about a doctor experimenting with transplant techniques keeps his girlfriend’s head alive when she is decapitated in a car crash and then goes hunting for a new body.
We start with doctors in surgery. In charge of this is Dr. Cortner (Bruce Brighton). Helping him is his son of Bill (Jason Evers). The patient doesn’t survive so they call it. Bill asks if he can use his experimental treatment that he thinks will save him. He is allowed to. He stimulates the patient’s brain with electricity while Dr. Cortner massages his heart. The patient comes back to life and survives the surgery.
Afterwards, they meet back in the room and Dr. Cortner tells his son that he can’t always take the chances with experiments like he did today. It isn’t safe and it is raising concern with the board of the hospital. There’s also talk about missing limbs and body parts. They are then joined by Jan Compton (Virginia Leith), who is dating Bill. Dr. Cortner also doesn’t like that Bill goes up to the country house as much as he does. He wants to sell the place ever since his wife and Bill’s mother passed away. Bill tells him he can’t and there is a tinge of panic. His father leaves to make a plane to go a conference. Bill then gets a call from a Kurt, telling him he needs to come to the country house at once. Bill asks if Jan wants to join him and see what he’s working on.
He is driving and going too fast. He doesn’t pay attention that there is a curve up ahead and he gets into a car accident. Bill is thrown from the car, but he survives it. Jan doesn’t seem as lucky. He takes something and flees from the car. At the country house, we meet his assistant, Kurt (Anthony La Penna). Bill took the head of Jan and has set it up with equipment to keeps it alive. There is a serum that he made that is keeping her that way.
This isn’t the first experiment he has done, but it is his most successful. One of the early ones was on Kurt and giving him a new left arm. It did takes and the hand has shriveled up. There is also something alive behind a locked door that Bill has created from amputated parts that he has taken over time. What is behind the door is strong and angry. Bill ignores this for now as he has limited time to find a new body for his girlfriend. When she wakes up and sees the state she is in, she is different too. She is jaded and has a new power that allows her to communicate with what is in the locked closet.
That is where I’ll leave my recap and introducing us to the characters a bit. Where I want to start is that this film is quite interesting. This one comes out an intriguing time. It is well after the Universal classics and is even late for the boom of science fiction of the 1950s. We are getting a transition here of incorporating those elements with what we would get in the late 1960s into the 1970s where humanity is more of the monster. For this one, we get an odd tone that is shlocky at times while also being grounded as well.
To delve a bit more into what I’ve referenced, I want to start with the character of Bill. We get an odd introduction to him. This movie is variation on the Frankenstein mythos. Dr. Cortner is old school. He does things by the book. He doesn’t like losing his patient, but his methods are within what they’re allowed. Bill is arrogant. He does something that is outside of the lines of what has been approved. The more we get to know him though, the more we see he is our villain. He would also fall into that mad scientist category. He is also a predator, which is where I’ll go next.
Bill isn’t dumb. He is out looking for someone to be a replacement body. This takes him to a cabernet show where he is considering strippers. He goes to a beauty contest and then to a model he knew in school. Bill knows what he is doing is wrong. He gets thwarted a few times when someone will recognize him or who is picking up. He doesn’t want to be seen by anyone as the last person with whoever goes missing. That is creepy. It does work though as I think it develops him into our villain and how far he will go to be right. Evers was good in this role. He fit what was needed to portray this.
Moving from there, I don’t want to harp on this too much, but I’m going to go into the science a bit. Keeping the head alive like it is probably wouldn’t work, but I do like the fact that they tried to make that as realistic as they could. It is interesting that at the time of this film, transplants were still relatively new. It does seem that Re-Animator took this idea for what they do with Dr. Hill. I can go with what the movie is doing though as it works in the logic of the movie and I can’t necessarily disprove anything.
Then the last part of the story I want to go into is Jan’s plight. I find it fascinating. She doesn’t want to live and Bill won’t let her die. She doesn’t want him to kill anyone to keep her alive. There is a question if the serum changes things to bring them back, like Re-Animator or Pet Semetary. She just seems bitter, but I can’t blame her either. I do think Leith does a good job there. It is interesting as well that there was a creature that was made, like Frankenstein’s Monster. It makes it more realistic that Bill practiced this before Jan was injured. What I will say as well is that this feels less like he truly wants to help her and more about proving his experiment by the end.
That is about the extent for the story I wanted to delve into. I’ve already said that I liked Evers and Leith’s performance. Everyone else does come off a bit robotic if I’m honest. La Penna is fine, but he gets so angry about things quickly. The women in the movie were attractive for the era. Marilyn Hanold plays Peggy Howard who is the model that Bill visits. She has a scar on her face that didn’t look great, but I can forgive that. I did like Brighton in his minor role. Other than that, the rest of the effects were fine. There should have been more blood from wounds, but I recognize the era. The creature we see later doesn’t look great either. The cinematography is fine. It isn’t doing anything too out of the ordinary. It is mostly static.
Now with that said, I wouldn’t recommend this film unless you are a fan of the era. This would be better to be watched from Mystery Science Theater, with their commentary would make it hilarious. To give credit, we are getting an interesting blend of horror and sci-fi. It comes out in a transition period. Evers and Leith are solid with the rest of the cast being a bit robotic for the most part. It was a little bit boring and that hurt it for me. It isn’t the worst or the best from the era. I did enjoy this more than the last time around. This movie is quite average though. I had more problems than good things so I’m coming in as it being just below that middle mark.
My Rating: 4.5 out of 10