The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962) d. Joseph Green (USA)
Brash young surgeon Bill Cortner (TV mainstay Jason Evers, billed as Herb at the time), having developed a serum that keeps human tissue alive even after being separated from the body, decides to run off with his fiancée’s head (Virginia Leith) following a tragic auto accident. He props it up in his out-of-the-way country lab for safekeeping until he can find another host body (preferably a hot rockin’ one) to stick it back on, hitting up various strippers (blonde Bonnie Sharie, brunette Paula Maurice) and models (Adele Lamont) along the way.
“Jan in the Pan” (as she was later dubbed by the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew) doesn’t cotton much to these shenanigans and, armed with newly found telepathic powers, enlists the aid of a homicidal mutant collection of limbs (acromegaly victim and sideshow attraction Eddie Carmel aka “The Jewish Giant”) secreted away behind the thick basement laboratory door.
Writer/director Green (who conceived the story with producer Rex Carlton) plays this admittedly goofy premise refreshingly straight, and Leith’s arc from moaning disembodied victim (“Let me die... let me die”) to snarling disembodied avenger is quite enjoyable, as is Evers’ slippery smooth amorality. There's also a great bluesy brass soundtrack by Abe Baker and Tony Restaino, as well as some well-selected library cues.
Shout! Factory, in their infinitely enjoyable fashion, has elected to give this bargain-basement public-domain flick the gold-star treatment, lavishing it with a feature-length commentary track and the complete MST3K episode with Mike Nelson (his debut after creator Joel Robinson bowed out as onscreen human host) and the ’bots roasting the flick properly. It’s also the first time that the uncut version of Brain (boasting some surprising gore sequences for its time) has been seen in high-def, remastered from the original negative! I mean, WOW. And HUH?
Unfortunately, the commentary, led by veteran schlock film historian Steve Haberman, is marred by the presence of “author” Tony Sasso, who apparently has written a book on the film’s origins. I say “apparently” because for someone who has presumably researched the background and/or watched the film a number of times, Sasso is woefully inept in recalling basic plot points and brings nothing to the table except a few half-baked theories about Carmel’s grotesque character representing Bill’s locked-away homosexual urges and Oedipal issues. (It also bears noting that I cannot find any trace of said book on Amazon or anywhere else on the WWW, sooooo... who knows.)
|Sometimes a mutant in the closet is just a mutant in the closet.|
This leaves most of the heavy lifting to Haberman, who clearly knows his stuff even if he doesn’t enjoy the film, although he does admit to a few moments of frisson when Jan’s noggin starts mirthlessly chuckling to herself. One wishes Sasso hadn’t been there taking up valuable oxygen, even if Haberman does get a few laughs in at his expense, since the latter is constantly cranking out factoids such as the film’s initial year of completion being 1959 but AIP holding off on picking it up until 1962 or quoting from Roman Polanski’s The Tenant or comparing/contrasting Brain with Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (which was also completed in 1959... and released in the U.S. in 1962!) Sasso, on the other hand, is there to narrate the onscreen action (“Well, here we are back in the lab,”) and little else.
|"In the lab, huh? Gee, thanks, Tony. I thought maybe I'd gone for a walk. Gahhhh."|
There’s also a racy, rarely seen alternate take from the film's international release, featuring Lamont in the altogether as she models before the hungry eyes of skin mag photographers, and a still gallery to round out the extras.
The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is available now on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE: