The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)

Directed by Joseph Green

Written by Rex Carlton and Joseph Green

Tagline: "Alive…without a body…fed by an unspeakable horror from hell!"

Run Time: 82 min

“You’re nothing but a freak of life! And, a freak of death!”
- Kurt


There’s something delightful about heads and brains in jars, well, the heads and brains that manage to stay alive while "living" in jars, vats of bubbly-liquid, and so on. One of my favorite"brain" films is in fact Steve Martin’s hilarious 1983 comedy The Man With Two Brains (I especially enjoyed the sobriety test the police give him…great stuff.)

I digress. Our feature film, "The Brain That Wouldn’t Die" is rather mistitled in my opinion. (It’s original title was in fact the more appropriate "The Head That Wouldn’t Die"…I have no idea why they changed it.) It’s actually a disembodied head in a tray of fluid. The head can talk of course (how does it speak without lungs?), and eventually gets rather pissed off at having to live in a cookie pan. Unfortunately for the doctor whose keeping it alive, there is also a monster living in a closet that the head can control. The head eventually compels the monster to kill the doctor. To top it all off, a bottle of something-or-other falls to the floor, bursts into flame (!), and the lab is consumed in a massive blaze.

What a joy this is going to be! Let’s get started.

Bill Dr. Bill Cortner (Jason Evers)

Jason Evers has appeared in over 20 films in his 30 year career including "Escape From the Planet of the Apes", "Devil Bear", and "Basket Case 2." However, he is certainly best remembered from this film as the misguided and lustful transplant pioneer, Dr. Bill Cortner.
Jan Jan Compton (Virginia Leith)

Poor Jan. Out for a drive with her fiancee Bill, only to wind up as a head in a photo developing tray. The serum her mad fiancee uses to keep her alive also gives her telepathic powers. Go figure.
Kurt Kurt (Leslie Daniels)

Dr. Cortner’s assistant, a once skilled surgeon who lost his arm in a "laboratory accident". Dontcha just hate when that happens? Anyway, he puts up with Bill and his nagging head of a fiancee in the hopes that Bill will somehow transplant a new arm onto him one day. Yeah right, don’t hold your breathe.
Doris Doris Powell (Adele Lamont)

The terribly "deformed" woman who bitterly "hates all men" because some guy gave her a scar by her left ear. She finally trusts Bill only to be drugged and nearly have her body removed from her head, or vise versa.

Our feature presentation begins in an operating room. A pair of doctors and a couple of assistants are gathered around an operating table looking at a recently deceased patient. The lead physician, Dr. Cortner, remarks "I should have known he was as good as dead when they wheeled him in." Gee, don’t like try or anything. Remind me to never go to this hospital. As the seconds tick by (slowly), the second doctor, Dr. Cortner’s son, Bill, wants to try something "my way." Corner senior scolds him by saying, "The operating room is no place to experiment!" Bill points out, "He’s dead, I can’t do any harm…"

I believe the next of kin might want to have a say in what happens to a deceased relative. You would think that doctors might be required to ask for permission before experimenting on dead patients…but I guess not in this universe.

"Very well," Cortner acquiesces, "The corpse is yours. Do what you want to do." (See above paragraph regarding next of kin.)

BrainWith his father’s approval, Bill orders the chest to be opened, an electrical current to be applied to the heart, followed immediately by manual massage (on the heart…not on himself.) Bill notes that he’ll handle "the brain area." (Gee, that sounds so professional, doesn’t it? I expect he’ll start singing "the hip bone’s connected to the leg bone…" any second now.)

Bill’s father gets right to work opening the chest cavity with a scalpel (Wow! Sharp scalpel! I thought they used a bone cutter, but I’m no doctor…). Meanwhile, Bill opens the skull and applies a jolt of electricity to the brain "area".

A nurse notes with surprise that the dead man has regained a pulse. "It’s unbelievable!" says one of the nurses. "Nothing’s unbelievable if you have the nerve to experiment…", replies Bill. As the man’s pulse and breathing become stronger, Bill tells his father he’s been "working on something like this for weeks." Wow! Bill discovered how to resurrect the dead in just a couple weeks! I smell a Nobel prize in the works, I tell ya!

After the patient is wheeled out, Cortner senior says that although the operation was "amazing…even extraordinary", (Gee, you think?) he still thinks the procedure is too risky. Too risky!? What is the worst that could happen? The patient is dead you numbskull! Bill points out that he did, in fact, save the patient’s life, but his father is concerned with the after effects (not to beat a dead horse here, but the patient is alive, i.e., not dead, I think that fact alone would make any number of so called "after effects" acceptable.)

As father and son wash up, Bill confesses his dream of transplanting"body parts and organs" so that they can replace diseased and damaged parts "as easily as the replace eye corneas now!" In a burst of witty dialog, Bill’s father shouts, "It can’t be done!" to which Bill retorts "It CAN be done!" Auteur! Auteur!

KissBack in the operator room, Bill’s fiancee, Jan walks in and says to Bill, "I’m so proud I could kiss you." (Wow! Passion!) Assuring her soon to be father-in-law that if she and Bill ever have children "they won’t be test tube babies!" (Ummm…that’s probably a little more information than he needed), Bill reminds his father that he better hurry if he’s going to make the plane to Denver for "that medical convention." (Ohhh! THAT medical convention!)

Jan leaves to check on Cortner Sr.’s plane reservations. Bill’s father warns him that he just can’t cover up for him anymore, in fact, the hospital superintendent suspects Bill of stealing limbs "from the amputee operations." (Just how in the hell does he do that? Hide under the operating table and sneak off with them when they’re hacked off?)

Bill notes that he and Jan are headed up to the "country house" for the weekend. Bill’s father makes his exit with a few more words of warning. After he’s off scene, Jan says to the icy, steel-eyed Bill, "Every time you touch me I go out of my mind." A line delivered with, oh, null conviction.

An urgent call from "Kurt", Bill’s assistant at his secret lab at the summer house, (Ooops! I hope I didn’t give anything away!) sends Bill and Jan racing up into the mountains to see what it is that has him so upset.

On the way up Jan peppers Bill with questions regarding his research. (This scene is shot from behind their heads, reminding me very much of similar scenes in "Manos: The Hands of Fate"…<gasp>, just thinking about that movie….<shudder>)

Bill is as elusive as ever, and ends the conversation by telling her in so many words that she’ll see what it is when she gets there. Suddenly noting that he "better hurry", Bill floors the gas pedal resulting in a sped-up sequence of POV-driving down a windy road.

CrashI hope you’re not too surprised when I say that his irresponsible driving results in a horrible crash. Bill is thrown from the wreckage (simulated by a shot of him rolling down a grassy hill as fast as he can…a hill which in no way matches the hill that the car crashed on.) Catching his breathe, Bill stumbles over to the burning vehicle and looks inside. Bill reaches in and bundles something up in his coat (gee…I wonder what that is?), which he proceeds to tuck under his arm and then flees to the country house on foot. (You would think that the police might have a few questions regarding the headless body of his fiancee, but this small detail is never mentioned.)

A long sequence of scenes shows Bill running through the woods with a mysterious bundle cradled in his arms. A sight that would certainly arouse suspicion, one would think.

Bill eventually arrives at the summer house and frantically bangs on the door, shouting for Kurt to let him in. (Never mind that it’s broad daylight outside the house but pitch black when Kurt opens the door…) Bill staggers inside with his bloody cargo mumbling, "I’ve got to save her…I’ve got to save her…" Kurt wants to see what’s it is that is wrapped up in Bill’s jacket but is commanded to "sterilize the tubes and instruments." "Don’t you want to have a look in the closet first?" queries Kurt. (huh?)

WiresAnyway, I assume Kurt succeeds in sterilizing the "tubes and instruments" because we next see Bill fiddling with the standard Scientific Rack of Beakers And Wires type setup that all mad scientists have at the ready.

We see Bill wrapping something up in gauze while tense ‘scientific’ music pling-plings in the background. Kurt watches in amazement as the head is hooked up to the array of wires and tubes. Well, I think it’s amazement…he does scratch his chin in a concerned manner, so I assume that was the emotion he meant to portray.

With all the wires and tubes and what-not’s in place, Bill pours a dark fluid from a test tube into another beaker filled with fluid (Science!). Through the miracle of dry-ice technology, the fluids begin to bubble in their containers.

OK, now Bill goes to a beaker on the left side of the framework and pours some more fluids into other beakers of fluids. Man, this is Generic Science at its best. (Kurt shakes his head in amazement. I shake my head to stay awake.)

The clock on the wall shows 10:20, more shots of fluids, beakers, and tubes, camera pans down to a photograph development tray with about an inch of fluid in it…oh yeah, Jan’s head is sitting there too.

Jan moans, flutters her eyelids, and groggily mumbles that she "remembers…fire…", before drifting off again. Once again, how does Jan speak without lungs? Oh well, I guess it’s just Science…and the magic of colored fluids. Anyway, Bill dabs drops of sweat from Jan’s forehead before telling her to "rest…and grow stronger…" I’m not sure how a head can grow stronger, but there you go.

HeadKurt wonders how long they can keep her head alive. "Forty-Eight…fifty hours at the most," replies Bill. (That’s a pretty specific estimate, what data is he basing that on?) Kurt is still a bit reluctant to give his support to Bill’s crazy plans to transplant Jan’s head onto a new body. Noting his withered and useless left arm, Kurt points out that Bill’s earlier attempts at transplants were less than successful. Bill dismisses Kurt’s concerns, "It was an early experiment that failed." Bill further reassures Kurt that this time he’s using his "new adrenal serum." (Oh ok, well if you’re using the new serum, than what are we waiting for?)

Bill "has to leave" and tells Kurt to play dumb if the police should come around asking about Jan. Bill tells Kurt that the police will probably be thrown off the scent because Jan’s body was burned beyond recognition. (I still suspect that they would notice that her head was gone regardless of how burned the body was…man, talk about lazy script writing.)

Kurt pleads for Bill to look in the closet (the reason he summoned Bill in the first place). Bill peers into a slot in a locked door in one wall of the lab. Whatever is in the closet is enough to make even a hardened Mad Scientist like Bill cringe in disgust. Boy, I can’t wait to see what’s in there. (Future Note: It ain’t worth it!)

Enough goofing around…Bill slams the viewing hole closed and leaves the lab to find a body for Jan…

PosterBill heads over to a strip club in town in order to find a body. And hell, if you’re going to get a new setup for your fiancee’s disembodied head, you might as well get one with a nice rack, eh? Bill stands outside the entrance smoking a cigarette and staring at posters of scantily clad women. (You would think he’d be in a bit more of a hurry given the 48 hour time limit…)

Inside the club, Bill sits down at the bar for a drink while a dancing girl parades around the club wiggling her goodies.

Meanwhile, back in the lab, Jan is beginning to come around. She opens her eyes and peers around her new home. (A shot of some sort of gauge shows the needle oscillating wildly back and forth…I don’t know how useful this instrument actually is since there are no numbers on the scale, but oh well, Science!)

In a hoarse voice, Jan calls out to the monster in the closet. The beast can’t speak, so they resort to a "one knock for yes, two for no" system of communication. (Kurt overhears Jan’s voice and sneaks down the stairs to see what’s going on.) Realizing the life she now is doomed to lead, Jan says she wishes that Bill would have just let her die, "I hate him for what he’s done to me!", she adds. (Ingrate.)

The monster communicates to her that he too is a victim of Bill’s experiments. Having found something in common, Jan suggests that if they work together than can have their revenge. The monster gives a bang on the door to indicate his allegiance.

Kurt hears Jan and the monster communicating but can’t hear the details of their treacherous conversation. Regardless, Kurt has the foresight to realize that a head-in-a-pan talking to a monster-in-a-closet might not necessarily be "A Good Thing".

It suddenly strikes Jan that she now has extra-sensory powers because of her rather extraordinary ordeal. She can somehow control the monster through force of will. (How she gained these powers from being in a car accident is never explored.)

HeadKurt takes this opportunity to go into the lab and see what’s going on. Jan closes her eyes and pretends to be asleep. (Sneaky head!) As Kurt approaches the monster’s door, Jan gives a mental signal to the monster causing it to suddenly pound on the portal. The unexpected commotion sends Kurt reeling back in shock while Jan laughs from her pan.

"What’s locked behind that door?", queries Jan after finishing laughing. Kurt replies,"Horror. No normal mind can imagine. Something even more terrible than you! " (Does he still consider Jan to be a ‘normal’ mind?)

"No, my deformed friend. Like all quantities, horror has its ultimate. And I’m that," Jan responds in a powerful, although grammatically questionable, statement.

Not to be outdone by Jan’s incoherent dialog, Kurt replies with his own,"The paths of experimentation twist and turn through mountains of miscalculation and often lose themselves in error and darkness. Behind that door is the sum total of Doctor Cortner’s mistakes!"

Kurt explains that the monster was just a pile of "transplanted limbs and amputated arms" before Bill injected it with his serum and giving it life.

"It’s impossible," replies Jan, a disembodied head floating in a pan of fluid.

Well, Kurt points out Jan’s current state of affairs as an argument against her disbelief. Kurt goes on for awhile explaining that he was once a surgeon but lost his arm in some sort of laboratory accident. The only reason he puts up with Bill’s shenanigans is the hope that someday Bill will be able to transplant a working arm back onto him so he can return to surgery.

Jan spills the beans about her newfound mental powers and offers to demonstrate them to Kurt. "You’re powerless!", he scoffs, "At the mercy of every element in the universe!" (Aren’t we all?) Anyway, Jan stares at the closet door and concentrates her will on the monster barricaded behind it.

She asks the monster a couple of questions and the monster bangs in response. Now fired up, the monster begins to push on the door with all of its strength, nearly ripping it from the hinges. Kurt wisely runs upstairs and locks the lab door.

Upstairs, Kurt runs into Bill who has returned from the cabaret. Kurt informs his boss that things might be getting "out of control" downstairs. "Nothing is out of my control," gloats Bill as he heads upstairs to get some sleep. ("I’m tired," he notes.) There will be plenty of time to get a body tomorrow he remarks to the panicky Kurt before retiring for the evening.

The next day, Bill heads out to hunt for a ‘donor’ body for Jan. Cruising up and down the streets he checks out a few women walking along. (The same music that was playing in the strip club is played on the soundtrack while he’s scouting for victims, giving the whole sequence a rather "sleazy" feel to be honest.)

DonnaBill finally comes across a woman he knows, Donna. Through some stilted dialog, we learn that Donna was once an intern under Bill’s tutelage, but he blew her off a long time ago. "You know how it is with interns…all work," says Bill coyly. "All work and no play even makes for dull doctors," responds Donna, further confusing the film viewer.

Not having seen each other in several years, Donna does what anybody would do in the same circumstances: she invites Bill to accompany her to a swim suit competition, namely "The Miss Body Beautiful Contest".

"Why not," agrees Bill, "You’re just what the doctor ordered!"

Bill pretends to ‘suddenly’ remember he has to swing by his place to take care of a couple things first. No problem for the obliging Donna. As luck would have it, along comes one of Donna’s acquaintances, Jeannie, who was on the way to the swimsuit contest too. (Oh brother!) She hops in for a ride, dashing Bills plans of abducting Donna. (Once again, what is with the weird ‘stripper’ music throughout this scene?) A frustrated Bill says he doesn’t have to go to his house after all and heads of to the contest with his 2 passengers.

At the contest, Bill, Donna, and Jeannie take their seats as the finalists strut their stuff onstage. Bill appears to be in seventh Heaven as the women display their wares on the platform. I mean, this is some major league leering going on here. I’m surprised they didn’t just add a steaming cartoon thermometer over his head!

As the contest winds down, Donna mentions in an amazingly clumsy manner that their old friend Doris has the nicest body she’s ever seen.(Don’t ask.) We also learn that Doris had a disfiguring accident so now she mostly keeps to herself, posing for art classes to make ends meet. Hmmm…a dame with a great body that keeps to herself…Bill is intrigued…

Back at the lab, the numberless-guage is going haywire…or maybe it’s not…hard to tell without any scale. Somehow Jan hears Bill’s thoughts and discovers that he is planning to kill somebody in order to supply her with a body. (Gee, Jan, you think?)

PhotoLater that evening, Bill is seen driving to the art studio where the horribly ‘deformed’ model, Doris, is decked out in a bikini while a gaggle of leering photographers are taking her picture. Boy, art, isn’t it a beautiful thing? (And I ain’t buying it that these guys are "artists"…really, you gotta see these dudes!)

By the way, the terrible disfigurement that has driven Doris into seclusion is a 2-inch scar by her left ear.

Once again, the same "strip bar" music is played in the background. What a delightful movie this is.

Doris eventually wearies of her artistic efforts and calls it a night. The photographers want her to continue, "C’mon baby, one more!" (Do artists say "C’mon baby, one more!" to the model at the end of an art class?)

After the, ahem, artists, leave for the night, Bill introduces himself, and with a wad of exposition manages to remind Doris that they once knew each other. It doesn’t help. She won’t have anything to do with Bill. "I hate all men!", she adds just to make sure Bill gets the point.

ScarIt turns out that Doris once trusted a man, "trusted a man all the way!" (Whatever that means…and I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not what she means. I don’t think anybody knows what even half of this dialog means.)

Now really, the whole idea of that scar making the obviously beautiful Doris into someone unappealing is completely absurd. So, there. I said it.

Despite her horrible disfigurement (not), Bill insists that he’s interested in seeing her, hell, maybe he can even help fix that terrible deformity. "I don’t think you’re ugly," Bill soothes Doris, "I see only beauty in you. You have a lovely body and a face that could be made beautiful again also." (Who wrote this swill?)

The jaded Doris doesn’t buy his sweet lies. Bill informs her that his father is a leading plastic surgeon (then what the hell was he doing trying to save a crash victim in the beginning of the film?) "If anybody can help you…we can…I know I can," says Bill in what I suspect was a blown line.

Doris

The horribly deformed Doris

Bill eventually convinces her that he can indeed help her. "Why we can even freeze down skin and sand away the damaged tissue." Lovely, Bill. Just lovely.

Back in the lab, Jan is encouraging the monster to try and break down the closet door. "I’ve got to see your hideousness [sic], and you’ve got to see mine." Boy, who could refuse that enticement? Once again, Jan pretends to be asleep as Kurt enters the lab with some food for the monster. "I’ve come to feed your friend…While you prefer to feed yourself with hate, it prefers food!" Kurt snidely says to Jan.

Kurt and Jan argue a bit, while Jan goads him on about his being scared of what’s behind the door. Kurt insists that he’s not afraid, reminding her that he helped build the creature from "an amputated arm, a leg, a torso!" (An amputated torso? I’d hate to see the patient after that procedure!)

ArmJan nags Kurt to such a degree that he becomes careless and stands with his back to the closet door after he’s opened the feeding slot. Upon Jan’s mental command, the monster reaches out, grabs Kurt’s good arm, and tears it off. Sensing that his role in the movie is coming to an end, Kurt goes for the Oscar: Kurt, minus an arm, lurches across the lab, stumbles up the stairs, reels into the house, leans against the door, collapses into a chair, staggers back up to his feet, stumbles back down to the lab, swoons, crumples onto the floor, and then, finally, expires.

While Kurt is having a tough time with the monster, Bill continues to chat up Doris, trying to convince her to come to his place for a treatment. But Doris, bitter to the core, is proving a tough nut to crack until Bill says that he can take her to his country house for an immediate consultation. "I’ll do anything that will help me get rid of this face…", says Doris. (Ha! Ha! The irony! Boy!)

Upon arrival at the "country estate", Bill tries to put a skeptical Doris at ease. While Doris makes herself comfortable, Bill sneaks down into the lab only to discover Kurt laying dead on the floor, minus his right arm. Jan stares smugly from her dish of fluid with a "Don’t look at me…I didn’t do it!" look.

Bill drags Kurt’s body into a corner and proceeds to mix up a few drinks. He of course adds a drug to Doris’s. (Does Bill keep the booze in the lab? Complete with high-ball glasses?) Doris drinks up her whiskey and becomes woozy. Note again, the sleazy strip club music that has begins to play at this point? I mean, did the filmmakers think that there’s something erotic about drugging and murdering a woman? It’s quite revolting to be honest.

HeadOK, Doris passes out and Bill carries her downstairs and places her on a table in order to prep her for the head-removal procedure. Jan insists that he not carry out the the gruesome plan, but to no avail. In a hilarious scene, Bill tires of Jan’s nagging and puts a piece of tape over her mouth. (I don’t know if they meant this shot to be humorous, but you have to admit this is not something you see everyday!)

Just as Bill is about to begin, the monster starts banging away on the door, disturbing his concentration. For some unexplained reason Bill walks over to the door and obligingly turns his back to the unlocked feeding slot. Oh yeah. It’s so the monster can grab him and end this movie.

CreatureYes, wow, big surprise. The monster reaches out of the slot, grabs Bill and a struggle ensues. This time the door is torn off its hinges and we finally see the creature in all of its horror. (Hardly a big payoff after building up the "suspense" of seeing the creature throughout the entire film.)

To say that the makeup job is less than convincing would be too kind.

Anyway, a mysterious bottle of flammable liquid falls to the floor and just as mysteriously bursts into flame. The monster tosses the battered Bill to the floor where he lays unconscious as the flames engulf the lab.

The monster then shambles over to Doris and carries her up and out of the lab (where exactly are they going to go to?). While the conflagration spreads, Jan works the piece of tape free from her mouth in time to say "I told you should have let me die…"

Yes. I agree.

Then this movie would never have been made.

Dennis Grisbeck (June 2005)

Afterthoughts

This is a sleazy, sad little film. The plot is preposterous, the dialog atrocious, and the direction is confused and confusing. Women are certainly objectified in this film, which in itself would be tolerable if that was the point of the story, i.e., to explore the objectification of women, but this is a freakin’ "head-in-pan-of-juice" story. The risible monster in the closet is a ridiculous construction of putty, a fake eye, and a cone-head contraption attached to the actor’s head with some sort of pseudo-flesh colored tape. Ack.
There is, however, such an underlying element of sleaze and desperation in this film, that it is somehow better and worse than others of its ilk. Certainly worth a view if you like ‘disembodied head’ flicks, otherwise stay far away.

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2 comments to The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)

  • guts3d

    I remember this from MST3K and “Jan-in-the-pan” sketches.

  • Bonnie

    I can’t believe Adele Lamont was not a bigger star? She was beautiful, had one of the greatest bodies in the world, charismatic,
    STAR MATERIAL! What a shame that we fans don’t have more films to see of her.

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