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Movie of the Week: The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962)

Updated: Apr 19, 2019

Despite its reputation, it has taken me many years to finally watch The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962).  In spite of its reputation, I really enjoyed it.  It’s not exactly an action-packed thrill ride, but if it were less talky, we might not hear such wisdom as, “The paths of experimentation twist and turn through mountains of miscalculations and often lose themselves in error and darkness!”

That’s from Kurt (Anthony La Penna), whom I guess you’d call the assistant of Dr. Bill Cortner (Jason Evers).  He runs the country branch of Cortner’s lab during the week when Cortner works his day job in the city, being scolded by his father that “an operating room is no place to experiment.”  Of the two, he’s the sympathetic mad scientist.  “The alcoholic has his bottle, the dope addict, his needle; I have my research.”

He hopes that one day Cortner’s experiments will result in an arm transplant to replace his mangled hand.  For now, though, he has to babysit a disembodied head harassing him and a mysterious creature in a locked closet, while Cortner is galivanting around town looking for a pretty body onto which he wants to place the head.  “What’s behind that door?” asks the head of Jan Compton (Virginia Leith).

Kurt replies, “A horror… no normal mind can imagine.  Something even more terrible than you!”  Besides floating in a pan of liquid, Jan is also bathing in self-pity and responds, “No, my deformed friend, like all quantities, horror has its ultimate, and I am that.”  It was her voice we heard before the credits rolled whispering, “Let me die… let me die.”  She remembers the smoke and fire of a car accident, but is not interested in a new body to make her whole again.

Instead, she wants revenge, and her expression of that results in the best line out of the entire movie, “I’m only a head and you’re whatever you are.  Together we’re strong… more powerful than any of them.”  Out of context, that sounds ridiculous.  In context it’s pretty ridiculous, too.  However, the basic concept is no more ludicrous than any number of Atomic Age horror and sci-fi movies.  If you can accept that concept and not take it seriously, it’s a lot of fun.

However, you must also embrace its low budget production.  It looks like it was shot in the filmmakers’ basements and sometimes has terrible sound.  Director Joseph Green made only one other film, The Perils of P.K. (1986), but writer Rex Carlton was slightly more prolific in the genre by scripting and producing Nightmare in Wax and Blood of Dracula’s Castle, both in 1969.  That’s not a very distinguished pedigree and helps explain the amateur result.

More troubling than all this is the decidedly non-politically correct vibe that you get watching the movie today.  Cortner is sexist, hunting for potential host bodies at a strip club and beauty pageant, and ogling women walking down the street.  If you view his attitude as a sign of the times, you’ll be rewarded with a hilarious stripper catfight, literally ending with an audible “meow.”  If you don’t tolerate his attitude, you probably won’t make it that far into the movie.


Written by Joseph Green Directed by Joseph Green Starring Jason Evers, Virginia Leith, Anthony La Penna, Adele Lamont Released August 10, 1962 RT 852min. Home Video Shout! Factory (Blu-ray)

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