The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)

Movie Released: 1962 | DVD Release Date: October 22, 2002


The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962)Produced in the 1960s on a $ 64,000 budget, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962) belongs to the typical “it’s so bad — it’s good” category and makes this black-and-white science fiction, horror movie a cult classic. The story line is predictable and anyone that has read the book Frankenstein or seen the movie knows this isn’t going to end well — at least not for some of the participants. If you are fine with spoilers then continue reading.

The story begins in the middle of a surgery in a hospital. The patient suddenly dies, and one of the surgeons, Dr. Bill Cortner played by Jason Evers, is able to save the patient with help of a serum and an open cardiac massage. During his discussion on medical ethics with his surgeon father, Dr. Bill defends his right to ultimately try anything and everything possible to save the lives of his patients. The conflict of interest of his father and Dr. Bill is obvious. The latter experiments in a laboratory in a remote, old country cottage and the former who covers up disappearing body parts while trying to convince his son to discontinue his research.

After a call from his medical assistant, Kurt, about problems in the laboratory, Dr. Bill urgently has to return to his laboratory and takes his fiancée with him. During a mad chase on a lonely, winding road, the car crashes, decapitating his fiancée, Jan, played by Ginny Leith. Dr. Bill does everything to save the disembodied head. Wrapping the head into a jacket, he rushes to the laboratory where he places the head in a pan, hence that Jan’s fans refer to her as “Jan in the pan.” He then injects a serum and hooks it up to some odd-looking machines.

Dr. Bill then takes off to check out strip bars for a suitable body … and he is in a hurry because he can only keep the head alive for 48 hours, so the sooner the better.

Meanwhile … back in the laboratory, strange things start to happen. Jan wakes up, realizing that only her head is left and decides to hate her fiancée, Dr. Bill, for not letting her die.

To make matters worse, the assistant, Kurt, chooses this moment to tell her all about Dr. Bill’s unsuccessful experiments in the past. The doctor is by no means a stranger to transplanting body parts, and his research specifically deals with a serum that will keep the original body from rejecting the transplant. One of the experiments included the transplant of Kurt’s hand — the other one, the THING in the closet, build of different body parts.

The hideous closet monster dude doesn’t appear until the end of the story, but Jan is able to communicate with it by telepathy. Jan is the brain behind the closet monster’s actions, whereas he is only able to follow orders. Together, Jan and the closet monster are able to operate and execute a bloody mess within the laboratory while Dr. Bill is out hunting for a body.

Meanwhile … in the other part of the town, Dr. Bill is desperately looking for an appropriate body and eventually flees from a strip club after two hookers engage in a catfight over him. He finally finds an object of interest in a former classmate, Doris, who works as an artist’s model. He quickly decides that Doris is the right choice because she is beautiful, except for her badly scarred face that was blemished by her former boyfriend when he threw acid at her. Dr. Bill lures her into his house by offering to perform plastic surgery.

The showdown in The Brain That Wouldn’t Die starts shortly after Dr. Bill returns with Doris. The story moves quickly, and the ending is inevitable.

The closet monster who finally makes an appearance at the end of the movie is a good addition, and perhaps, the most interesting character. It manages to build suspense within the laboratory scenes that would have ended with a lot of talking but no action and it also gives the dialogs and scenes a well-deserved mix of horror and chills.

What’s left? Is there a moral to the story? Is there a message? We’ll never know.

From the moral or ethical aspect, Frankenstein surely wins. In Dr. Frankenstein, we see a doctor whose genius led him to create a humanoid; but instead, he unintentionally turns out a monster. Dr. Frankenstein is devastated and holds himself responsible for the creature he created. Although sickened by the physical appearance, Victor Frankenstein listens to the creature who relates to him his first days of life and how he is hated because of his hideous appearance. Frankenstein understood why this creature wanted a female companion, although he didn’t want to continue researching and experimenting. At first, it was the safety of his family that drove him to create a woman for his creature. Frankenstein decided to discontinue his work, after considering the consequences for all humanity should these two creatures procreate.

On the other side, we see a surgeon such as Dr. Bill with ulterior motives. He wants to save his fiancée’s life — not for her sake, but for his own. He never so much as asks her if she agrees with his plans. Considering the fact that so far all of his experiments failed, he was risking turning his fiancée into something that she never was. The shift of Jan’s personality within the movie did not have anything to do with the accident as such, but rather, the story line gives the impression as if the machines, as well as the serum, changed the brain’s chemistry … and not in a positive way. For the sake of science, Dr. Bill is willing to experiment with a beloved person (or head) with a highly uncertain outcome.

Some questions remain. The doctor was willing to kill a person to save his fiancée, although the brain wanted to die. Why did Jan want to die? Was it reluctance or an aversion to life? Does Jan’s refusal have anything to do with someone else having to die so that she could continue living?

All in all, there are a lot of things that make this movie a classic science fiction and in part, some of the scenes and dialogs contain some unintentional, humorous moments through over-dramatic dialogs, but this may have been intentional. As one reviewer stated, the movie should have the title “The Head That Wouldn’t Shut Up.” The title of the movie The Brain That Wouldn’t Die opens up a new can of worms since obviously, the brain was on life support and therefore, could have died (at least after 48 hours). The use of the word “wouldn’t” gives the impression that it refuses to die — no matter what. Which doesn’t explain that at the end of the movie, when the credits start, the title suddenly changes to “The Head That Wouldn’t Die.” But I’ll leave you wondering; just head over to Amazon and check for yourselves.

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is available as a DVD, Blu-Ray and on Amazon Instant Video:

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Title The Brain That Wouldn’t Die
Director Joseph Green
Actors Jason Evers, Virginia Leith, Anthony La Penna, Adele Lamont, Bonnie Sharie
Length 1 hour and 22 minutes
Rating not rated
DVD Release October 22, 2002

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