* Prices may differ from that shown
With a title like The Brain That Wouldnt Die, you would probably expect Joseph Green and Rex Carltons film to be a cheap, trashy, unoriginal and laughable sixties horror flick, when in fact these two screen legends managed to produce one of the more compelling, spine-chilling and scientifically cautionary masterworks of the decade. No, only joking. This is obviously just another fairly tedious and unspectacular R-rated sci-fi horror putting a contemporary spin on the Frankingstein plot, this time benefitting from the breakthroughs in plastic surgery, organ transplants and test tube babies that were hot topics in 1959. Its just a shame the film was delayed a few years to 1962 to prevent it losing its one real niche.
The Frankingstein in this case is ambitious, smooth-talking young scientist Dr. Bill Cortner, played rather woodenly by Jason Evers, whose highly experimental and unorthodox treatments are gaining him some notoriety at the hospital where he works with his traditionalist father and devoted fiancée Jan (Virginia Leith). Bill finally decides to show Jan his nefarious experiments at his laboratory up at the isolated country house, but in his haste to get there in response to his assistants summoning, he accidentally veers off the winding path and narrowly escapes the burning car wreck with his life. Jan, sadly, is not so lucky, her corpse burning and decapitated, but Bill isnt going to let that get in the way of a happily married life. Rescuing her head and making haste to the lab, Bill pumps it full of his experimental life juice and sets about finding a beautiful body to match before her time is up, too busy to heed his deformed assistants warning that a mutated monstrosity theyre keeping locked up in the closet seems increasingly eager on breaking free...
The film has an extremely simple plot divided into two strands: the vengeful plot brewing in the lab between the bitter Jan and the unseen monster, and the Doctors sleazy cruise for a corpse. Not an awful lot happens in the overlong scenes, and the film only lasts for an hour and ten minutes, though theres supposedly a longer eighty-two minute uncut version featuring Bills encounter with some strippers amongst other things, though its probably not as interesting as it sounds and clearly not worth the trouble of tracking down when the standard version is freely available. The highest hopes prospective viewers can have when approaching a film like this is for some unadulterated campy horror fun, and if possible a wealth of cheesy dialogue and so-bad-its-good plot developments, all of which the film can boast to a moderate degree. For a start, its fairly watchable despite the lack of action in some scenes, as the writers successfully bait the audience along with a promise that the much-hyped monster will be revealed by the conclusion, and through the morbid fascination with Dr. Cortners dastardly scheme, easily and deliberately comparable to a psycho date-murderer and played completely straight and rather creepily throughout.
Theres very little in the way of special effects or gore that might be expected of a Frankingstein tale, but a satisfying balance is struck between convincing and authentic-sounding scientific reasoning and really rubbish lines, many of which I eagerly scribbled down. From the Docs laughably brief lifes work that has taken all of a few weeks to reach this advanced level, to his stereotypical arguments with his right-wing father and God-fearing assistant and the scornful moralising of Jan in the Pan, its a script that essentially writes itself, and when Greens screenplay tries to impress it fails very amusingly, though the blame also has to be placed on the poor acting. When the assistant asks his boss where hes going to find a body, Evers repeats his line there are ways. There are ways in a flat monotone that fails to sound sinister in any way, even when adding a mischievous wink. The scripts most defining moment has to be Jans assertion that, like all quantities, horror has its ultimate. And Im that.
Not all of the acting is terrible, but a few cast members are clearly hired entirely for their bodies, particularly Adele Lamont who goes way over the top with her attempted angry portrayal of the glamour model Doris. Despite a large amount of focus being given to scantily clad females, including some camera-eye sizing-up of their chief assets, the film avoids being truly sexist by presenting the whole thing as the Doctors dirty scheme; if anything, his repeated assurances that he can be trusted, backed up by his respectable profession, should actually serve as a warning to more gullible members of the audience, and this is probably where the film is at its best. Lets face it, the competition is a static head in a scuba helmet whispering to a cupboard. The film really shows its rushed and half-hearted nature through some major slip-ups and inconsistencies in the script, and its additionally amusing to see the exceedingly picky Doctor passing up each opportunity to snag himself a body when presented with an irresistible better deal that he feels compelled to chase, despite the time pressure he keeps insisting upon. Nevertheless, the film manages to be truly creepy as he scans the merits of each currently occupied body and leads Doris along with a promise that he will fix her scarred face, when in fact like all men hes only interested in one thing: everything from the collar downwards (right on).
Although the lack of major effects avoids making each minute of the film look ridiculous, its still badly dated through other means, especially the obtrusive musical score. The sleazy sax accompanying every scene of nude legs gets irritating very fast and spoils what should be a sinister tone, but the biggest offender has to be the grating, Batman-style squealing accompanying the overlong speeding scene, though admittedly it makes it funnier if youre watching for that reason alone, which I suppose most people are. Minimal and effective trickery is used to disguise Virginia Leiths body that everyone knows is under the table, and as for the scientific apparatus, you cant really go wrong with a generic arrangement of tubes and beakers. Probably the aspect of the film I found the most difficult to understand was the apparent oversight that it was Bills reckless speeding that caused the accident in the first place, something Jan seems to overlook in her hatred of him simply for bringing her back in this unnatural state, and that Bill himself is only too happy to ignore as soon as he realises that his whole life and scientific training has been preparing him for this life-saving moment.
There are plenty of other films and books that carry off the Frankingstein plot much better (Mary Shelleys original Frankingstein still being the best), and really no reason for this film to exist other than to satisfy B-movie lovers who have already seen all the stupider films out there. At just over an hour its an easy viewing, and has long been in the public domain meaning that its freely downloadable from film link sites or the primary Internet Archive at http://www.archive.org/details/brain_that_wouldnt_die
But then, so are a lot of better films too.
Following an horrific car accident, Doctor Bill Cortner rescues his wife's decapitated head and manages to keep it alive. Now he needs to find a donor body to make his 'wife' complete again...