The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)

Rating; C

Dir: Joseph Green
Star: Jason Evers, Virginia Leith, Anthony La Penna, Adele Lamont

One of the most famous entries in the “isolated brain” genre, albeit significantly due to its lampooning by MST3K. It’s an odd beast, at times surprisingly earnest and almost heart-felt, while at others it fully deserves critical evisceration, and then some. The medical practitioner at the centre is Dr. Bill Cortner (Evers), who has been secretly experimenting in the basement lab of his country house. While driving there with fiancĂ©e Jan Compton (Leith), they’re involved in a car accident, in which Jan is decapitated. He hurries to his facility, with her severed head wrapped in a sports coat. She is kept alive – becoming what MST3K called “Jan in a pan” – while Bill searches for a replacement body he can transplant onto her head.

Jan is not happy about this situation, and wants simply to be left to die. For some unexplained reason, she has developed telepathy, and uses this to communicate with one of Bill’s earlier experiments. This monstrous creation, whom we eventually discover looks like a half-melted version of the Toxic Avenger (top), is locked up in a cupboard, and tended by Bill’s Igor-like assistant, Kurt (La Penna). Meanwhile, Dr. Cortner is visiting burlesque shows and beauty pageants, or simply kerb-crawling, seeking the perfect new body for Jan. Disfigured art model Doris Powell (Lamont) turns out to be that person, and is lured in by Bill with the promise of plastic surgery to fix her face.

It begins on shaky ground, with near endless faux medical footage as Bill and his father, also a surgeon, pontificate forever. The drive of Bill and Jan to the estate, and subsequent crash, are both poorly executed, to the point of risible. Thereafter, however, it swings back and forth. Between Kurt and Doris, the film is unexpectedly sympathetic to the disabled, in particular the revulsion with with society views the disfigured. Jan and Kurt have a surprisingly honest conversation about why the later stays with Dr. Cortner. Kurt admits, “The alcoholic has his bottle, the dope addict his needle. I had my research.” It’s probably more of a legitimate justification for his actions than the doctor can offer. All we get from Bill is little more than, “Nothing is unbelievable if you have the nerve to experiment.”

But for every decent moment, the film has two that are just terrible (albeit, sometimes in a highly amusing way). The peak is likely the world’s most tedious burlesque show, after which Bill goes backstage, and is literally fought over by two strippers. Then there’s a ludicrously over-extended death sequence after someone has their arm torn off by the closet monster. The victim subsequently runs around the house to no readily useful purpose, except for smearing blood on every surface. The impact is dimmed significantly by the film being in black-and-white. They might as well be an obnoxious child, finger painting with chocolate ice-cream in a tantrum. It’s all not very good, but I must confess, I was adequately entertained.