(From now until Halloween, the Canadian Cinephile will be taken over by pure, unadulterated FEAR. No, I’m not commencing an Adam Sandler marathon. I will be reviewing some of the most spine-chilling, bloodcurdling horror movies, with this year’s trip covering those freaky films released prior to 1970. There will be a special focus on Universal’s classic monster pictures, so bring your hot cocoa. It’s going to be a dark and scary ride. Sort of.)
Joseph Green directs the preposterous The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, a 1962 horror film that was actually completed in the late-1950s under the title The Black Door. Featuring a screenplay by Green and Rex Carlton, this cheapie was released by the almighty American International Pictures and is another in a long line of mad scientist movies.
Much of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die contends with exposition and explanation, with characters spending long stretches preaching and conveying lines with histrionic flourish. Some dazzling paragraphs come from a severed head no less, which provides an indication as to the near-Shakespearean excellence on display here.
Jason/Herb Evers stars as Dr. Bill Cortner, a surgeon who revives a deceased patient on the operating table with a controversial method. He debates with his father (Bruce Brighton) over “playing God.” Soon, Jan (Virginia Leith) is introduced as Dr. Bill’s fiancé. On the way to visit his country home, the couple is involved in a car crash and poor Jan loses her head. Literally.
As any sane man would do, Dr. Bill collects the crown and stores it in an upright position in a pool of blood with a bunch of scientific doodads. He then goes on the hunt for a new body for his intended, leaving her dome to develop telepathy. Jan taps into the mind of a mutant kept in Dr. Bill’s laboratory and targets the scientist’s assistant (Leslie Daniels).
Jan is annoyed because she wants to be dead, which subsequently sets up her rage and mirth. She spends a lot of time going over the finer points of living as a head, getting into theoretical quarrels with Daniels’ character. She blasts the fellow with lines like “Paths of experimentation twist and turn through mountains of miscalculation, and often lose themselves in error and darkness.” Yeah, man.
While Jan is torturing the assistant with her mind, Dr. Bill is slinking around the neighbourhood looking for sugar. He naturally starts at the burlesque club, where he spots a blonde he likes. Her brunette colleague comes charging in and there’s a catfight, complete with cat sound effects. Dr. Bill decides against the sultry siren.
After cruising around in his sweet ride, Dr. Bill settles on a model named Doris (Adele Lamont). She is supposed to be mutilated in some way, with a scar on her face that keeps ruining her life. Dr. Bill says he and his father can “sand that thing right off,” so to speak, and she heads right on back to the forbidding laboratory.
The saxophone tune that accompanies Dr. Bill’s pillaging is an original piece made for the film and it seems to be one of the sleaziest jingles of its period. Today, there would be a YouTube video of this creep and a thousand think-pieces about his disturbing behaviour as he drives his convertible behind women and checks out their curves.
Along with the good old-fashioned sex stuff, there’s a fair bit of good old-fashioned violence stuff. Those with the good luck of seeing the full version will be treated to a little rip-and-slash action on behalf of the disfigured monster in the closet, who not only gnaws out someone’s throat but rips off someone’s arm.
So, Green’s film is certainly a wild grindhouse ride. Featuring a soliloquy-delivering cranium, an assortment of buxom babes, a bitter monster in a closet, and a pervy mad scientist, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is a substantial guilty pleasure. While its scenes can run on a little long at times, this is loopy B-movie magic.