THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE (1962) — Schlocky PD Trash Classic Gets An Upgrade

Scream Factory released The Brain That Wouldn’t Die on December 22.

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is not a great movie. It’s not even a good movie. Having seen it once before and having no desire to watch it again, I was disinclined to review the new Blu-ray.

However, Scream Factory’s treatment of the film changed my mind. This movie has been floating around in countless poor-quality public domain releases, which makes it difficult and risky for a distributors to put the time and effort into a proper restoration. And yet they did so, and for this reason, I felt that Scream Factory had earned a second look. Their disc features a restored 1.66 presentation (I’ve only ever seen it in 4:3) and assembles interesting bonus features including the entire Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode riffing the film. This is a very impressive release for a public domain title.

The film’s main character — intriguingly also its villain — is Dr. Bill Cortner, an ingenius but morally bankrupt surgeon whose research into unorthodox medical science including human transplants is yielding tremendous results. His fiance Jan is killed by his own idiocy when he crashes her car, and he retrieves her severed head with the plan of reattaching it to a new host body. He successfully revives the head by connecting it to a life-replenishing apparatus.

His search for a replacement body takes him to a strip club, a swimsuit contest, and finally a model’s private studio, where it turns out his ideal body belongs to an old high school friend — and he’ll stoop to murdering even her.

Meanwhile, as Jan awakes in her immobile state, she wishes for death and plans revenge on the man who has reduced her to a head in a pan, engaging in a battle of wits with his snivelly aide and reaching out with new ESP powers to talk to the Frankenstein-like mutant creature locked in the closet, the result of Bill’s unethical experiments.

On rewatching the film, I did note several points which, while they don’t make it a good movie, are certainly interesting considerations. Old black and white mad scientist movies are usually children’s fare, but The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is a surprisingly schlocky film. In addition to the constant sexual innuendo, the movie also sports a couple scenes of gore (the aforementioned towering mutant rips one man’s arm off and bites a chunk out of another man’s throat).

The film seems a definite influence on later 80s horror classics Re-Animator and Frankenhooker. When it comes right down to it, Frankenhooker is almost a direct remake, a point which was also noticed by the MST3K team in their riff.

Impressively, the film actually scores high marks for predictive science fiction. Discussions in the film about the possibilities of medical transplants of organs and limbs have now been realized, and what was once science fiction is now science fact. And while saving a severed head is still pure fantasy, extensive facial transplants are very much a current medical breakthrough.

I’m still not convinced The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is a good movie, or that it even deserves its cult status, but it definitely has some fun schlocky moments, and is smarter than it might seem.

The Package

This may be a bad movie, but Scream Factory has assembled a great Blu-ray for it. If you’re a fan of the film, you’ll definitely appreciate this offering.

This is easily the best the film has ever looked on home video, shown in its complete form with missing scenes re-added and the full 1.66 Aspect Ratio. The film’s visuals are on the soft side in accordance with its age and low budget, but even so it sports some moments of sharp clarity and detail. The difference between this transfer and the VHS-quality public domain floaties is amazing — there’s really no comparison.

Special Features and Extras

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (92:25)
 Notable for being Mike Nelson’s first episode as host. Mike, Crow, and Tom Servo serve up a pretty funny ribbing of the film. I generally like MST3K, and this episode made me chuckle a few times. This is a pretty generous bonus feature and probably a main selling point for the disc.

Alternate Model Footage (contains nudity) (1:26)
 A brief, mild nude scene which was used in an international cut of the film. In the standard release, the model wears a bikini.

Theatrical Trailer (1:54)

Audio Commentary with film historian/author Steve Haberman and writer Tony Sasso

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die isn’t a great film by any measure, but it’s schlocky and surprisingly both skeevy and smart. If you’re already a fan, then you’ll love this very lovingly produced disc, as it’s absolutely the new definitive version of the film. If not, it may still be worth a spin for best-ever presentation and a pretty decent MST3K sendup.

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon:
 The Brain That Wouldn’t Die [Blu-ray] | [Instant]

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