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July 8, 2012

Movie Review: The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962)

Directed by Joseph Green

Starring Jason Evers, Virginia Leith and Leslie Danials

In 1959 a small company called Alta Vista Productions scraped up about $60,000 and used the money to shoot this movie in 13 days, but because of various legal and censorship issues, it was 3 years before it was to finally see the light of day in 1962. Despite being panned by critics and given an extremely limited run in theaters, its has survived to this day and is considered by some to be one of the creepiest b-movies ever made and certainly one of the most off-the-wall movies to come out of the 60‘s.

Dr. Bill Cortner has been performing experimental transplant surgery on human guinea pigs without authorization and against the advice of his surgeon father. While taking a drive on a winding country road with his fiance Jan Compton, the two are involved in a fiery car accident.  Dr. Cortner survives unscathed but unfortunately his girlfriend doesn't fare so well, she ends up quite literally losing her head. Understandably in shock and in a moment of panic, the heart-broken Dr. wraps his girlfriends decapitated head in a blanket and sets off on foot for his country home, complete with a secret laboratory in the basement. Once there and with the help of his deformed assistant the doctor is able to revive Jan’s severed head, keeping it alive in a pan of blood with the help of various electrical appliances and other scientific looking doo-dads lying about. Jan has been stabilized but the doctor knows time is running out and it is imperative that she receive a fresh new body as soon as possible. He decides his best bet is to head to the closest strip-club and look for a suitable subject for transplant, (a guy after my own heart).

Still lying in the pan, Jan's head regains consciousness and not surprisingly, she isn't too happy with what her boyfriend has done. She also realizes she is not alone down in the basement, for locked away behind a reinforced door is a mysterious monstrosity which she discovers she can communicate with. Together they devise a plan to stop the doctors fiendish plot to murder and replace her body. While the doctor is out, his assistant gets a little too close to the monstrosity and gets his arm ripped off, leaving a bloody mess of the place. When the doctor finally returns with a suitable tramp for transplant, the plan begins to unravel and his own horrible creations exact their revenge.

Watching this for the first time as a kid in the 70‘s, this movie left a lasting impression on my young psyche. Even though that first version that I watched was edited of its juiciest parts, the sight of a severed head sitting in a pan talking to itself really freaked me out. As the years have passed its lost a little of its shock-value for me but it is still one of my all-time favorite bad movies. The subject matter for its time was pretty outrageous. The fact that there was little to no humor used as a release valve helped this film maintain a really psychotic and utterly insane feel to it from start to finish. The monster in the closet, when finally revealed was absolutely laughable but still managed to come off as pretty damn awesome. Jason Evers as the mad scientist was just spot-on, and although best known for this role he also appeared with John Wayne in The Green Berets, did some television work and ended his film career appearing in 1990's Basket Case 2.

Virginia Leith as Jan Compton was amazing and I am not too afraid to admit the vision of her head lying in that pan and staring into the camera still revisits me in my nightmares from time to time. In my opinion it is The First true grindhouse-style movie ever made. Its a fun movie with a truly black heart and every time I watch it I fall in love with it a little bit more. Its pure cheesy goodness that still packs a pretty good punch after 50 years. If you haven't seen it yet, I recommend you jump on it, its public domain now and is even available to watch in its entirety on YouTube.

8 out of 10

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