Made for what looks like a buck and a quarter, shamelessly exploitative, amaterurishly acted, appallingly written, so cheesy that it might have been made by Kraft, indefensible on nearly every level, and amazingly appealing in its cosmic God-awfulness, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962) is a prize package for lovers of bad cinema. Here is a movie that can’t even get it together as concerns its title. The posters call it The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. The main title says the same thing. But the ending title says it’s The Head That Wouldn’t Die, which is perhaps nearer the truth. That’s the maraschino on top of this particular sundae of stupidity. I’d say there’s nothing quite like it, but the truth is there are lots of things like it — or maybe it’s like a lot of things. However, I’m not sure anything presents quite such a perfect storm of addle-brained assininity.
The premise here is that Dr. Bill Cortner (Herb Evers, who had a long career — mostly as Jason Evers — a supporting actor) is one of those brilliant-but-unbalanced medicos, who spends all his spare time at the family country home (a veritable castle on the outside, a modest clapboard shack inside) performing strange experiments. Most of these appear to involve spare body parts pilferred from the hospital. All of them involve the assistance of a hapless assistant, Kurt (Lesile Daniel), with a deformed (guess how) arm, who is left in residence at the ancestral home to go slightly mad. It is, in fact Kurt who sets the main plot in motion by insisting Cortner come to the house just as the loony doctor is about to go out with his pneumatic cutie fiancée, Jan (Virginia Leith). Of course, Cortner does what any irrational mad scientist would — he takes Jan with him. Unfortunately, his anxiety to get there causes the world’s most economically-staged car crash (just as well, since there was no need to wreck a nice Mercury convertible on this dreck). The upshot is that Jan loses her head in all this, but the quick thinking Cortner wraps it in his jacket and makes his way home on foot. His plan? Prop her up in a darkroom tray of blood and special serum and revive her (did Stuart Gordon see this?) with the idea of grafting her head onto a suitable body.
This “suitable body” business leads to a lot of footage ogling women with torpedo breasts and expansive backsides as he searches for just the right one. And there’s a lot to ogle — on the streets, in a strip club, at a model’s studio. The film is hardly subtle in its exploitation of this — including a cat fight. In fact, there was extra footage with nudity that could be spliced into the foreign release prints. It’s perthaps even more tasteless than the film’s amped-up — and pretty silly — gory horror content. It’s just not quite as funny.
Meanwhile back at the lab, Jan is getting all palsy with the (as yet unseen) monster in the closet and driving the alredy unbalanced Kurt around the bend with her non-stop sarcastic chatter. It seems that she’s just not happy as a disembodied head in a darkroom tray. For that matter, the ungrateful wretch isn’t keen about being grafted onto a new body, even though Cortner’s eye for female pulchritude (1960 style) assures her a nice chassis. Some people just can’t be satisfied. As well you may assume, this is all going to very wrong before long — complete with goofy gore, awful dialogue (“I don’t just want your head, I want a whole woman!”), the monster getting out of the closet, and a conflagration (however bargain basement). It must be seen to be believed.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Brain That Wouldn’t Die Thursday, Aug. 28, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.