Blu-ray Review: Lurid 60’s Classic THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE

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Sleazy 60’s mad science movie THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE comes to Blu-ray.

“Let me die…Let me die!”

These words, hissed by a raspy feminine voice beneath an absolutely black screen, still give this writer a kinky thrill and they serve to start what is the most lurid genre films of the 1960’s. Or the 1950’s, rather, as director Joseph Green’s perverse and skanky master/messterpiece THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE was in fact shot in 1959 but not released by its distributor, American International Pictures, until 1962.

And though AIP would enforce key cuts to the film to obliterate much of the alarming black-and-white gore, the film , even in truncated form was still sleazy enough that it quickly found a cult. Then, due to the title seemingly lapsing into the public domain during the heydays of home video, THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE became so mass-produced and over-distributed that I do believe genre fans forgot just what a unique, edgy film it really is. And by the time professional film-roasters MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 got their mocking hooks in it, it seemed all respect for the picture would be lost forever.

THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE (or, as the end credit title famously contradicts, THE HEAD THAT WOULDN’T DIE) tells the tender tale of slightly mad brain surgeon Bill Cortner (Herb Evers), who crashes his car whilst cruising with his girlfriend Jan (Virginia Leith, who is the nerve-center of the film, visually and emotionally) and, climbing out of the wreckage, salvages her undamaged decapitated head from her otherwise obliterated body. Running the comely cranium to his lab, he rigs Jan’s noggin up to a complex machine of Sci-Fi movie nonsense tubes and jars and pumps, her scalp wrapped in white gauze and her neck planted in what looks like a lasagna tray, effectively turning her into what the MST3K boys dubbed “Jan in the Pan”.

When Jan regains consciousness, she is horrified to discover her current living conditions and begs her beau to terminate the experiment…and her. Cortner refuses and, with the help of his disfigured assistant (Leslie Daniel) begins a crusade to lure and murder buxom women (mostly burlesque strippers, for some odd reason) to serve as suitable transplant torsos (the film is kind of an odd precursor to Franju’s French masterpiece EYES WITHOUT A FACE). Meanwhile, one of the Doc’s former human experiments pounds away behind a locked door in the lab, and an increasingly hostile and crazed Jan begins telepathically communicating with the monster, launching a plan to make her dreams of death come true.

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THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE is wildly innovative, deeply flawed and fabulously festisized psychosexual mad science moviemaking at its finest and even if you think you know the film, seeing the extended version presented here via Scream Factory is an even more astonishing revelation. The previous Synapse DVD release included the extra gore, but I missed it, so I was thrilled to see moments of disgusting flesh eating (the spit-out bit is super-gross) and especially, the riotously overdone sequence in which a character has his arm ripped off, his bloody stump smearing over white walls in what looks to be a precursor to the spraying sawed off limb scene in Dario Argento’s TENEBRE. Fantastic stuff. The struck-from-the-negative Blu-ray release goes even further, inserting bits of stock footage brain surgery that have never appeared in any print that I’ve seen.

This highly anticipated Blu-ray package pads out its presentation with a glut of fun extras. First, we have the inclusion of the entire MST3K episode which your response to will be a matter of taste (I am not a fan); next, there’s a scene of nude modeling culled from the European version (God bless those early European versions!); finally there’s a full-length commentary with film writers Steve Haberman and Tony Sasso, one that starts with a kind of jeering, mocking tone and then slowly morphs into one of respect and reverence. The duo even go as far as to analyze a bizarre – but oddly plausible – homoerotic subtext to the film, as well as interesting, if ridiculous, readings into character depths that simply aren’t there. It’s a lively, funny and entertaining running chat that works.

THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE deserves a polished presentation and thankfully, it gets plenty of love here. It’s not just a run of the mill B-movie made on the cheap, it’s a kind of existential, Freudian/feminist parable-cum-psycho-thriller…made on the cheap.

“I told you to let me die!”

 

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Weekend: Feb. 21, 2019, Feb. 24, 2019

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