For several years now, there seems to be at least once channel running a Twilight Zone marathon right around New Year’s Eve (and day, and weekend…). I enjoy most of them – the older stars of yesteryear, the people who were ‘just kids’ back then, the incredible writers they could boast – and even the episodes I don’t particularly like were well acted, skill-fully written, and thoughtfully designed.
Got me in the mood to view a classic sci-fi flick, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. Written and directed by Joseph Green, the film was completed in 1959, but release was delayed until February of 1962 due to censorship and other legal issues. I couldn’t remember having seen the whole film – as many of our readers know, I’m a fan of cheesy sci-fi movies – but this one seemed to have eluded me.
Maybe I was intentionally blocking it out.
A quick synopsis: Dr. Bill Cortner (played by Jason/Herb Evers) has been performing some unsavory experiments in transplantation at the country house of his father (also a surgeon). While his experiments with electro-chemical stimulation and some kind of serum are promising, things keep going sideways (when will mad scientists ever learn?) Having received an urgent message from his assistant, he takes his fiancée Jan (Virginia Leith) for a tire-squealing, pedal-to-the-metal car ride to the country house, but loses control of the car, causing her decapitation in a fiery crash. He retains her head, and uses bubbling tubes, electrical wires, scaffolding made of Tinker Toys, and an apparent vacuum hose to bring her head back to life while he searches for a body. But that old “things going sideways” problem arises (and he pays NO attention to the Scary Uh-Oh Music loudly playing), and they all die in a fire anyhow.
The problems with the film begin in the first scene, when Bill is with his father in the operating theater and manages to save a patient with his unconventional methods. This required that they apply voltage directly to the heart and then massage it – but all they did was make an incision. No bone saw, rib-spreader, clamps, or so much as an extra nurse required. And just a few stitches to close up!
Not to mention the two of them don’t seem to be so much speaking to one another as taking turns saying words. Of course, many of the words repeat important expository points repeatedly, repeating what was repeated in case you missed the repetition. Like how experimenting on humans is wrong. It shouldn’t be done. It has to be tested on animals first. You can’t just go doing these things to people without trying it out on animals first! Why, it’s madness to think that you would do something so unsafe as to just do these unspeakable things to a person before first – WE GET IT.
Then there’s the car ride – we are shown Bill’s foot pressing the gas pedal toward the floor several times, and the sound of squealing tires is repeatedly dubbed in (even when the car is travelling on a level, straight road). Then, the inevitable crash. In the days before compulsory seat belts, Bill is ejected and rolls harmlessly down a hill, while Jan is decapitated in the flaming wreckage. But her hand is nearly able to grasp his, and she apparently hands him her own head through the car window, since he hands his jacket into the car in a wad and it is handed back to him wrapped around her noggin…maybe the camera guy gave it to him?
He somehow runs a mile over some one’s landscaped lawn – oh sorry, “through the woods” to reach the country house and get his Igor – I mean assistant – to help him play mad-scientist with her cranium. Now in her ‘Jan in the Pan’ form, she nevertheless has impeccable make-up, and her bandages don’t do anything so common as wick up the bloody solution in which she’s sitting.
Leslie Daniels, AKA Anthony La Penna does a creditable job as Kurt, Bill’s assistant. Though his constant falling for Jan’s reverse psychology tricks is pretty lame.
Oh yeah – the whole reason Kurt called Bill was because one of his experiments (an amalgamation of various bodies) has mutated and gone mad. It’s locked in a “closet” – which has a peep-door in it. I know all my closets have little peep-doors, for when I want to see my winter coats, but not open the door all the way. Or for when I want to play Secret Night Club?
Luckily, it’s a short film at just over 81 minutes, so by the time you’re wishing they would all DIAF, they do.
If you would like to see this for yourself and find your own set of flaws, The Internet Archive will let you download and view The Brain That Wouldn’t Die for FREE.
A couple of the derivatives the movie spawned look more entertaining than the original:
Though I was unable to find any video, here’s a fun article on a musical version for the stage from 2011’s New York Musical Theatre Festival.
And here’s some snippets from a 2015 reading of a version by Rob Salem at The Company Theatre in Toronto (featuring Graham Greene and Colin Mochrie, among others).
If you would prefer ACTUAL Frankenstein, there’s a couple from which to choose:
There’s the Frankenstein episode of “Tales of Tomorrow”, with Lon Chaney as the monster.
There’s even a print of Edison’s Frankenstein movie from 1910. It’s very faded and grainy in portions, and the title cards have been redone in modern font, but it’s still an interesting watch (and only about 12 minutes long).
We’ve covered some much more enjoyable sci-fi flicks on the blog before.
I’ve extolled the virtues of The Giant Gila Monster
But for truly so-bad-it’s-actually-good monstery goodness, check out her dissection of The Eye Creatures.