I’ve actually got two movies to add to the list this time out. Let’s start with The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, a movie from 1960 that my daughter and I watched on Friday night, though I’ve seen it before. It’s a definite B-movie: sleazy, freaky, and bizarre. It’s one of my personal favorites!
Dr. Bill Cortner and his father are working to save a patient in an operating room. The patient is about to die on the table, and Bill wants to use an unorthodox technique involving exposing his heart and brain to save him. His father objects, but at the last moment is willing to let Bill have his way if it will save the patient’s life. Bill performs the rest of the operation his way and the patient is saved.
In a conversation after the operation, Bill’s father warns him that he saved the patient this time, but his unnatural experiments will be dangerous in the long run. Bill waves him off, and one of the nurses, Jan, who is also Bill’s fiance, wonders when Bill will finally take her out to his secluded country house. He agrees after she begs to come with him that weekend.
On the long drive to the country house, Bill drives too fast and they crash into a tree. Bill is thrown from the car and when he comes to the car is on fire. He tries to rescue Jan but is unable to, yet is able to retrieve something from the car that he wraps in a cloth. He runs to the country house, where he has a laboratory set up in the basement. The thing he wrapped in the cloth turns out to be Jan’s head, and with the aid of his assistant, Kurt, they are able to keep the head alive with lots of tubes and blinking lights and the use of a new serum he’s developed.
Jan’s head has only 48 hours to live, so Bill needs to find a body to transplant the head onto. He heads off to town in search of one. In the lab, we learn Kurt is missing an arm that Bill has replaced with a foot, and we also discover there is a padlocked closet in the laboratory holding some sort of growling, incredibly strong past experiment of Bill’s gone awry. Jan’s head wakes up and, though Bill’s serum keeps her alive, she is in excruciating pain. The serum also gives Jan psychic powers, so she knows what he’s doing.
And what is Bill doing? Um…visiting a local go-go club and later a swimsuit contest, trying to find a beautiful replacement body for Jan. At one point, he’s actually cruising the town’s streets, searching for women with hot bods who might be suitable. An old flame of his in the audience at the swimsuit contest reminds him of Doris, a mutual female acquaintance of theirs who has a great body, and mentions to Bill that Doris now works as a model. So Bill heads over to Doris’s place, where she is right in the middle of a modeling session. Bill realizes she does indeed have the body he wants, and once the photographers have left, he convinces her to come out to his country house for dinner.
When they arrive back at the country house, Bill discovers the experiment in the closet has somehow killed Kurt, and Jan is awake and super-pissed because of the never-ending torment her existence has become. Bill covers up Jan’s mouth with tape, Kurt’s body with a sheet, and grabs a couple sleeping pills for Doris, still waiting upstairs. When he comes back down with Doris’s unconscious body, the experiment breaks down the closet door and turns out to be a giant, hideous monstrosity. It fights with Bill, and during the fight they set the laboratory on fire. The creature kills Bill with a vicious bite to the throat, and flees the house with the sleeping Doris. The credits roll with Jan’s insane laugh on the soundtrack.
The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1960)
Story/Plot/Characters— The script is ludicrous but fast-paced and certainly creative, the characters thin but with believable motivations within the story, the acting bad but not terrible. It’s not that it’s good, it’s that it could’ve been so much worse. (1.5 points)
Special Effects–Special effects are ultra low-budget but surprisingly well deployed for what they are. (1 point)
Scariness–No. (0 points)
Atmosphere/Freakiness–Oh yes. Some of the weirdest scenes in horror movie history. The secluded country house, the lab with something pounding in the closet in the corner, the insane doctor cruising the streets of the local town to find female bodies for his tasteless experiments. Freaky as can be. (2 points)
Total=4.5 points (Okay)
Nobody would say this is a good movie in an objective sense, but in contrast to most B-movies, it keeps things moving. No slow parts, and an endless unfolding of weird and ridiculous plot developments, combined with an unembarrassed boldness in using its cheap but effective special effects, give the audience its money’s worth. This movie only rates Okay on our rating scale, but it’s a highly entertaining okay.