The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is one of the more well-known, or one might more accurately say notorious, low-budget science fiction/horror shockers of its era. That’s largely because of the wonderful title and because it features one of the truly iconic schlock cinema images. Sadly that’s about all this movie has going for it.
It won’t surprise you to know that this is a mad scientist movie. The mad scientist in this case is brilliant young surgeon Dr Bill Kortner. His father is also a surgeon and the elder Dr Kortner is increasingly disturbed by the extremes to which his son’s researches seem to be taking him. He is also alarmed by his son’s willingness to try highly experimental treatments on human subjects. His son’s attitude is the attitude taken by every movie mad scientist worth his salt - he believes that he is a misunderstood genius being held back by the timidity and jealousy of the scientific establishment.
The young surgeon conducts his more esoteric experiments at the family’s secluded country dwelling (which looks like the sort of place that mad scientist in low-budget movies would use for their experiments). Naturally he has an assistant, a man named Kurt who was once a great surgeon, until he lost his arm in an accident. Dr Bill Kortner is particularly interested in the potential of organ and limb transplants and he has replaced Kurt’s missing arm, with unfortunately rather unsatisfactory results.
The young scientist is about to face his greatest challenge, which will also present him with his best opportunity to prove his doubters wrong and to prove triumphantly the correctness of his theories. On the way to his country hideaway/laboratory he crashes his car and his girlfriend Jan is decapitated. To most people this would be a horrific tragedy but to Dr Kortner it’s a minor problem - he has saved Jan’s head so all he has to do is to find another body to which to transplant the head. In the meantime he can keep Jan’s head alive for a couple of days in a dish filled with his new experimental wonder serum.
The enthusiastic young scientist has already performed several experimental transplants and the less-than-successful results one such experiment are kept locked in a cupboard in his laboratory. The headless Jan discovers that Kortner’s serum gives her some kind of paranormal power to communicate with the monster in the cupboard.
One of the problems Dr Kortner is now going to face is that Jan is not a bit grateful to him for having saved her life. In fact she now hates him for keeping her alive. He hasn’t yet realised this however and he is busily searching for a new body for her, while she sits in her dish and plots revenge.
This is a movie that has a lot of problems. The low budget is one of them. Dr Kortner’s mad scientist laboratory looks like a spare room in which a youngster has assembled the ingredients of a bargain store child’s chemistry set. It’s one of the lamest mad scientist laboratories you’ll ever see.
The acting is terrible, even by Z-movie standards. Worst of all, Dr Bill Kortner is the sleaziest mad scientist of all time. He’s not even sleazy in an interesting way. He is creepy, but again not in an interesting way. We don’t get to know Jan before her unlucky accident so we have no opportunity to develop any empathy for her before she becomes a revenge-crazed monster. There are no sympathetic characters in this movie. There are no heroes and no heroines. It’s difficult to care what happens to any of these rather annoying people.
Writer-director Joseph Green had an incredibly brief career. It’s easy to see why it was so brief. This movie offers no indications that Green possessed any talent whatsoever. This is a movie that is technically slightly more proficient than Ed Wood’s movies, but considerably less fun.
The disembodied head in the dish provides the iconic image I mentioned earlier. It is an effective image but it’s the only memorable thing about an otherwise very dull movie.
This is one of the four movies in the Shout! Factory / Timeless Media Movies 4 You - More Sci-Fi Classics set. All four movies come on one single-sided DVD. The Brain That Wouldn’t Die gets an acceptable transfer. The lack of extras (apart from one alternate scene) is a little disappointing but the very very low price makes this DVD superb value for money.
The fact that The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is a bad movie is not a major problem for me. There are many bad movies that I thoroughly enjoy. The problem is that it’s a bad movie that isn’t very much fun. I can’t really recommend this one.