The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is a sta­ple of vin­tage bad sci-fi movie lists.   It was the sub­ject of an MST3K episode and clips from it appeared in It Came From Hollywood, a bad movie com­pendi­um that put this film in the schlock sci-fi pan­theon along with oth­er favorites like Robot Monster and Plan Nine From Outer Space. In fair­ness to its crit­ics, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is filled with goofy sci­ence, wacked-out plot twists and over­heat­ed per­for­mances. That said, those ele­ments coa­lesce into a movie that is lurid and off­beat BrainTWD-bluin a way that a sim­ple “bad movie” tag can’t cap­ture.

The plot of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die splits the dif­fer­ence between Frankenstein and Eyes Without A Face, albeit on a tinier bud­get and with sleazier pro­cliv­i­ties. Dr. Bill Cortner (Jason Evers) is the story’s Dr. Frankenstein, a man obsessed with per­fect­ing limb trans­plants. He gets an unex­pect­ed oppor­tu­ni­ty when his reck­less dri­ving leads to his lov­ing fiancée Jan (Virginia Leith) being decap­i­tat­ed.

Working with his assis­tant, crip­pled ex-sur­geon Kurt (Anthony La Penna), Bill uses a test serum to keep the head alive and begins prowl­ing gentlemen’s clubs and fig­ure con­tests to find a new body for her. Meanwhile, what’s left of Jan is going crazy and devel­op­ing new psy­chic pow­ers from her serum — and there’s also a mys­te­ri­ous failed exper­i­ment lurk­ing behind a locked door that is essen­tial­ly this film’s answer to Chekhov’s gun.

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die deliv­ers all the trashy kicks that bad film fans crave: it glee­ful­ly push­es the bounds of ear­ly ‘60s film stan­dards, weav­ing in decap­i­ta­tion, dis­mem­ber­ment, cat fights and a macabre human mon­ster into its boil­er­plate mad sci­en­tist plot. It also has a horny, sleazy under­tone, par­tic­u­lar­ly the peri­od­ic stops to leer at lusty wom­en as the good doc­tor hunts for anoth­er body.

BrainTWD-01The film ben­e­fits from hav­ing col­or­ful per­for­mances that fit trashy comic-book mate­ri­al. Evers does amus­ing work as a calm­ly nasty mad doc­tor but the most inter­est­ing work comes from Leith, who goes bat­tier by the moment as the tit­u­lar char­ac­ter, and also La Penna as a trag­ic Igor-type who takes his pathos over-the-top. Leith and La Penna have the best dia­logue exchanges in the film via a cou­ple of sce­nes where they argue about the moral­i­ty of Bill’s actions while lament­ing their fates as soci­etal out­casts.

However, the ele­ment that push­es The Brain That Wouldn’t Die into trash-flick great­ness is a strange, noir-gone-nih­lis­tic qual­i­ty that makes it hyp­notic. It’s the kind of film where all the major char­ac­ters are will­ing to do awful things to get what they want and deceive and/or kill oth­ers to do it. Their actions lead to a grand­ly vicious finale that squares up the sto­ry in Old BrainTWD-02Testament style by pun­ish­ing every­one caught up in the film’s vor­tex of sleaze­ball sci­ence.

In short, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die shouldn’t be dis­missed as a mere bad movie. This lit­tle quick­ie is also suf­fused with a mean-spirit­ed sen­si­bil­i­ty and a bleak world­view that give it a real charge. Fans of grind­house fare might appre­ci­ate its poke-you-in-the-eye approach to famil­iar mad sci­en­tist movie con­cepts.

Blu-Ray Notes: The Brain That Wouldn’t Die has been a pub­lic domain sta­ple for years but it has got­ten a grand upgrade via a new blu-ray from Scream Factory. It boasts a nice-look­ing trans­fer that makes it eas­ier to appre­ci­ate the film’s sur­pris­ing­ly good black-and-white pho­tog­ra­phy and the loss­less mono audio presents its sim­ple mix in a clear man­ner.

BrainTWD-03There’s also a gen­er­ous pack­age of extras here. They begin with the episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 that uses this film as its back­bone. It was the first episode for host Mike Nelson and he and the ‘bots work their way through their usu­al array of wise­cracks and ref­er­ences.

Better yet, there is a com­men­tary track by gen­re film expert Steve Haberman and Tony Sasso, who penned an entire book about The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. They mix play­ful ban­ter with plen­ti­ful facts about the cast, the crew and the pro­duc­tion.

The extras are round­ed out with a top­less scene used for the inter­na­tion­al ver­sion of the film, a suit­ably lurid title and a pho­to gallery.