The Brain That Wouldn't Die


1h 21m 1962
The Brain That Wouldn't Die

Brief Synopsis

A scientist keeps his wife's severed head alive until he can find a new body for her.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Black Door, The Head That Wouldn't Die
Genre
Horror
Thriller
Release Date
May 1962
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Rex Carlton Productions
Distribution Company
American International Pictures
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 21m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Synopsis

Surgeon Bill Cortner, who robs graves to obtain organs for his transplant experiments, has an automobile wreck in which his fiancée, Jan, is decapitated. He rushes her head to his laboratory where, with various drugs and equipment, he is able to keep the brain alive. Although Jan pleads with Cortner to let her die, he abducts Doris Powell, a disfigured photographer's model with a beautiful body, which he intends to attach to his fiancée's head. Jan, however, manages to communicate with a demented, captive monster created by Cortner's previous operations; when the creature escapes and sets the laboratory on fire, killing both the doctor and his assistant, Doris is freed and Jan's suffering ends.

Photo Collections

The Brain That Wouldn't Die - Lobby Card
Here is a lobby card from The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Black Door, The Head That Wouldn't Die
Genre
Horror
Thriller
Release Date
May 1962
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Rex Carlton Productions
Distribution Company
American International Pictures
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 21m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Articles

The Brain That Wouldn't Die


With the growing popularity of post-Freudian psychoanalysis and atomic-age science breakthroughs in the 1950s, the popularity of disembodied heads and super-powered brains wreaking havoc perfectly encapsulated social anxieties of the decade. Pulp novels got plenty of mileage from the concept, and filmmakers grappled with severed heads and floating brains terrorizing the populace in projects that turned out classy (1953's Donovan's Brain), creepy (1957's The Brain from Planet Arous), grisly (1958's Fiend without a Face), and, ahem, Teutonic (1959's The Head). However, for sheer absurdity, the prize easily goes to The Brain that Wouldn't Die (1962), an independent, low-budget mish-mash of a mad scientist, a deformed monster in a closet, sleazy women, and a constantly complaining female cranium with diabolical powers.

Comprised mostly of television bit players, the film follows the misadventures of struggling young scientist Dr. Bill Cortner (Jason "Herb" Evers), whose experiments involving the transplantation of body parts have resulted in some unsavory secrets in his basement at a secret country house. When he wrecks his car and accidentally dismembers his fiancée, fellow scientist Jan (Virginia Leith), he decides to abscond with her severed head and find it a new, super-stacked body to revive his love life. While the doc spends his spare time cruising strip joints and cheap beauty pageants for the perfect female vessel, the reanimated head of Jan sits in a medical pan and develops a peculiar telepathic connection with Bill's most monstrous creation, which lurks unseen behind a nearby locked door...

Though filmed in 1959, the film (originally filmed as The Head that Wouldn't Die) didn't see the light of drive-in projectors until 1962 (barely beating out the almost-as-ridiculous The Madmen from Mandoras (1963), later re-edited into the tacky They Saved Hitler's Brain), where it delighted horror fans with its eccentricities and secured its cult reputation for all time. Though its quality obviously can't compare, the film also ties with Georges Franju's Eyes without a Face (1960) as the first modern graphic gore film thanks to its imagery of chunks of torn shoulder flesh and amputated, wall-spraying arm stumps (often edited out of TV prints and several video editions). In an odd shortcut around the demands of creating an imposing monster, the film instead utilizes 7.6-foot-tall Israeli-born, Bronx-bred Eddie Carmel (born Edward Carmeli), a stand-up comedian, singer and circus performer most famous for his Diane Arbus portrait, "Jewish Giant at Home with His Parents." His only other credited film appearance came in 1963 with a caveman nudie, 50,000 B.C. (Before Clothing), which makes The Brain that Wouldn't Die look opulent in comparison.

Financed by Rex Carlton Productions (whose only other contribution to American cinema was the rather more sedate The Devil's Hand the same year), The Brain that Wouldn't Die was theatrically released by American-International Pictures, whose failure to add copyright information to the new title card resulted in the film quickly falling into the public domain. This proved to be a blessing as numerous video companies issued their own versions from the early 1980s, though its most notorious incarnation is easily its adaptation into one of the most popular episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. However, in this case, the experience is just as entertaining and outrageous – if not even more so – without the presence of wisecracking robots. Watch it with someone you love... or at least what's left of them.

Producer: Rex Carlton, Mort Landberg
Director: Joseph Green
Screenplay: Rex Carlton (story), Joseph Green
Cinematography: Stephen Hajnal
Film Editing: Leonard Anderson, Marc Anderson
Art Direction: Paul Fanning
Music: Abe Baker, Tony Restaino
Cast: Jason Evers (Dr. Bill Cortner), Virginia Leith (Jan Compton), Leslie Daniels (Kurt), Adele Lamont (Doris Powell), Marilyn Hanold (Peggy Howard), Bruce Brighton (Dr. Cortner).
BW-82m.

by Nathaniel Thompson
The Brain That Wouldn't Die

The Brain That Wouldn't Die

With the growing popularity of post-Freudian psychoanalysis and atomic-age science breakthroughs in the 1950s, the popularity of disembodied heads and super-powered brains wreaking havoc perfectly encapsulated social anxieties of the decade. Pulp novels got plenty of mileage from the concept, and filmmakers grappled with severed heads and floating brains terrorizing the populace in projects that turned out classy (1953's Donovan's Brain), creepy (1957's The Brain from Planet Arous), grisly (1958's Fiend without a Face), and, ahem, Teutonic (1959's The Head). However, for sheer absurdity, the prize easily goes to The Brain that Wouldn't Die (1962), an independent, low-budget mish-mash of a mad scientist, a deformed monster in a closet, sleazy women, and a constantly complaining female cranium with diabolical powers. Comprised mostly of television bit players, the film follows the misadventures of struggling young scientist Dr. Bill Cortner (Jason "Herb" Evers), whose experiments involving the transplantation of body parts have resulted in some unsavory secrets in his basement at a secret country house. When he wrecks his car and accidentally dismembers his fiancée, fellow scientist Jan (Virginia Leith), he decides to abscond with her severed head and find it a new, super-stacked body to revive his love life. While the doc spends his spare time cruising strip joints and cheap beauty pageants for the perfect female vessel, the reanimated head of Jan sits in a medical pan and develops a peculiar telepathic connection with Bill's most monstrous creation, which lurks unseen behind a nearby locked door... Though filmed in 1959, the film (originally filmed as The Head that Wouldn't Die) didn't see the light of drive-in projectors until 1962 (barely beating out the almost-as-ridiculous The Madmen from Mandoras (1963), later re-edited into the tacky They Saved Hitler's Brain), where it delighted horror fans with its eccentricities and secured its cult reputation for all time. Though its quality obviously can't compare, the film also ties with Georges Franju's Eyes without a Face (1960) as the first modern graphic gore film thanks to its imagery of chunks of torn shoulder flesh and amputated, wall-spraying arm stumps (often edited out of TV prints and several video editions). In an odd shortcut around the demands of creating an imposing monster, the film instead utilizes 7.6-foot-tall Israeli-born, Bronx-bred Eddie Carmel (born Edward Carmeli), a stand-up comedian, singer and circus performer most famous for his Diane Arbus portrait, "Jewish Giant at Home with His Parents." His only other credited film appearance came in 1963 with a caveman nudie, 50,000 B.C. (Before Clothing), which makes The Brain that Wouldn't Die look opulent in comparison. Financed by Rex Carlton Productions (whose only other contribution to American cinema was the rather more sedate The Devil's Hand the same year), The Brain that Wouldn't Die was theatrically released by American-International Pictures, whose failure to add copyright information to the new title card resulted in the film quickly falling into the public domain. This proved to be a blessing as numerous video companies issued their own versions from the early 1980s, though its most notorious incarnation is easily its adaptation into one of the most popular episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. However, in this case, the experience is just as entertaining and outrageous – if not even more so – without the presence of wisecracking robots. Watch it with someone you love... or at least what's left of them. Producer: Rex Carlton, Mort Landberg Director: Joseph Green Screenplay: Rex Carlton (story), Joseph Green Cinematography: Stephen Hajnal Film Editing: Leonard Anderson, Marc Anderson Art Direction: Paul Fanning Music: Abe Baker, Tony Restaino Cast: Jason Evers (Dr. Bill Cortner), Virginia Leith (Jan Compton), Leslie Daniels (Kurt), Adele Lamont (Doris Powell), Marilyn Hanold (Peggy Howard), Bruce Brighton (Dr. Cortner). BW-82m. by Nathaniel Thompson

The Brain That Wouldn't Die


Who would have thought that a disembodied head would end up being the star of so many horror films but it's true. From The Man Without a Body (1957) where scientists revive the talking head of Nostradamus to Re-Animator (1985) featuring the infamous severed head/oral sex sequence, there are countless movies about trunkless noggins bent on ruling the world or being subjected to cruel and unusual experiments. But, probably the looniest and most entertaining one in the bunch is The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962), now available on DVD from Synapse Films.

Shot in 1959 on a threadbare production budget of $62,000 and not picked up for theatrical distribution until 1962, The Brain That Wouldn't Die defies easy categorization because while it follows the conventions of a traditional mad scientist thriller, the characters and the dialogue are so outre that it seems more like some crazy off-Broadway "Theatre of the Absurd" production. From the get-go, you've got an extreme situation that's just brimming with perverse possibilities; a constantly quarreling father and son team of surgeons who get in heated arguments over transplant procedures. The younger one, Dr. Bill Cortner (Herb Evers), is convinced he can grow tissue from severed body parts and has taken to stealing human limbs from amputee operations at the hospital. We soon find out just how obsessed he is - he's been spending all his weekends at his father's isolated country house, trying to get his technique down to a fool-proof method (one of his "mistakes" is locked in a basement closet). Assisting him in his endeavors is Kurt (Leslie Daniels), a whining masochist who keeps hoping Dr. Cortner can give him a new, healthy arm; his current transplant is shriveling away slowly. Then things really get messy. Bill and his fiancee Jan (Virginia Leith) are involved in a terrible car accident with Bill being thrown from the wreck. He staggers to his feet, stumbles toward the flaming vehicle and what does he do? He scoops up his fiancee's decapitated head, wraps it in his sports jacket and runs like a madman across the countryside (lots of zany hand-held camerawork here) until he reaches his private laboratory. In no time, Jan's head is placed in a tray of osmotic liquid and rigged up to a bunch of gurgling tubes. Even wrapped up in a huge ace bandage, Jan still looks FABULOUS, false eyelashes and all! But she is angrier than a hornet when she realizes what has happened to her.

To say more about the plot would spoil it for those who have yet to experience this deranged B-picture from director Joseph Green, his film debut. The tacky sets alone give new meaning to the word minimalist, like that sleazy nightclub where Bill goes to find the perfect female body for his adored head. There's a hilarious back stage catfight between two burlesque dancers that looks like it was staged by Bunny Yeager, the photographer responsible for those great Betty Page S&M stills. Even the gore scenes still seem strong for a film of its era; in fact, the scene where Kurt gets his good arm pulled off by the 'thing in the closet' was considerably trimmed in the original release version (Synapse provides us with the extra-bloody, unedited version). And the ending has to be seen to be believed - did the cone-head geek monster really stumble into the sunset with the unconscious scar-face model for a happy-ever-after ending? But what really stays with you is that nagging head, its shrill laugh and its hilariously antagonistic relationship with everyone except the mutant in the closet; they form a mental telepathy bond. Favorite line? They're so many but how about the one where Jan's head says to the mutant: "I'm only a head and you're (slight pause)...whatever you are. Together we're strong!"

The Synapse "Special Edition" DVD of The Brain That Wouldn't Die is a must-have for fans of this cult fave, easily the greatest movie ever filmed in Tarrytown, New York. The DVD is the uncensored edition of the film presented in a new digital wetgate transfer (windowboxed) and the extras include the original theatrical trailer, rare behind-the-scenes photos (many of them featuring Eddie Carmel - a onetime Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus giant - in his mutant makeup) and excellent liner notes by Bryan Senn. Print quality is outstanding (hardly a botch or blemish anywhere on the film) and it's doubtful if this black and white oddity ever looked this good back in 1962 when it first played neighborhood theatres and drive-ins.

For more information about The Brain That Wouldn't Die, visit Synapse Films. To order The Brain That Wouldn't Die, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jeff Stafford

The Brain That Wouldn't Die

Who would have thought that a disembodied head would end up being the star of so many horror films but it's true. From The Man Without a Body (1957) where scientists revive the talking head of Nostradamus to Re-Animator (1985) featuring the infamous severed head/oral sex sequence, there are countless movies about trunkless noggins bent on ruling the world or being subjected to cruel and unusual experiments. But, probably the looniest and most entertaining one in the bunch is The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962), now available on DVD from Synapse Films. Shot in 1959 on a threadbare production budget of $62,000 and not picked up for theatrical distribution until 1962, The Brain That Wouldn't Die defies easy categorization because while it follows the conventions of a traditional mad scientist thriller, the characters and the dialogue are so outre that it seems more like some crazy off-Broadway "Theatre of the Absurd" production. From the get-go, you've got an extreme situation that's just brimming with perverse possibilities; a constantly quarreling father and son team of surgeons who get in heated arguments over transplant procedures. The younger one, Dr. Bill Cortner (Herb Evers), is convinced he can grow tissue from severed body parts and has taken to stealing human limbs from amputee operations at the hospital. We soon find out just how obsessed he is - he's been spending all his weekends at his father's isolated country house, trying to get his technique down to a fool-proof method (one of his "mistakes" is locked in a basement closet). Assisting him in his endeavors is Kurt (Leslie Daniels), a whining masochist who keeps hoping Dr. Cortner can give him a new, healthy arm; his current transplant is shriveling away slowly. Then things really get messy. Bill and his fiancee Jan (Virginia Leith) are involved in a terrible car accident with Bill being thrown from the wreck. He staggers to his feet, stumbles toward the flaming vehicle and what does he do? He scoops up his fiancee's decapitated head, wraps it in his sports jacket and runs like a madman across the countryside (lots of zany hand-held camerawork here) until he reaches his private laboratory. In no time, Jan's head is placed in a tray of osmotic liquid and rigged up to a bunch of gurgling tubes. Even wrapped up in a huge ace bandage, Jan still looks FABULOUS, false eyelashes and all! But she is angrier than a hornet when she realizes what has happened to her. To say more about the plot would spoil it for those who have yet to experience this deranged B-picture from director Joseph Green, his film debut. The tacky sets alone give new meaning to the word minimalist, like that sleazy nightclub where Bill goes to find the perfect female body for his adored head. There's a hilarious back stage catfight between two burlesque dancers that looks like it was staged by Bunny Yeager, the photographer responsible for those great Betty Page S&M stills. Even the gore scenes still seem strong for a film of its era; in fact, the scene where Kurt gets his good arm pulled off by the 'thing in the closet' was considerably trimmed in the original release version (Synapse provides us with the extra-bloody, unedited version). And the ending has to be seen to be believed - did the cone-head geek monster really stumble into the sunset with the unconscious scar-face model for a happy-ever-after ending? But what really stays with you is that nagging head, its shrill laugh and its hilariously antagonistic relationship with everyone except the mutant in the closet; they form a mental telepathy bond. Favorite line? They're so many but how about the one where Jan's head says to the mutant: "I'm only a head and you're (slight pause)...whatever you are. Together we're strong!" The Synapse "Special Edition" DVD of The Brain That Wouldn't Die is a must-have for fans of this cult fave, easily the greatest movie ever filmed in Tarrytown, New York. The DVD is the uncensored edition of the film presented in a new digital wetgate transfer (windowboxed) and the extras include the original theatrical trailer, rare behind-the-scenes photos (many of them featuring Eddie Carmel - a onetime Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus giant - in his mutant makeup) and excellent liner notes by Bryan Senn. Print quality is outstanding (hardly a botch or blemish anywhere on the film) and it's doubtful if this black and white oddity ever looked this good back in 1962 when it first played neighborhood theatres and drive-ins. For more information about The Brain That Wouldn't Die, visit Synapse Films. To order The Brain That Wouldn't Die, go to TCM Shopping. by Jeff Stafford

Quotes

The paths of experimentation twist and turn through mountains of miscalculations and often lose themselves in error and darkness!
- Kurt
Nothing you can be is more terrible than what I am.
- Jan Compton
You're nothing but a freak of life! And, a freak of death!
- Kurt
And what else has happened to it?
- Jan Compton
What do you mean, *what else*? Well, it's... It's mutated some, of course. It's changed considerably.
- Kurt
Oh, come on now, Doris. Do I look like a maniac who goes around killing girls?
- Dr. Bill Cortner

Trivia

Original plans were for last reel to be in color, with the doctor's head being cut off. Scenes were filmed with rats menacing the head.

Notes

Location scenes filmed near Tarrytown, New York, in 1959. Prerelease title: The Black Door. Also known as The Head That Wouldn't Die. Herb Evers is also credited as Jason Evers.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1962

Released in United States 1962