The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)

I really dislike anyone who makes fun of this movie. It’s been riffed and goofed on for years, but it’s way better made than it has any right to be and is filled with some big ideas that other movies from its genre and time never would dare to include.

Shot independently around Tarrytown, New York, in 1959 under the working title The Black Door, this film finds Dr. Bill Cortner (Jason Evers) as a surgeon who just won’t accept that death is the end for his patients. And when his fiancee Jan Compton (Virginia Leith) is critically injured in a car accident that he causes, he takes her head and along with his crippled assistant Kurt (Anthony La Penna), he struggles to find her a new body to transplant her still living head on.

While Jan loses her mind due to pain and the sheer oddity of being alive without a body, Dr. Bill hits the go go clubs looking for the perfect body for her. That’s one of the strangest and most delightful moments here, as instead of just any body, Dr. Bill realizes that he needs a body that best answers his sexual needs, which means he cares less about saving Jan than satisfying his repressed desires.

Throughout this story and its slowly going mad rush to tragedy, there’s a past experiment hidden behind the door. It’s played by Eddie Carmel, a 7’3″ circus performer who was known as The Jewish Giant.

This was directed and written by Joseph Green, who owned Joseph Green Pictures. It was such a tiny corporation that it had one employee, Joseph Green, and brought so many wild movies to screens like Jess Franco’s Kiss Me Monster and Two Undercover Angels, Claude Chabrol’s Pleasure Party, Something Creeping in the DarkDeath Knocks Twice and his own film, The Perils of P.K. 

I love the way this movie takes our world and instead creates its own, a place where strippers fight on stage, where camera clubs are a plot point — Sammy Petrillo is one of the dirty men taking pictures! — and old girlfriends can be wooed back just to potentially get to be the body for a new fiancee.

2 thoughts on “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)

  1. hear hear! I love this weird movie too, though it gets so heartbreaking at the end, with Adele Lamont’s heartbreaking journey from pegging Evers as just another sleazy client, to refusing to get her hopes up, to getting her hopes up and feeling almost jubilant, only to then realize Evers is way way way worse than just another stage door johnny. Adele is good and the film kind of becomes about her for the last 1/4 of the film. She’s a perfect kindred spirit to Leith’s raspy head and her psychic link to the thing in the closet. All in all the rare movie where the white male scientist is the real villain and us rooting for everyone else–women, heads, monsters, against him.


  2. Remarkably, I watched this uncut on a UHF channel back in the 1970s. It warped me for life! Flash forward to 1985 and I am watching “The Re-Animator” on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. I knew it was based on Lovecraft, but I thought of it as a remake of “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die.”


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