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Film / The Brain That Wouldn't Die

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"Let me die... please, let me die..."
Jan "in the Pan" Compton

A low-budget 1962 Sci-Fi Horror film directed by Joseph Green, starring Herb Evers and Virginia Leith.

Dr. Bill Cortner (Evers) is a rule-flouting maverick who has been experimenting with the transplanting of human limbs and organs, and even the repairing and reconnecting of nervous system tissue — much to the displeasure of his traditionalist surgeon father. But Cortner gets a chance to prove he's not been wasting his time when his fiancée Jan (Leith) is decapitated in a car accident. Cortner quickly uses "neck-pan juice" to keep her head alive while he searches for an attractive body to reattach it to. Jan, however, has her own agenda...

For the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version, please go to the episode recap page.

The Tropes That Wouldn't Die:

  • All Men Are Perverts: At least, according to Doris, the man-hating fashion model Cortner encounters near the end of the film. In her defense, she was hideously scarred after a man attacked her. And Cortner is just interested in her body, albeit more literally than she suspects.
  • And I Must Scream: Jan begs Cortner to let her die. She finally gets her wish as the film ends.
  • And Starring: A weird example — there's a special credit, not for a person, but for a song. One of the opening credits is for the recurring riff "The Web".
  • Answer Cut:
    Cortner : Have you got the keys to your car?
    [cut to Cortner and Jan driving]
    Crow: And the answer is, "Yes, she has the keys to her car."
  • Applied Phlebotinum: That strange serum Cortner uses to expedite organ grafting and preservation.
  • Artistic License – Biology:
    • "Neck juice" may replace the need to breathe, but one still needs lungs to force air through the larynx to be able to speak. The film tries to demonstrate this by having Jan speak in a raspier voice.
    • Not that we've tested this, but getting your head lopped off and reanimated probably won't make you telepathic.
    • Skulls aren't as thin as a canvas.
    • During the first scene's brain surgery, not only is there not a drop of blood anywhere on the brain skull cap, there isn't even any on the gloves after Bill's father manually restarted the guy's heart by working it with his own hands!
  • Badass Boast: Once Jan realizes exactly what she's become and the fact that Bill simply won't let her die, she decides to get her revenge and starts by declaring what she is: "Like all quantities, horror has its ultimate, and I am that!"
  • Brain in a Jar: Not in the film itself, despite the title, but on the poster, there's a brain (with an eyeball in it) in a beaker on the table next to Jan's head.
  • Brain Theft: The premise of the movie; a mad scientist tries to keep his decapitated girlfriend alive by transplanting her brain (and her head) onto a new host, despite her objections to the horrifying process.
  • Came Back Wrong: Jan was apparently driven mad by her near-death experience and her condition; she begs for Cortner to let her die, and when he won't give it to her, she plots his and Kurt's demise.
  • Cat Fight: The two strippers argue over who gets Cortner, at which point he walks out. (He can't use either of their bodies, because either one would be a witness to the other's disappearance). When the first one complains about the second chasing him off, her retort leads to a wrestling match. Bonus points for the film actually showing a picture of two cats during the fight and for a "meow" during the shot!
  • Chick Magnet: Cortner attracts women like flies... which isn't a good thing, because as he points out, "I can't be the last man seen with a woman before she's killed!"
  • Dangerous Clifftop Road: The main character's reckless driving on one of these roads causes him to lose control on a sharp curve and go over the edge of the cliff, resulting in the decapitation of his girlfriend.
  • Death by Irony: The closet monster rips off Kurt's good arm. So now he can't do things like open doors to escape.
  • Death Seeker: Jan isn't happy about her situation, saying it's a Fate Worse than Death.
    Jan: (last line of the film) You should have let me die.
  • Does Not Like Men: Doris. She even says flatly, "I hate all men."
  • Drives Like Crazy: Cortner drives like a maniac because "I've got to hurry." Which gets Jan "killed," no less.
  • Evil All Along: It isn't til Cortner is cruising for murder victims that the audience realizes he's not a Well-Intentioned Extremist.
  • Evil Laugh: The film ends with one from Jan. Subverted in that she laughed because she stopped the evil plan.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • Doris is possibly the least appealing model ever. Could be intentional, given her view on men (presumably including those photographing her).
    • The brunette dancer who gets into a fight over Cortner with the blonde he was meeting with. When she begins to change clothes in the room, even Mike and the Bots, who normally fill All Men Are Perverts to a tee during riffs, are disgusted.
  • Fanservice: Lots of shapely ladies in skimpy outfits.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Bill. Just watch his easy charm around Doris, knowing he's going to drug her, chop her head off, and affix his girlfriend onto the body.
  • For Science!: Bill's justification for everything is that, if it advances medical science, then it isn't immoral.
  • Foreshadowing: There are hints that Cortner is a Villain Protagonist when his father mentions that he should stop stealing corpses for experiments. One might initially get the impression that he's just a misunderstood Well-Intentioned Extremist Mad Scientist.
  • Gag Dub: One of the moments in the climax of the movie was given this treatment in an episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway?. The premise was changed so that the monster was a door-to-door salesman.
  • A God Am I: While Cortner himself doesn't say it, his father tells him that he shouldn't be trying to play God.
  • Gorn: The violence is very graphic for the era, with Kurt getting his good arm ripped off and Cortner getting his throat torn out by the Closet Monster.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Doris mentions her girlfriend. Back in that day, it was common for "girlfriend" to be synonymous with "friend who is a girl."
  • Idiot Ball: The whole movie (or at least Jan's decapitation) could have been avoided if Bill hadn't decided out of nowhere "I've got to hurry!" and started driving like an imbecile. And then, not one but TWO characters see no reason not to stand within arm's reach of a certain door, even though they both know full well what's behind it!
  • I Hate You Mad Scientist Fiancé
  • The Igor: Kurt serves as this, working with Cortner in the hopes that he will finally succeed in fixing Kurt's crippled left arm.
  • Impairment Shot: Cortner spikes Doris' drink to sedate her for head removal. The camera switches to her POV as she staggers around before collapsing.
    [Glass smashes]
    Crow: [As Dr. Cortner, warbblely] My mother gave me that glass, it was a family heirloom! Wubwubwubwubwubwubwub...!
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Cortner starts the film abrasive and arrogant, but his stated motivation of saving lives is admirable, and he is trying to restore his girlfriend Jan to a whole body. However, once he starts trawling around seeking a girl to kill for her body, all bets are off.
  • Large Ham: Doris. She projects.
  • Laughing Mad: Jan laughs insanely after the Fade to Black at the end.
  • Losing Your Head: Jan's head is kept alive in the basement via some "neck juice".
  • Magic from Technology: Cortner's "neck juice" somehow gives Jan Psychic Powers.
  • Mix-and-Match Man: The... uh... thing in the closet is eventually revealed to be a lumpy, misshapen humanoid, an assortment of mismatched flesh reanimated by an early version of Cortner's serum.
  • Monster Misogyny: Inverted, in that the "monster" kills the men and spares the women.
  • The Needless: Jan's neck juice seems to replace her need to breathe and consume sustenance, at the very least. Not totally, though, as Bill gives Jan only a few days to live like that without a body.
  • Psychic Powers: Jan takes "differently-abled" to a new level— being just a head gives her psychic powers.
  • Sarcastic Confession: Cortner looks Doris dead in the eye and tells her frankly that he's going to cut her face off and give her body away. She just laughs.
  • Science Is Bad: Cortner's experiments for transplanting human limbs, organs, etc.. Long before Jumping Off the Slippery Slope, Cortner saves a man's life during emergency surgery using his "radical" techniques... and is promptly chewed out by another doctor (his own father, at that).
  • Sexophone: "The Web", which plays every time Cortner goes trawling for bodies.
  • Slasher Smile: Bill's expression when Doris is passing out is positively chilling.
  • Title Confusion: The film's closing title card presents the title as "The Head That Wouldn't Die", the original title. They changed the main title (and the poster) because sci-fi films with the word "brain" in the title were all the rage.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Sure, Cortner, walk up to the closet when you hear the odd knocking. The closet where your assistant's blood trail starts.
  • Touch of the Monster: The last we see of the Closet Monster is him carrying the unconscious Doris in his arms as he escapes with her from the burning laboratory.
  • Truth in Television: Kurt's death throes. While it is goofy at first glance, in reality many of the things he does during those few minutes (stumbling around, repeating movements and actions he did earlier, convulsing even while he's able to walk upright) are things that people may actually do when they are in a deep state of hemorrhagic shock due to a catastrophic injury, especially if they don't die instantly.
  • Unbidden Resurrection Makeup: Looks like Cortner or his assistant may have some Hidden Depths, 'cause Jan's makeup stays absolutely perfect throughout the several days in which this movie takes place.
  • Unwanted Rescue: Jan really didn't ask to be saved from death.
  • Villain Protagonist: Cortner. It doesn't start out that way, as the only thing we know is that he's a grave robber (or at least steals parts from a morgue), and the viewer sympathizes with him trying to save his girlfriend— until he starts looking for women to murder to transplant her head onto. And then he starts trolling for "the perfect body" for her.
  • Voice Changeling: A meta-example, and definitely not intentional, but Jan has a completely different voice during her and Cortner's fatal ride to the country house, because Virginia Leith hated the film so much that she refused to go back for pick-up lines.