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Film / The Brain That Wouldn't Die

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Virginia Leith as "Jan in the Pan" and Jason "Herb" Evers as Dr. Cortner.

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

Original title: The Head That Wouldn't Die. Evil Doctor Bill Cortner is a rule-flouting maverick who has been experimenting with the transplanting of human limbs and organs, and even 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 fiancee Jan 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 / Driven to Suicide: Jan begs Cortner to let her die.
  • Answer Cut
    Cortner : Have you got the keys to your car?
    [cut to Cortner and Jan driving]note 
  • 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.
    • Not that we've tested this, but getting your head lopped off and reanimated probably won't make you telepathic.
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  • Badass Boast: "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 Transplant
  • Came Back Wrong: Jan
  • 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 there's 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!"
  • 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."
    • Les Yay: She also mentions that she lives with her girlfriend.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Foreshadowing: There are hints that Cortner is a Villain Protagonist when his father mentions he should stop stealing corpses for experiments. One might initially get the impression 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 not stated, Cortner's father tells him that he shouldn't be trying to play God.
  • Gorn: The violence is very graphic for the era.
  • I Hate You Mad Scientist Fiancé
  • The Igor: Kurt.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 So Different: Jan uses this on the Monster so it will do her bidding. However, she's just as horrified as anyone else when she finally sees it.
  • 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 / Working Title: 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 your assistant's blood trail starts at.
  • 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) have been known to be things 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.
  • 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, most likely due to the director being unable to bring the original actress back to record additional dialogue.


Example of: