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Film / The Thing That Couldn't Die

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The Thing That Couldn't Die is a 1958 B-Movie horror film directed by Will Cowan.

The plot largely centers upon a college-age girl named Jessica (Carolyn Kearney), along with her greedy aunt Flavia (Peggy Converse). Flavia runs a ranch that doubles as a bed and breakfast. Accordingly, there are several guests at the ranch.

Whilst digging a new irrigation line for a well, aided by Jessica's dowsing ability, a fieldhand finds a chest. Due to the greed of the Obviously Evil fieldhand, the chest is opened...and it contains not gold, but the severed-yet-animate head of a Very Evil Englishman. It turns out the Not Quite Dead Englishman, Gideon Drew (Robin Hughes), was beheaded for witchcraft during the expedition of Sir Francis Drake—but as part of his punishment, he's still alive. Can the Very Evil Englishman retrieve his body and live fully again? Better yet, can he pull it off for longer than thirty seconds?

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


  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Aunt Flavia trusts her psychic niece to dowse for water, but when she starts screaming about evil then apparently she's just being hysterical.
  • Anticlimax: Gordon whips out the holy symbol and - BOOM - Gideon's a skeleton.
  • Asshole Victim: Boyd spends most of his screen time peeping on Jessica or plotting to steal the treasure they all assume is in the chest.
  • Black Magic: An early debate on whether Jessica's ability to find things is this. She insists it is White Magic, since it can only be done of her own free will and she can't do it for payment or any other form of personal gain.
  • Cassandra Truth: Jessica's increasingly hysterical warnings to leave the chest alone go unheeded.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The characters find the warding necklace that can defeat Gideon mere hours before it's actually needed.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: Attempted with Jessica. The crew of MST3K remark she's become more like a racy nun than actually evil.
  • Dawson Casting: Jessica is clearly meant to be 18 or so but is played by 27 year old Carolyn Kearney. The result: instead of being a spooky young girl, Jessica comes off as being...not all there in the head.
  • Dowsing Device: Jessica uses a forked stick while 'water-witching.'
  • Dumb Muscle: Mike the farmhand, who's quite proud of how strong his hands are, but probably can't use his fingers to count with.
  • Evil Costume Switch: Jessica changes from a white dress to a black one after falling victim to the head's Magical Eye.
  • Fanservice: Two women sleeping in the bed? Oh yeah.
  • Flashback: A lengthy one shows Gideon's judgment and execution.
  • Foil: Gideon's malevolent and self-serving witchcraft stands in contrast to Jessica's harmless and benevolent ability to find objects for other people.
  • Hypnotic Eyes: Gideon, in life and unlife, has the power to turn anyone who looks into his eyes Brainwashed and Crazy — unless they're wearing or wielding a holy symbol.
  • Large Ham: Gideon. Particularly impressive considering he spends most of the movie as a mute severed head.
  • Male Gaze: The last shot of the film is the pendant hanging in the deep v-neckline of Jessica's dress.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Gordon removes the cross from Jessica's neck...and ZIP! She's possessed!
  • Nonindicative Name: Once reunited with his body, Gideon can die. Hell, he manages to do it even faster than your average villain.
  • The Noun Who Verbed: The title.
  • Obviously Evil: Boyd.
  • The Peeping Tom: Boyd peeps on Jessica, but is kind enough to leave after she takes off her first layer of clothing.
  • Psychic Powers: Jessica...and Flavia as it turns out.
  • Pulling Themselves Together: Once his body is found, it gets up, stumbles about, and once the head is re-attached, Gideon appears fully restored.
  • "Reason You Suck" Speech: After Gideon's head and body are reunited, he "thirst[s] for human blood". He goes around the room, rejecting each person's blood in turn and giving an insulting reason why ("your blood has dried up, and yours has turned to water", etc.)
  • Revenant Zombie: Gideon fits this definition. Not particularly rotted, still intelligent, still has all his powers, etc.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Two cans, actually. The plot is set off by finding the chest that contains the head of Gideon Drew, and the film climaxes when they open the casket containing the rest of him, allowing both parts to merge.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Gideon Drew is based on Thomas Doughty, a nobleman sailor executed for witchcraft by Sir Francis Drake. Doughty was beheaded in Argentina in 1578, a few months before Drake's voyage to circumnavigate the globe reached California.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Faced with a servant of the Devil, whose sorcery is capable of bewitching even the strongest and most noble of souls and even managed to cheat death itself? Well, chuck a cross at him. It worked for Simon Belmont!
  • White Magic: Jessica's water-witching isn't evil because it's all for the benefit of others — she won't even accept payment for it. Gideon's magic, on the other hand, is all to serve himself.
  • Why Don't Ya Just Shoot Him?: Averted; one of the first things they do when Gideon is restored is shoot him. Unfortunately, he happens to be Immune to Bullets.
    • You do have to wonder why the original attempt at execution was so elaborate when all it takes to permanently kill him is a holy symbol from the same era. You'd think they would have done it by accident.