By Steve D. Stones
The first question I always ask myself every time I watch this drive-in schlock masterpiece from 1959 is: “Would any man want a girlfriend with a sewn-on head?”
It’s such a simple question with a simple answer, yet the main character in "The Brain That Wouldn't Die," played by Jason “Herb” Evers, is determined to keep Jan Compton (Virginia Leith), his fiancé’s head alive after it is severed from her body in a terrible car crash.
Evers spends most of the film desperately looking for a beautiful young body to attach to his fiancé’s head. He hangs out at bathing beauty contests and a figure model class drooling over curvy cuties to replace his fiancé’s body. He finds just the right body of a brunette named Doris (Adele Lamont) at the figure model class. She conveniently has deep scars on her face, but her body is to die for (no pun intended).
As for me, if I lost my girlfriend in a car accident, instead of keeping her head alive, I think I would be looking for a new girlfriend. Why go through the trouble of looking for a new body when you can just find the entire package, right? This is a large part of the unintentional humor of the film. What’s even funnier is when the severed head argues with the lab assistant as to whether or not it is right and ethical for them to be keeping her alive. Why be half dead when you can die a full death?
Perhaps the film is trying to make a statement about unconditional, unyielding love? Evers loves his fiancé deeply, and the loss of her body is not going to change his love for her. Even if it means he has to commit murder to keep her alive.
The film has many of the clichés in horror films that we’ve all come to identify. A monster is kept locked away in a closet and patched together by a mad doctor, much like Frankenstein’s monster. A loyal, yet deformed laboratory assistant stands by the mad doctor, despite his fear of the monster in the closet and his determination to suggest that their experiments are ethically wrong. The mad doctor is a playboy at heart who may love his fiancé, but deep down has a lust for other women too. We’ve seen this formula before.
Although The Brain That Wouldn’t Die began production in 1959, it was not released until 1962. The ending of the film shows the title as: The Head That Wouldn’t Die. It is the first film that I’m aware of that brings graphic violence to the screen, even pre-dating Herschell Gordon Lewis’ graphically violent Blood Feast.
The lab assistant has his right arm torn off by the monster in the closet. He drags the right side of his body up against the lab walls, smearing blood everywhere. The monster bites off a large section of Herb Evers’ neck, and then spits it on the lab floor as the camera zooms in on it closely. This was graphic stuff for the early 1960s. Television prints of the film had to cut out these two scenes in order to be able to show the film on TV.
If you ever find yourself in the same situation as the mad doctor in this film, I think it would be best just to go out and find yourself a new girlfriend. After all, why go through the trouble of sawing off the head of another woman just to use the body for your girlfriend’s head? Nature didn’t intend for heads to be replaced with different bodies, so why waste your time improving on nature? This is what makes the plot of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die so absurd, yet fun to watch. Keep the popcorn close by.