First Movie Memories: The Brain That Wouldn't Die


The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962)
Directed by: Joseph Green
Written by: Rex Carlton

I get all weepy with nostalgia a lot, and I think it's because I miss Saturday afternoons when I was a kid flipping through the TV with my buddy Dave. Dave and I grew up watching all sorts of great stuff on cable, and especially shows like Commander USA's Groovy Movies. That's essentially how we got our film education. If it wasn't incredibly nice out, you could always find us sacked out in front of Dave's mom's floor model TV with wonky speakers, huge bowl of popcorn in our laps, and gigantic plastic cups of Mountain Dew at the ready. Dave is gone now, but those Saturdays were among my favorite times in my life.

Even earlier than that, I remember being just past toddler age and catching movies with my dad on Pittsburgh's Chilly Billy's Chiller Theater. Chilly Billy was more amusing than scary to me, but I adored him and looked forward to watching "that scary guy" every week. I'm pretty sure my dad limited the type of programming to the 50's sci-fi/horror stuff, as well as the giant monster flicks, but occasionally something more intense would slip through. Those really were the days that cemented my love of bizarre, subversive, horrifying, challenging, and violent films.

With all those memories bumping around, I do know that my first official movie memory, one that is very prominent in my mind, was the 1962 classic schlocker The Brain That Wouldn't Die.


A lot of people are familiar with The Brain That Wouldn't Die when it was chosen for roasting on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I don't know if that episode is seen as one of the better in the series, but MST3K is entertaining even when they're a little off their game.


Anyway, I remember being pretty scared of the mutant guy in Brain, but completely transfixed by Jan Compton's disembodied head. Frankly, the story is pretty grim even though the campiness undercuts it. For a long time I was absolutely terrified of riding in the car because I didn't want to be decapitated and kept alive on some dude's lab table.


For anyone who's been deprived of this classic, the basic premise involves a scientist named Dr. Cortner (Jason Evers) who revives his decapitated girlfriend Jan's (Virginia Leith) head and keeps her holed up in his lab. She just wants to die, but Cortner can't let her go, plus he wants his little experiment to be a success, of course. Cortner starts looking for a replacement body for Jan and resorts to murder and kidnapping.


For some reason, there's a mutant in the lab, and Jan can communicate with it telepathically. She uses it to help her get revenge on the doc in a fiery climax.

Sure, The Brain That Wouldn't Die is kinda awful in that endearing way a lot of 50's/early 60's movies can be. It's still a nice way to spend an afternoon with a few of  your snarkiest friends. Despite some hilarity, it's quite a pretty morbid little flick. Maybe I just have a special attachment to it glossed over by my old friend nostalgia.

You can watch the entire movie here if you want: