Purchase The Brain That Wouldn’t Die [Blu-ray] from Amazon!
I have to admit that I was quite surprised when I first heard that Scream Factory was going to release The Brain That Wouldn’t Die on Blu-ray. The label had come out the gates strong, releasing cult favorites like The Fog, Lifeforce, They Live, & Halloween‘s II & III. Only a few short years later, they were making announcements for films such as this one, as well as fairly forgotten VHS trash such as R.O.T.O.R and Metamorphosis. It seemed as though all the “big name” films had been released and we were now left with the stragglers.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I, for one, enjoy all 3 of the films mentioned, albeit for vastly different reasons. Yet, it’s still quite odd to see the “hot ticket” label of the time releasing a HD upgrade of a film commonly found on those multi-film packs that you see at your local department store. You know the ones. They come in a fat case and feature 50 or 100 movies. C’mon, people! This is like the 27th time I written a review for a film commonly featured on one of those sets.
Dr Bill Cortner (Jason Evers – Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Basket Case 2) is secretly performing radical brain experiments. Doing so publicly is kinda frowned upon. After one of his “tests” revives a patient that had been pronounced dead, he naturally gets a little cocky like most mad scientists tend to do. His theory is that as long as the brain survives, entire bodies can be replaced, let alone limbs. Cortner has gone so far as to steal corpses to test his theory.
Cortner is engaged to Nurse Jan (Virginia Leith – Violent Saturday, A Kiss Before Dying). As they are preparing to depart on a romantic weekend getaway, Cortner receives a phone call urgently requesting his presence at his lab. In his frantic state, Bill speeds them down twisting country roads, eventually losing control of the car and tumbling down a hill.
Bill is ejected from the car and emerges unharmed. Poor Jan is decapitated, her body roasting in the fiery wreckage. Bill, delusional from the grief, retrieves her severed head and runs like a madman the remaining way to his lab. At his lab, it is found that Cortner has performed earlier experiments with the stolen limbs. The result is a deranged monster that he now keeps locked up in a cell.
With the help of a disfigured assistant that he has coerced into assisting him through promises that the Doctor will one day heal the poor man’s deformities, Cortner revives Jan’s head. She is injected with a serum and kept in a liquid filled pan on a desk. Jan doesn’t share in her fiance’s elation, preferring to be dead than having to look for employment in a sideshow. That reference is fitting as the premise is an obvious precursor to the sequence in Re-Animator involving Dr. Hill’s head, albeit less graphic.
Cortner takes to strip clubs in search of the perfect body to use as a replacement for Jan’s. He may have loved “Jan in the Pan” for her heart, but she lost that in the fire. So, why not replace it with a big ol’ pair of titties and a bangin’ ass? And really, it’s good that Bill is only interested in these women for their bodies…. because some of these faces are scurry. I know that might sound like a mean thing to say, but the MST crew agree with me. So there.
Jan develops an almost telepathic bond with the caged experiment. The “creature” communicates with her through a series of knocks on its cell door. It has to knock on the door because Tony Orlando is already knocking on the ceiling. Together, they plan their revenge. Needless to say, Jan is the “brains” of this operation. Ahem.
The film gives a sizable focus to Cortner’s hunt for a suitable “replacement”. A predator, he prowls the streets, leering as he slowly passes each potential target. At one point, it seems that he may have found his prey . Some morbid humor is presented when she invites Bill to join her at a “hot body contest”. When her friend invites herself with them, the humor is taken to even darker levels when Cortner sardonically jokes about no longer being able to kill them.
Bill is soon led to Doris (Adele Lamont), a figure model whose face was disfigured by a former lover. Cortner offers to make her beautiful again if she will join him at his lab. Bill’s not really lying to her. He WILL make her beautiful again. He just plans on doing it with someone else’s face. He even tells her that he plans on tossing her head and attaching someone else’s to her body, but she has no clue that Bill has lost his shit, so she just kinda assumes it was a not particularly comforting joke.
The film unsurprisingly concludes with a showdown in Cortner’s lab. What may be surprising to some is the amount of gore that comes with it. Although dated, the chunks and stumps are quite bloody, particularly given the time period.
The performances are quite heavy-handed, Leith being the only one showing any subtlety. I assume that this is one of the reasons that many would consider it a “bad movie”. Personally, I feel that it works given the audacity of the plot. I wouldn’t want this film taking itself too seriously.
With its strip teases and cat fights, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die can easily be considered an early slice of sexploitation, as well as a “mad scientist” sci-fi film. Despite its sleazy facade, there is actually an anti-sexism message to be found. A man who through his motives sees women as nothing more than bodies is defeated by a woman, who, in essence, is nothing more than a brain.
This release is a vast improvement over other versions that I’ve watched. Hair and facial features are quite defined, while scenes set in Cortner’s lab are remarkably sharp and crisp. I did not expect this release to look this good. The print used for the transfer is very clean with minimal damage.
The blu-ray presents a decent audio track. Dialog is quite clear and the music distinct. Sound effects late in the film carry some sense of “weight”, but nothing that will rock your speakers.
As quite a few viewers were first introduced to this film through its riffing on Mystery Science Theater 3000, it’s only fitting that the episode be included as a special feature on the blu-ray release. The episode is presented in a SD, with 4:3 ratio, just like watching it during its original airing. This is an early Mike Nelson episode, and it’s also a pretty solid episode of the series as far as jokes go.
Also included are alternate scenes (from the International release) with nudity!!!! I do wish that there were an option to watch the film with these scenes edited back in (as opposed to just a stand-alone bonus feature) as I feel that this would have furthered the tawdry tone of the film, as well as making it feel like more of an immediate descendant of the old “nudie cuties” flicks.
OVERALL: A classic of schlock cinema receives a surprisingly impressive HD transfer. While short on bonus material, the features included are just what the average fan of this film wants included. Highly recommended.