Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Brain That Wouldn't Die

... because they handed me a barrel with a fish in it and i had one bullet left.

 "Horror has it's ultimate and I am that."

As the title subtly indicates, The Brain That Wouldn't Die is a movie of impressive schlockiness. Elvira has done it, Mystery Science Theater 3000 has done it. And, really, how can you not? It's an archetypal piece of bad 50's sci-fi. (Yes, i know, many date the film at 1962, but it took three years to find a distributor and it is so very 50's i'm dating it to then...)
So, here we go. Our main character is one Dr. Bill Cortner. His father is a famous doctor, he has a "secret mountaintop lab" and a short temper and another character warns him, "Don't try to play god." Yeah, we see where this is going...
And his fiancee, Jan Compton. She works as his nurse. A woman gainfully employed in a STEM field who admits that she likes sex. During the Eisenhower administration. Oh, uppity tramp is gonna pay for that...
The Brain That Wouldn't Die opens hauntingly with a black screen and a frantic female voice whispering, "Let me die. Let me... die." Then the mood is immediately broken with some cheap n' bombastic credits, followed by the cheap n' bombastic film. Fade in to several doctors working over a patient who dies on the table. The older doctor -- Dr. Dad -- declares the patient dead. The younger doctor -- Dr. Screwloose -- asks for a chance to do things "my way."
"Very well, the corpse is yours. Do what you want to do."

... just what everyone wants to hear! Dr.  Screwwloose  manages to shock it with electricity and tinker with the brain and bring it back to life. Then heand Dr. Dad argue science and ethics and transplants and bureaucracy ...
"The supervisor had it out with me. He thinks it's you who's been stealing those limbs from the amputee operations."
"So what if it is? I need limbs!"

Fortunately, Jan, the fiancee comes back to distract everybody with her wanton ways.
"When you two are married, it won't be fun to watch anymore."
"Well, I can promise you one thing: Your grandchildren won't be test tube babies."

Dr. Screwloose gets a message from "Carl" imploring him to return to the secret mountaintop lab immediately. Some kind of emergency. The Dr. and his fiancee race to the top of the mountain... oh, you see where this is going. What follows is seven-minutes that could easily be excised and presented as an avant-garde short film of the time. A montage of blurred trees, intercut signage, abstract framing, fumbling through smoke and climbing an endless staircase carrying a severed head. Exactly. Stan Brakhage and Maya Deren, eat your hearts out!

 ... yeah, severed head. His shitty driving crashed the car and got his girl's head chopped off and, well, you can see where this is going. Straight to the lab! Allowing The Brain That Would Not Die to kill another 5-6 minutes of running time on test tubes, beakers and furrowed brows. We also meet Dr.Screwloose's assistant, Carl, also once a surgeon, but he lost an arm in an accident. The Dr. "fixed" it, and now he has something that looks like a dwarf foot for a hand. You know, maybe there's a reason they don't let him do things "my way..."

So, it's sort of the plot of The Man With Two Brains or Frankenhooker. The Dr. manages to reanimate his fiancee's head in a cookie sheet full of jello with some phone cords attached. Jan in the Pan, as she will hereforth be known, is none too pleased with this development.
"I've had success with transplants before, now I'll do it for her."
Uh, success? The dwarffoothand and whatever that "thing" in the closet is that they keep alluding to -- that's success?

Oh, fuck... Yeah, it's bad in there, but Dr.  Screwloose is not gonna deal with that right now. Right now, "I've got to find her a body!" 
Preferably one with big boobs.

What is this place? It's some kind of dive bar, but has Italian restaurant tablecloths and random dancers is fancy showgirl outfits and the most incredible mural. Are you seeing that mural? It's dogs hanging out at a bar. It's like a cross between the mural at the Hard Hat, the mural at the Frolic Room and one of those paintings of dogs playing poker. The Dr. tries to score one of the strippers, but is driven off by a catfight. A catfight so incompetent and literal they show pictures of cats and have "meow" sound effects.
... and suddenly we go from Maya Deren to Doris Wishman!

Meanwhile, back at the lab, Jan in the Pan is awake and starts talking to the thing in the closet, which knocks once for yes and twice for no. Yes, i am telling you about the conversation between the head in the pan and the monster in a closet. Jan in the Pan and... let's call him Tom Cruise. Because they have telepathic conversations while the mad scientist is off trying to decapitate a stripper. Jesus, i love this film! It is the mitzvah of schlock!
But it takes Jan in the Pan about two minutes to break it down for Tom Cruise: "I hate him for what he's done to me. Together we could have revenge. Do you want... revenge?"
(Knocks once)

Jan in the Pan now apparently has psychic abilities that come from... being a head on a cookie sheet full of jello. No, really, the whole explanation is, well, duh, yeah, if they keep your severed head alive you become psychic.  Everyone knows that. And we've already established that Jan was a smart cookie even out of the pan, so...

"I shall create power and you shall enforce it!" What i don't get is how Jan in the Pan is supposedly the villain here. Mad scientist, doing horrible experiments on people, mutilates her, moves on to killing women outright and, well, she's gonna stop him by any means necessary. My inclination is to say, "Thanks, Jan, have at it!"

Meanwhile, back in the big bad city, Dr. Screwloose is still acting creepy and cruising for a woman who he can get along long enough to chop off her head and throw her body in the trunk of his car. Unfortunately, the damn women seem to keep traveling in pairs and packs...

But then he hears of a photographer's model, who works from her home. Alone!
... but she has a heeeedious scar. A scar the Dr. can fix. No, really! If she'll just come to his lab right now, tonight, he can totally fix it!

Meanwhile, back at the lab, Jan in the Pan is trying to bait/mindfuck Dwarffoothand Carl into letting Tom Cruise out of the closet. I gotta say, Virginia Leith does a good job for only being able to use her head to act.

... and then Tom Cruise rips his arm off. Ironically, the good arm. Still got the dwarffoothand!

In the meantime, Dr. Screwloose roofies the bikini model -- Because when you're going to have major surgery in the middle of the night, you and your doctor should always have a drink first! -- and carries her down to the lab, to prepare her for the cranial transplant operation.
In the end, Jan in the Pan and Tom Cruise -- the decapitated head in a cookie sheet of jello and the monster made out of random grafted amputation castoffs that lives in the closet -- save the day.

At the end of the movie, Jan in the Pan, Dr. Screwloose and Carl perish in the burning lab. Tom Cruise carries the scarred bikini model to safety and, i assume, a happily ever after... 

Tom Cruise was played by Eddie Carmel, who was the subject of a famous photograph by Diane Arbus. In monster form, he also looks curiously like a nasty, melted version Muno from Yo Gabba Gabba.
The Brain That Wouldn't Die remains a classic of sci-fi D-movie trash. it's cheap, it's ridiculous, it's entirely entertaining... well, most of the time anyway. And the lulls allow you to add your own commentary. So, watch the movie.  Buy the T-shirt. Make the dress. Build the model. See the musicial stage production. Listen to the record while leaning back on the throw pillow...

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