Dr. Bill Cortner (Jason Evers) is a brilliant surgeon who saves lives with his daring and innovative techniques. But this skill comes at a cost. He is obsessed with full limb transplantation, and experiments with cadavers and his hapless assistant Kurt (Anthony La Penna) in his spare time. He is very close to being able to transplant a dead arm to a living body with no nasty side effects. He’s about to show his girlfriend Jan (Verginia Leith) his secret laboratory when the moron goes and crashes his car. Bill is thrown clear, and so is Jan… well her head anyway.
Bill races with Jan’s head back to his hidden lab and using his secret serum he manages to resurrect Jan’s head! Now all he needs is a body. Bill figures it is time for an upgrade so he starts looking for all the smokin’ hot girls he can find, and decide which one he will decapitate and bring back to his lair. In the meantime, Jan is not pleased with her fate. But she discovers that the serum has given her telepathic abilities. She can communicate with one of Bill’s mistakes hidden in a closet. Will Jan cause havoc before Bill can find a body, or will he end up facing his former love: The Brain That Wouldn’t Die.
|"So he's a scientist you see."|
I’ve actually seen a tamer edit of this film, which moves a bit better in the pacing department. Gone are all the scenes with Bill attempting to pick up sleazy women. Instead it is much leaner and meaner approach. But the crew of Mystery Science Theater went for the longer cut of The Brain that Wouldn’t Die and I have to say it was a wise choice.
Visually the film has some interesting moments. When Bill retrieves Jan’s head, the whole scene is filmed with a frantic hand held approach. Surprising to see in a black and white B film. We also get lots of point of view shots, usually as Bill sizes up his victims. But we get a few shots from Jan’s severed head angle.
|"I hate ALL MEN!" Yes, yes, you've said it|
three times already.
Overall the special effects are low budget fun. Jan’s head in the pan is pretty nifty. The make up effects for the mutant, and the bloody violence as Kurt and Bill get attacked are handled pretty well. I was surprised by the amount of gore in the film. Didn’t know we were getting into that much blood letting until the later 60s. On the flip side, the operation that opens the film is pretty laughable, especially the patients vinyl skull.
The sound effects work well enough. But the music in The Brain and Wouldn’t Die is a curiosity. When Bill is cruising for a new body, the score kicks into some saxophone heavy jazz. I’m not sure what they are trying to imply here, but I kept waiting for a 90s Skin-a-max movie to kick in. The music used for the creepy moments is stock stuff. If you’ve seen enough of these movies you’ll probably recognize it. Most of it works fairly well actually.
|Kurt does his Johnny Tremain one man show.|
In the ladies corner you have Leith as Jan. It must have been a tough shoot for her, and I admire her dedication to this very silly movie. She has to talk in a raspy voice for about 85% of her dialogue. But she has the angry stare down pat. When she declares vengeance on Bill, you believe it. There is also Adele Lamont as Doris Powell. Doris is the unfortunate gal who Bill brings home to be the new body for Jan. Doris has a great body, but an angry boyfriend cut up her face. As a result she hates all men! She declares this on several occasions. Bill manages to convince her that he can help, but of course his help is just chopping off her head and tossing it away. Lamont plays the whole thing very broadly, and it is a bit of as shame since the character is supposed to be one you feel bad for. Most of the time I was just wondering how annoying she could really get.
As for the script… do I really need to discuss it? With a title like The Brain that Wouldn’t Die you pretty much get what you expect. The plot is ridiculous; the dialogue is extremely ripe and filled with great lines. It lacks the clumsiness of Ed Wood’s script work, but gives Bill plenty of dialogue with sinister alternate meanings. In it’s basic form, the script fits the title.
|The 1962 model Floozy!|
Is the movie an effective scare machine? Not really. But The Brain that Wouldn’t Die is a fun monster flick with a lot of riffing potential. It was the perfect first flick for Mike to tackle as the new host of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
|Jan in the Pan! Neck juice not included, some|
With Joel leaving, the crew at Best Brains decided to give the show a bit of a facelift. First off they had to create new opening credits (since the originals featured Joel in the visuals and in the song). They kept the same tune for the opening credits, but changed the lyrics to reflect Mike’s misadventures as they occurred in the episode Mitchell. These include Mike getting hit on the head with a clown hammer and shot into space. The new opening credits even feature a clip from this episode: The Brain that Wouldn’t Die.
|Doris is not buying Mel Blanc's pick up lines.|
This was actually a great selection of movie for a transition episode. The Brain that Wouldn’t Die falls in the familiar territory for the writers. It’s black and white, a monster movie, it’s got a goofy mad scientist, silly music and ridiculous dialogue. Let’s keep in mind that Mike had been head writer for years, and had performed in front of the camera numerous times playing characters like Gamera, The Amazing Colossal Man and of course Torgo from Manos: The Hands of Fate. The big difference here is that Mike would be taking a center stage role. And he handles himself well.
|"The road is attacking me!!!!"|
Of course with the title The Brain that Wouldn’t Die, things really get cooking when Jan’s head is placed in her pan with neck juice (Mike and Bots words, not mine), and she comes back to life. They dub her “Jan in the Pan” and they get a big kick out of her constant lamenting her fate. When Bill reveals Jan to his assistant Kurt, he says, “What you see is real.” Mike adds, “What you smell is unfortunate.” Later, when Jan and Kurt are verbally sparring, and Kurt is losing badly Tom imitates his bluster with a “Shut up you stupid little pan woman!” When Jan bemoans “Why did he let me die?” for the millionth time, Crow bursts out, “You still on about that? Well we got problems too lady!”
|Awww, it's true love.|
The finale, in which Bill brings Jan her new body and Jan unleashes her final retribution features wall to wall riffing fun. As Doris is laying under a sheet, and her prominent chest is jutting forth, Mike asks as Bill “But honey, can you say no to these?” Her answer is to bring forth a monster that Crow declares “looks like Boo Radley!” The creature manages to grab Bill through a tiny hole in a door (don’t ask, just watch the movie. It actually makes some sense). The boys offer helpful hints to the monster, “You know just pull the door away and beat him to death with it.” At this point, Bill is no longer our wacky protagonist, but a grade A jerk. As the film ends with everyone trapped in a burning laboratory, we hear Jan laughing. Mike says, “Oh, it was a comedy!” Well Mike and the bots certainly made it funny.
|Mike an the bots are proud of their hats for |
Jan in the Pan
The Brain that Wouldn’t Die is a fun episode. The riffing is solid, the movie is ridiculously watchable and it makes for a great transition episode for the hosts. In the scheme of things, it sits in the middle of Season Five, but it is well worth seeking out.
I give it three heads in pans out of five.This episode is available on the single DVD from Rhino, but was also included on a disc with Mitchell in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 25th Anniversary Edition boxset.