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Synapse Films presents
The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1959)

"I brought her back, she'll live and I can get her another body. I can make hercomplete again."
- Dr. Bill Cortner (Herb Evers)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: October 06, 2000

Stars: Herb Evers, Virginia Leith
Other Stars: Leslie Daniel
Director: Joseph Green

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, disturbing imagery, sexual situations)
Run Time: 01h:22m:18s
Release Date: August 01, 2000
UPC: 654930300794
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ C-B+C+ C

DVD Review

This movie falls into the category of extremely guilty pleasures. It's full of bizarre incidents, unnatural logic, creepy characters, outrageous dialogue and completely lacking in budget. It's hard to believe that a film so deranged and weird could have been made during the 1950s. Of course, AIP shelved it for three years before working up the nerve to release it to theaters in 1962.

The Brain That Wouldn't Die would have been more appropriately titled The Head That Wouldn't Die. In fact, that was the original title, which is still seen during the end credits. Dr. Bill Cortner (Herb Evers, who later changed his name to Jason Evers) is a noted surgeon who is secretly experimenting with transplants. His fiancee Jan (Virginia Leith) is driving with him to his secluded cabin when they are in a car wreck which, oops, severs her head. Dr. Bill, ever the resourceful one, wraps her head in his coat and takes it to the cabin, where he keeps it alive in a pan of fluid and what looks like telephone cords. His assistant Kurt (Leslie Daniel) is reluctant to cooperate in finding a new body for Jan, especially in light of his withered arm which was a failed experiment, as well as the unseen monstrosity kept locked in the closet.

When Jan's head comes to in the pan, she's none too happy about it. Dr. Bill being a red-blooded American guy, he goes out to find her a new body, beginning in strip joints and moving on bathing suit contests. His attempts are foiled, but he eventually finds a model with a deformed face who seems to be the perfect organ donor for Jan. But Jan, in her headly state, has developed mental powers, including the ability to control the monster in the closet. Predictably, all hell breaks loose.

This is the sort of deranged synopsis one would expect from the mid-80s, not 1959. This film is way ahead of its time in its story. Since it was extremely low budget, the effects are just about nil. Much of the action is done purely by suggestion, and really ends up being all the more effective by reason of this remedy. In particular, the car wreck is done with a sound effect and camera movement alone. The producers were clearly resourceful in their poverty.

Evers is a little on the stiff side, but he does have some of the edgy twitchiness that would later be so important to Jeffrey Combs' portrayal of Herbert West in Re-Animator. Indeed, this film really is a godfather to that film, right down to the completely over the top situations. But the picture is stolen by Virginia Leith. In her first scenes, she's established as a chatterbox, and her severed head turns into a shrewish harpy that won't shut up; Dr. Bill eventually has to tape her mouth shut to get any work done. It's that kind of movie. It doesn't make a lot of sense, and it's not particularly scary, but it's highly entertaining in a camp way. The running time is a couple minutes shorter than the 85 minutes indicated on the keepcase.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Synapse did a major job of restoration on this film. A number of sequences were cut back in 1962, but they managed to bring them back into the movie, completely without visible seams. The black and white photography is bright and crisp, with excellent blacks. There are quite a few speckles throughout, predictably worse at the reel changes. However, this is a terrific looking disc when you compare it to the usual TV print or Rhino's release of the same film on DVD. If you want a copy of this movie, this is the one to buy.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The original nondescript mono is included. There is a fair amount of hiss and noise. The film was apparently recorded live, because there is often a fair amount of echo on the soundstage which makes its way onto the audio. At times dialogue is a little hard to understand, which makes the lack of subtitles all the more frustrating.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
Extras Review: Extras are pretty limited; we get the garish original theatrical trailer, and about a dozen stills and behind-the-scenes shots. Chaptering is good, but the subtitles would have been nice. The flyer contains fairly lengthy production notes in small type. They give a decent background on the film, though there is a synopsis which gives away the complete story.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

A nicely restored transfer of a loopy low-budget horror film. If you like this sort of thing, Synapse's disc is definitely the one to own.


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