Being big fans of The Man in the Pan (who occupied our site banner before we had an artist friend do a re-design) we were keen on exploring one of the inspirations for Re-Animator, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die.
Superficially silly sci-fi movies like this, are conduits for exploring timeless questions like “who decides end of life?” and “what are the moral implications of advances in medical science?”
These are neat philosophical questions wrapped up in the bow of entertainment (or a head, wrapped up in a shawl in the case of this B&W drive-in classic).
Pioneering neurosurgeon Dr Cortner is in a power struggle with his pioneering neurosurgeon dad, who complains that the operating theater is no place for experimentation. Dad, however, loses out and it turns out the fruit of his loins is all about tinkering, especially when there’s seemingly nothing to lose (“the patient’s dead anyway!”). Through some unconvincing mucking about with the cerebral cortex, the patient suddenly springs to life and Doc Sr is eating crow.
Flash forward and Dr Cortner, along with girlfriend Jan, is a menace behind the wheel. The lead foot rolls into a ditch, killing Jan although he escapes unscathed. While the wreckage is smoldering, Dr Cortner reaches in and removes Jan’s head from the scene, wraps it up, and scuttles back to his lab where he places the noggin in a photography tray with a bunch of tubes leading back to it along with a blood supply.
Despite lacking a larynx, Jan is quite vocal concerning her opposition to her current state, but the doc remains undaunted, hunting down a body so he can put his paramour Humpty Dumpty all back together again.
However, because this, like many a science fiction flick, is a cautionary tale for the creeping advancement of scientism, things don’t go off sans hitch. There’s a Frankenstein monster-type creature obscured behind a wooden door, with whom Jan’s severed head can inexplicably communicate and who does her bidding. The creature is played by Tel Aviv-born Eddie Carmel, AKA, The Jewish Giant, an entertainer who suffered from giantism and cast long shadows and wrecked havoc for tailors at a towering 7’3.
Also known as The Head that Wouldn’t Die, director Joseph Green’s 1963 opus suffers from languid pacing and occasional forays into film noir saxophone romance. Still, it’s a curious film that’s worth a look.
The internet has become an external hard drive for our memories, so maybe we’ll someday only exist as brains, minus physical bodies as this film depicts. Who knows? The BBC even broached the subject of whether this would be possible in an era of so-called “digital immorality.”
*** (out of 5)
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