The Brain That Wouldn’t Die

Brain_that_wouldnt_dieBeing 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.

Brain_that_wouldnt_die_carmelAlso 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)

Click on the Link to listen to our THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN”T DIE podcast!


The Undertaker and His Pals

Undertaker_and_his_palsGreasy spoon motorcycle goons join forces with a corrupt funeral director in the 60s curiosity The Undertaker and His Pals, a film clearly indebted to Herschell Gordon Lewis’s early blood work.

There’s no budget, rickety sets, pastels, and lots and lots of gore in what is ostensibly a comedy (even if many of the yuks fall flat, the WAH-WAH-WAAAAA…trumpet squawks after a deflated zinger not helping matters).

There’s even a bit of slapstick zaniness courtesy of spray-on deodorant that is as unfunny as it is bizarre.

Diner operators by day (one of whom bearing an uncanny resemblance to Iron Chef Bobby Flay), the cook duo knife nubiles by night, dressed head-to-toe in leather, dragging vics back to their kitchen to put the parts through a meat grinder.

As a result, the daily specials frequently change. In one risque instance, the chef/killer, after murdering an African American interloper, asks a customer if he prefers “white or dark meat.”

The beneficiary of the carnage though is the scheming Mort, who runs Shady Rest Funeral Home and up-charges clients because of the state of the bodies, trying to get them to avoid the fine print in a text-heavy contract.

undertaker_and_his_Pals_stillSoon though, much like Blood Feast (the films are of similar length too — just over an hour), detectives  get wind of things. They begin an investigation after an enterprising friend of one of the victims grabs a revolver out of a living room drawer and fires the license plate off the back of one of the bikes.

Viewers may recognize co-star James Westmorland from the proto-slasher vetsploitation Don’t Answer the Phone! After Undertaker, fellow co-star Ray Dannis got back into the business of corpse grinding with…The Corpse Grinders.

The gang’s leather aesthetic is pretty creepy-cool and their MO is darn fantastic, especially for the mid-60s. Unfortunately, things veer too far to the side of “funny.”

**1/2 (out of 5)