Retro Review: ‘The Brain That Wouldn’t Die’


When a promising surgeon is at risk of losing the love of his life, he does not mope instead he gets to work using his skills to fix the situation and stay aHEAD of things. This Retro Review is looking at the 1962 cult classic The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. This independent horror film written, directed, and produced by the duo of Joseph Green and Rex Carlton in the late 1950’s but issues would prevent the release of the film until 1962 when fan favorite studio American International Pictures needed it for a double-bill with Invasion of the Star Creatures.

Hoping to get away for a nice trip with his fiancée, Jan. esteemed surgeon Dr. Bill Cortner drives up to his family’s country home. On the way there, the couple is caught in a horrific car accident leaving Jan decapitated. Utilizing the equipment in his secret basement laboratory, Cortner is able to revive her detached head. Jan pleads for death seeing no point existence going forward, but her ego-driven fiancée vows to procure a new body for her. While he stalks seedy strip clubs to find a suitable body to harvest, Jan develops telekinetic skills and uses them to communicate with the monster the good doctor has secretly hidden away

As mentioned before the entire production of this movie was a two-man operation between Joseph Green and Rex Carlton. While this picture would be the biggest project of Green’s career, Carlton churned out a number of B-horrors throughout his career as a producer and screenwriter. This would come back to bite him in the face as he ran into the debt with the mob over financing his projects and opted to end his own life when he could not pay them back. The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is easily the film he will most be remembered by. This is vintage sleazy, exploitative, low budget drive-in B-horror at its finest and those who have seen it never forget it. Director Joseph Green never allows for a dull moment as the story moves at a steady clip (except when it pauses to linger at cheesecake) with plenty of grisly and macabre horror elements. Despite having very little in the way of a budget, the resources available are put to great use. We may have bland cheap sets but the props keeping star Virginia Leath’s head alive are visually great and the monster revealed in the third act it more than lives up to the anticipation that had been building. Sadly, the film’s star Virginia Leath despised being in this movie. A truly talented actress who would earn acclaim for her performances in film like: A Kiss Before Dying and Violent Saturday, Leith refused to return in post-production meaning a number of her lines were dubbed by Doris Brent, who played a nurse in the film.

While The Brain That Wouldn’t Die was only released to back up another movie on a double-bill, this weird horror flick has taken on a life of its own. Thanks to its public domain status, it is easily accessible to viewers and has become a solid cult classic. It has been a favorite of television horror movie hosts and even served as Mike Nelson’s first movie when he took over Mystery Science Theater 3000. A ridiculous film which proudly wears its flaws and makes them for them with the level of fun it provides The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is a strangely resilient film which will likely be around for the foreseeable future.