The Brain That Wouldn't Die

The Brain That Wouldn't Die (also known as The Head That Wouldn't Die or The Brain That Couldn't Die) is a 1962 American science fiction horror film directed by Joseph Green and written by Green and Rex Carlton.[1] The film was completed in 1959 under the working title The Black Door but was not theatrically released until May 3, 1962, when it was released under its new title as a double feature with Invasion of the Star Creatures.[2][3]

The Brain That Wouldn't Die
Theatrical release poster by Reynold Brown
Directed byJoseph Green
Produced by
  • Rex Carlton
  • Mort Landberg
Written by
  • Rex Carlton
  • Joseph Green
Music by
CinematographyStephen Hajnal
Edited by
  • Leonard Anderson
  • Marc Anderson
Sterling Productions
Distributed byAmerican International Pictures
Release date
  • May 3, 1962 (1962-05-03)
Running time
82 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$62,000 (estimated)

The film focuses upon a mad doctor who develops a means to keep human body parts alive. He keeps his fiancée's severed head alive for days, and also keeps a lumbering, malformed brute (one of his earlier failed experiments) imprisoned in a closet.

The specific plot device of a mad doctor who discovers a way to keep a human head alive had been used in fiction earlier (such as Professor Dowell's Head from 1925), as well as other variants on this theme.


Dr. Bill Cortner (Jason Evers) saves a patient who had been pronounced dead, but the senior surgeon, Cortner's father (Bruce Brighton), condemns his son's unorthodox methods and transplant theories.

While driving to his family's country house, Cortner and his beautiful fiancée Jan Compton (Virginia Leith) become involved in a car accident that decapitates her. Cortner recovers her severed head and rushes to his country house basement laboratory. He and his crippled assistant Kurt (Anthony La Penna) revive the head in a liquid-filled tray. But Jan's new existence is agony, and she begs Cortner to let her die. He ignores her pleas, and she grows to resent him.

Cortner decides to commit murder to obtain a body for Jan. He hunts for a suitable specimen at a burlesque nightclub, on the streets, and at a beauty contest. She begins communicating telepathically with a hideous mutant, an experiment gone wrong, locked in a laboratory cell. When Kurt leaves a hatch in the cell door unlocked, the monster grabs and tears off Kurt's arm. Kurt dies from his injuries.

Cortner lures an old girlfriend, figure model Doris Powell (Adele Lamont), to his house, promising to study her scarred face for plastic surgery. He drugs her and carries her to the laboratory. Jan protests Cortner's plan to transplant her head onto Doris's body. He tapes Jan's mouth shut.

When Cortner goes to quiet the monster, it grabs Cortner through the hatch and breaks the door from its hinges. Their struggles set the laboratory ablaze. The monster (Eddie Carmel), a seven-foot giant with a horribly deformed head, bites a chunk from Cortner's neck. Cortner dies, and the monster carries the unconscious Doris to safety. As the lab goes up in flames, Jan says, "I told you to let me die." The screen goes black, followed by a maniacal cackle.


  • Jason Evers as Dr. Bill Cortner
  • Virginia Leith as Jan Compton
  • Anthony La Penna as Kurt
  • Adele Lamont as Doris Powell
  • Bonnie Sharie as blonde stripper
  • Paula Maurice as brunette stripper
  • Marilyn Hanold as Peggy Howard
  • Bruce Brighton as Dr. Cortner
  • Arny Freeman as photographer
  • Fred Martin as medical assistant
  • Lola Mason as Donna Williams
  • Doris Brent as nurse
  • Bruce Kerr as beauty contest M.C.
  • Audrey Devereal as Jeannie Reynolds
  • Eddie Carmel as monster
  • Sammy Petrillo as Art


The film was shot independently around Tarrytown, New York, in 1959 under the working title The Black Door.[2] The title was later changed to The Head That Wouldn't Die.[4] Some prints of the film use both the opening title The Brain That Wouldn't Die and the closing title The Head That Wouldn't Die.

The monster in the closet was played, in his first cinematic role, by Eddie Carmel, a well-known Mandatory Palestine-born circus performer, who worked under the name "The Jewish Giant". He was the subject of a photograph by Diane Arbus, titled "The Jewish Giant at Home with His Parents in the Bronx, N.Y., 1970".[5]

The score, titled "The Web", was composed by Abe Baker and Tony Restaino and was noted for creating a sinister mood.[3]


The movie was picked up for release by AIP and released in 1962 on a double bill with Invasion of the Star Creatures. AIP cut it for theatrical release.[4]

Home media

An uncut, 35 mm print was used in the Special Edition release by Synapse Films in 2002. Running 85 minutes, this version features more of the stripper catfight, as well as some extra gore.

The Cinema Insomnia version was released on DVD by Apprehensive Films.[6] In December 2015, Shout! Factory released a Blu-ray edition of the uncut film, with a high-definition transfer taken from the negative.[7]

Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode

The film was featured in episode 513 of Mystery Science Theater 3000. This film was the first movie watched by Mike Nelson in Mystery Science Theater 3000, after he replaced Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson) on the series. Jan in the Pan is the nickname given to the female lead by the characters on the show.

In a poll of Bring Back MST3K Kickstarter backers, which raised money for an eleventh season of the show, The Brain that Wouldn't Die was ranked #23.[8] Writer Jim Vorel ranked the episode considerably lower, at #125 in his ranking of MST3K's 191 episodes,[9] saying, "It’s a dark, fairly ugly movie with extremely cheap sets, but Mike’s presence puts the crew into an upbeat, energetic state that contrasts nicely with it."

The MST3K episode was released on VHS by Rhino Home Video in 1996 and as a single-disc DVD in April 2000;[10] the uncut version of the original movie was also included as a bonus feature. On November 26, 2013, Shout! Factory re-released the MST3K version as a bonus feature part of its 25th Anniversary DVD boxed set.[11]


The Brain That Woudn't Die has received mostly negative reviews from critics, with many criticizing the film for its excessive violence.

Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 38% based on 13 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 4.63/10.[12] Author and film critic Leonard Maltin awarded the film 1.5 out of 4 stars, calling it "poorly produced".[13] Dennis Schwartz from Ozus' World Movie Reviews gave the film a C+ grade. In his review, Schwartz criticized the film's acting, dialogue, and "awkward" direction, summarizing, "Though others might find it risible and in bad taste, it's hard to completely dislike a film that is so perversely entertaining and has no redeeming social values but is funny in all the wrong ways".[14] On his website Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings, Dave Sindelar gave the film a mostly negative review, noting that, although it managed to work up a certain amount of tension and featured some good gore effects, it was ruined by its lack of likable and intelligent characters and its "inability to decide just how it wants to be taken".[15]

Brian J. Dillard from AllMovie said of the film, "Hokey, overwrought, and poorly paced, this venerable creature feature still commands a sizable following on the basis of its campy, low-grade special effects, its T&A exploitation, and its many pseudo-philosophical soliloquies".[16] TV Guide awarded the film 2 out of 4 stars, calling it "one of the most genuinely bizarre 'brain' movies".[17]



The movie was first adapted as a stage musical in October 2009 with The Brain That Wouldn't Die: A New Musical, produced at the Overtime Theater in San Antonio, Texas. The world premiere musical comedy was a collaboration between composer Phillip Luna and writer/lyricist Jon Gillespie.[18]

The movie also inspired the musical stage production The Brain That Wouldn't Die! In 3D!!! by Tom Sivak and Elizabeth Gelman, that premiered at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in October 2011.[19]

In 2015, Pug Bujeaud's musical theatrical production The HEAD! That Wouldn't Die was mounted in Olympia, Washington by Theater Artists Olympia. Lyrics and music were written by the ensemble cast and the TAO collective.[20]

Soon thereafter, Hollywood screenwriter Bruce Bernhard acquired the rights to The Brain That Wouldn't Die and adapted the script as a staged musical comedy, creating a completely new score for it with songwriter Chris Cassone. The official world premiere for The Brain That Wouldn’t Die!…the Musical was at the Footlight Players Theatre in Charleston, South Carolina on October 13, 2016.[21][22][23]

  • The film was featured on the nationally syndicated television show Cinema Insomnia.[24] The host segments revolved around the horror host Mr. Lobo finding a suitable flower pot for his co-host and houseplant Miss Mittens.[25]
  • A clip from the film was featured on the US version of the comedy game show Whose Line is it Anyway? in the game "Film Dub".
  • Lines from the trailer for the film were sampled in the Fight Like Apes song "I'm Beginning to Think You Prefer Beverly Hills 90210 to Me", which appeared on their 2008 album Fight Like Apes and the Mystery of the Golden Medallion.
  • In the Nora Ephron comedy/drama Heartburn (1986), it's the film Jack Nicholson's character has been watching on TV in a scene set in his and the Meryl Streep character's marital bedroom. Although the film is not shown, and its title is not used, Nicholson describes the film's absurd plot in a way anyone familiar with The Brain That Wouldn’t Die can recognize.
  • In the 2002 video game No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy In H.A.R.M.'s Way, two guards turned into "man crates" are having a conversation. One of them quotes the movie's most famous line ("Like all quantities, horror has its ultimate, and I am that!"), and the other recognizes it and adds, "I never thought I would ever relate to Jan in the Pan".
  • Aspiring horror actresses who appeared as contestants on the VH1 series Scream Queens reenacted one of the scenes from the film. In the fourth episode of the first season, contestants reenacted the scene in which Jan voices her hatred for the doctor as part of a challenge.[26]
  • On November 9, 2010, the band Black Cards released a music video for their song "Club Called Heaven" based on the film.[27]

See also

  • Isolated brain
  • The Brain, another film released in 1962 featuring an isolated brain
  • Donovan's Brain, a 1953 black-and-white science fiction horror film featuring Nancy Davis (later Nancy Reagan)


  1. Young, R.G., ed. (2000). The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film: Ali Baba to Zombies. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 72. ISBN 1-557-83269-2.
  2. American Film Institute (1997). The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States. 1. University of California Press. p. 120. ISBN 0-520-20970-2.
  3. McGee, Mark T. (1984). Fast and Furious: The Story of American International Pictures. McFarland. p. 232. ISBN 0-899-50091-9.
  4. Gary A. Smith, The American International Pictures Video Guide, McFarland, 2009. p. 33.
  5. "The Jewish Giant". Archived from the original on December 8, 2010. Retrieved October 26, 2007.
  6. "The Ultimate Mr. Lobo DVD Collection!". Retrieved November 21, 2010.
  7. "The Brain That Wouldn't Die". Shout!Factory. Retrieved January 5, 2016.
  8. Bring Back Mystery Science Theater 3000 Update #41. Kickstarter. Retrieved on October 25, 2017.
  9. Ranking Every MST3K Episode, From Worst to Best. Vorel, Jim. Paste Magazine. April 13, 2017. Retrieved on October 25, 2017.
  10. MST3K FAQ. Satellite News. Other Media. Retrieved on October 25, 2017.
  11. MST3K: 25th Anniversary Edition. Shout Factory. Retrieved on October 25, 2017.
  12. "The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962) – Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
  13. Leonard Maltin; Spencer Green; Rob Edelman (January 2010). Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide. Plume. p. 80. ISBN 978-0-452-29577-3.
  14. Schwartz, Dennis. "brainthatwouldntdie". Dennis Schwartz. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  15. Sindelar, Dave. "The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962)". Fantastic Movie Dave Sindelar. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  16. Dillard, Brian. "The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1959) – Joseph Green". Brian J. Dillard. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  17. "The Brain That Wouldn't Die – Movie Reviews and Movie Ratings". TV TV Guide. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  18. Joseph, Rachel (October 7, 2009). "When Bad Ain't Good". Retrieved August 6, 2014.
  19. Hetrick, Adam (August 30, 2011). "Stephen Buntrock and Kathy Voytko to Battle The Brain That Wouldn't Die! In 3-D!!! at NYMF". Archived from the original on September 14, 2011.
  20. Clayton, Alec (October 8, 2015). "Theater Artists Olympia revised their huge B-movie hit".
  24. "Cinema Insomnia, with your Horror Host, Mister Lobo! – SHOW INFORMATION". Archived from the original on March 28, 2010. Retrieved November 21, 2010.
  25. "The Brain That Wouldn't Die on cinemainsomniatv". Livestream. Retrieved November 21, 2010.
  26. Mwangaguhunga, Ron (November 20, 2009). "VH1 Renews 'Scream Queens'". Retrieved August 6, 2014.
  27. "Black Cards – Club Called Heaven".

Further reading

  • Fleming, Chet (February 1988). If We Can Keep a Severed Head Alive...Discorporation and U.S. Patent 4,666,425. Polinym Press. ISBN 0-942287-02-9.
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