In 1960, a French movie called Eyes Without a Face (Les yeux sans visage) depicted, in gruesome detail, a man removing the face of an unwitting young woman, hoping to graft it onto his own disfigured daughter. This movie was one of the first to display surgical violence so salaciously. A movie that does that not nearly as artfully, but ups the sleaziness factor by about a billion percent, is the American International Pictures release The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. It’s more than a brain, actually; it’s a whole head that won’t die, as our heroine spends the bulk of the film in a pan of neck juice, attached to electrodes, begging to be allowed to die. Fun!
I love the fact that scuzzy old bad movies are getting remastered and re-released on home video. Every film should have the ability to be seen at its most crisp and clean, then if it still stinks, at least it wasn’t the presentation. This really started a couple of years ago when a work print of Manos: The Hands of Fate was found at a garage sale, digitally remastered, and released on Blu-ray. It’s still an incoherent mess, but at least it’s a pristine incoherent mess. The same happened, thanks to Scream Factory, to this lovely bit of insanity directed by Joseph Green and released in 1962 (though made in ’59).
It stars Herb Evers as Dr. Bill Cortner, an experimental surgeon who can’t seem to further his research in the operating room because of those pesky ethics. He’s dating a pretty nurse named Jan (Virginia Leith) who wants to get married, though Bill is hesitant. Driving home, they get into a horrible car crash and Jan is decapitated, but like the crazy person he is, Bill takes her head to his laboratory and brings her to life as a head in a tray–Jan in the Pan if you will. Though she wants nothing more than to be free of the prison of being a head on a desk, Bill is dead set on finding her a new body, a hot body, a body of a woman with trust issues who’s been hurt and lied to her whole life.
While Bill goes out and is the most reprehensible person alive, Jan is left to befriend the hulking beast of a monstrosity that Bill experimented on but left for dead in a cupboard. Perhaps between the two of them, they can get revenge on the most handsome mad scientist/liar/date-rapist/murderer ever committed to screen.
Now, you’d probably not expect a movie like this would become a cult classic, but it has, thanks in no small part to it being featured as the very first Mike episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. That’s how a little movie that was shot in 13 days and is among the sleaziest films ever made (but doesn’t actually include any nudity or smut) gets a 1080p HD digital restoration to its uncut international version. It looks great, it sounds great, it’s still really not-good, but there’s something sort of admirable about it anyway.
The Blu-ray from Scream Factory features a new audio commentary by film historian Steve Haberman and author Tony Sasso, who wrote a book entitled A Head of Its Time about the movie and why it’s apparently worthy of it’s cult status. It’s a pretty informative and lively commentary even if the two men don’t seem to be on the same wavelength at all. The other special feature? You guessed it: the full episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. In SD, of course, but an awesome bonus regardless.
I’d say this Blu-ray is worth it for the MST3K episode alone if you don’t already have it, but it’s also great if you’re a fan of weird, old B-movies like I am and want to see them in the best way possible. Oh, and just let Jan die, will ya?
Image: MGM/AIP/Scream Factory