The Brain That Wouldn't Die


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Patrick D Green in The Brain That Wouldn't Die
"There are some fantastic laugh-out-loud moments here and some wonderful design work."

In 1962, Joseph Green's The Brain That Wouldn't Die thrilled B-movie fans with its depictions of depravity and scientific mayhem. It packed in ingredients that audiences loved: an obsessed doctor losing his way, beautiful women in peril, technological marvels hinting at the world of tomorrow and a terrible monster which we know is there but aren't allowed to see until the end. It may not have been very good by other measures but it lingered in the public imagination. Derek Carl's remake endeavours to bring it into the modern age whilst reproducing pats of it shot for shot.

The plot concerns surgeon Bill (Patrick D Green), whose brilliance is overshadowed by that of his father and who takes refuge in a Re-Animator-style obsession with defeating death. After his fiancée Jan (Rachael Perrell Fosket) is decapitated in a car accident, he succeeds in keeping her head alive and, with the assistance of loyal colleague Kurt (Jason Reynolds), sets about looking for a body to attach it to. Kidnapping attractive young women, however, proves trickier than he expected (and a lot trickier than it usually is in the movies); whilst Jan, unhappy about his plans, begins to rebel and forms a telepathic connection with the monster - a result of his earlier experiments - which he keeps in the next room.

Whilst having fun with the original - snippets of which we see on television in the background - this version beefs up the female roles and shows more respect for minor characters, including new queer and African-American characters and the sex workers who are Bill's first targets. Where the original came close to being banned because of its racy scenes, this faces a different problem: audiences aren't that easily wowed by them now. Screenwriter Hank Huffman deals with this by amping up the comedy and putting more focus on character. There's some nice supporting work from Robert Blanche, whose resting cop face is put to good use as he plays the detective on Bill's trail.

In the lead, Green has deadpan delivery down pat and does good eyebrow work. He works brilliantly if one looks at any one scene by itself, but over time this pared-back performance begins to drag. There was a problem with slow middle scenes in the original and this really needed to be addressed; instead, it has been allowed to get worse. It's particularly problematic for a style of camp comedy that relies on keeping the audience in high spirits.

Like the original, this film gets some of its finest work from its severed head, with Fosket working well as a woman who has nothing to lose and finally feels free to say what she thinks. Her discovery of her power contrasts nicely with Bill's growing awareness of the loss of his. As events build towards a frantic denouement, the pace picks up again and we get to see what these actors can do as an ensemble.

There are some fantastic laugh-out-loud moments here and some wonderful design work. Carl has a great sense of play. Cutting out about 20 minutes here and there would make for a much stronger film but that won't be such an issue when watching with an audience who can keep each other laughing through the slower stretches. This will be at its best as a party film, and it's likely to find a loving home on some streaming site or other. It's one of the October 2020 Frightfest selections that will be hit hardest by the change of format required by the pandemic, but on the other hand, at a time when most of us could do with a bit of cheering up, it has a lot to offer.

Reviewed on: 23 Oct 2020
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The Brain That Wouldn't Die packshot
A doctor experiments with transplant techniques to keep his girlfriend's head alive after she is decapitated in a car crash.

Director: Derek Carl

Writer: Hank Huffman, based on characters created by Rex Carlton, Joseph Green

Starring: Rachael Perrell Fosket, Patrick D. Green, David Withers, Jason Reynolds

Year: 2020

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: US


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