Updated: Jan 30
Late one night in the summer of 1968, when I was 9-years old and alone in my parent’s den lighted only by the glow of our black and white Zenith, I started watching what I thought was going to be a run-of-the-mill old horror movie on one of the local television stations. It turned out to be anything but run-of-the-mill and it left a lasting impression on every child and adult fortunate enough to see the uncut version slip through the local television censors. It was the last time I would see The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962) in its original form until I was an adult.
Back in the pre-video, pre-digital age, movies arrived at local television stations on film and each local station would edit the movies anyway they wanted so they could add commercial time or edit out what the station management felt was offensive material. The legacy of that practice was a lot of chopped up films on home video during the VCR era. Luckily for those of us permanently effected by the sight of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die and its living disembodied human head in a laboratory tray, the lab assistant getting his arm ripped off, and the giant misshapen creature made out of all the mad doctor’s failures locked away in a closet until it breaks free and chews-out the mad doctor’s thyroid gland from his neck…well, all that is now in public domain and can be watched in its entirety on YouTube.
In an episode of Trailers from Hell, John Landis who directed National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978), The Blues Brothers (1980), and An American Werewolf in London (1981), described The Brain That Wouldn’t Die this way…
It’s truly a lovely movie. It was produced by a guy named Rex Carlton who mostly did porn. It really is an extraordinary, tawdry film. It’s really gory. I’ve never forgotten it.”
-John Landis, Film Director and Producer
John Landis went as far as to say The Brain that Wouldn’t Die is one of his favorite films. TV Guide called it “one of the most genuine brain movies.” There are generations of classic sci-fi horror fans who will agree with them. The critics on the other hand, ride the fence in their reviews.
"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.”
-Dennis Schwartz, Ozus’ World Movie Reviews
"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".
-Brian J. Dillard, AllMovie
Halloween costumes aside, the true impact of the movie's legacy could come from the fact it has been produced on-stage in various musical comedy forms by five different theatre companies. Here’s the actual casting call for a 2016 production in Charleston, South Carolina. Don’t forget to send a HEADSHOT!
CASTING CALL NOTICE
Seeking cast and crew members for the 2016 production of "The Brain that Wouldn't Die," a Spinnaker Productions musical.
Adapted from the 1962 cult movie classic, "The Brain that Wouldn't Die" is a tale of love, loyalty, and organ transplants.
Jan (Lead): Female, 30-50
a soon-to-be married nurse whose head is severed in a car crash; luckily, her fiancé is a brilliant surgeon who can help her. Must be able to sing, act, and move well. Character types encouraged to submit.
Ethnicity: All Ethnicities
Required Media: Headshot/Photo
Keeping up with the times and treads of the 21st Century, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die has even generated a Kickstarter page. On it, director Derek Carl makes a fitting pitch for cash as a disembodied head with still shots, actors, a screenplay, but still no public release of the film after three years in production. He even offers donors a chance to win a role in the film or a credit as Executive Producer.
“I love the idea of playing a disembodied head and also it’s a fun idea to do a remake of a cult classic.”
-Rachael Parrell Fosket, Actress
“When you hear someone is doing a comedic remake, I think some people’s first thought could be that it’s mocking the original when really this is a love letter to the original movie.”
-Hank Huffman, Screenwriter
The producers of the remake shouldn’t feel bad about a delayed release date, the original The Brain That Wouldn’t Die was also way behind on its release date. The film was actually completed in 1959, but didn’t see theaters until 1962, primarily because of its graphic and sexual content. Producer Rex Carlton also re-shot the scene pictured below with the actress nude for European audiences.
Maybe the most touching tribute to the 1962 film happened on November 14, 2019 when it was announced Virginia Leith, who played the title character in The Brain That Wouldn’t Die passed away earlier in the month at age 94. Leith starred in many films alongside major stars and with major directors such as Stanley Kubrick, but all the headlines said it was the “Star of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” who passed away. She had us all hooked from the opening dark screen scene of the movie when she whispered in a terrifying cry, “Let me die. Let me die.”
Virginia Leith will never die in our hearts and The Brain That Wouldn’t Die will never die in our nightmares.