Directed by Derek Carl.
Writing Credits (in alphabetical order): Rex Carlton, Joseph Green and Hank Huffman.
Starring Rachael Perrell Fosket, Patrick D. Green, and Jason Reynolds.
At the risk of sounding like the “hear all about it!” kids from classic films, here I am once again, bringing you the latest and greatest from Horrible Imaginings Film Festival 2020. A tiny percentage of the festival is already done and gone, and with it, a piece of my heart. I’ve been having a blast, and it all started with The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. A humor-infused remake of the homonymous classic, this 2020 flick chooses to go beyond simply adding color and high definition. Let’s walk together through this craziness, shall we?
It must be said that I experienced the film through the rose-tinted glasses afforded by an evening spent with friends at the cinema. Only, I wasn’t at the cinema, I was at home. And I wasn’t with friends, at least not at first. Through watching the original film with the remake’s writer and director, as well as a chatroom full of pun-driven folk such as myself, I’ve come to realize the brilliance that is The Brain That Wouldn’t Die.
For those unfamiliar with the 1962 original, it follows the story of Bill, a medical doctor with the knowledge (and courage) required to revive dead tissue. On his way to his country home/laboratory/evil lair, he gets himself and his fiancee into a car accident which, sadly, ends up decapitating the good doc’s wife-to-be.
Bill Cortner, M.D., is a C-R-E-E-P, and goes on a quest to find a body to behead, so that he may make his now-factured novia whole again. From beauty pageants to former school time sweethearts, he will consider anybody in his eagerness to secure some limbs for lovely Jan.
Unlike the remake, this film is quite serious. Not really in an Ed Wood kind of way, either: despite some memorably The Happening-like passages in its dialog, the movie obviously didn’t think itself a joke. On the contrary: the subject matter is quite dark, and Virginia Leith’s now-legendary performance chills me to the bone.
Themes of jelousy, mysogyny and discrimination abound, making this film a pioneer, at least in my recollection, in dealing with these issues within the medium. Even ableism is touched upon with the character of Kurt, Dr. Bill’s unfortunate, and largely unwilling, cohort.
A fine wine in a cellar usually filled with the vinegars of celluloid, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die has remained largely relevant and surprisingly up-to-date when compared to other pieces of similar vintage. That hasn’t stopped Hank Huffman and Derek Carl from trying to bring it even more into the XXI Century.
If you thought that “woman’s severed-but-alive head on a plate” was a pretty timeless theme to build a movie around, you’d be right. What Huffman and Carl have decided to do was to embrace the movie’s somewhat silly plot, add the gags that have been in everyone’s mind for over 60 years, and build the world’s lore further. Obviously, a lot of people thought it might go well, as this unusual but worthy pursuit got the support of backers to the tune of $70.599 on Kickstarter.
It could have easily gone wrong: it’s a very simple thing to overdo the humor and, along the way, lose the essence of what made the original great. I’m happy to report that this is not the case, however. The film is much more light-hearted than what came before it, sure, but in a way that celebrates the source material rather than ridiculing it.
Out of all the changes they decided to make, though, the extra lore is my favorite. Fleshing out Doris as a character makes her infinitely more interesting than her first incarnation. And the choice of addressing racial issues made the remake feel very, very relevant indeed.
I was fortunate enough to be able to join a chat with the filmmakers during Horrible Imaginings, and when I asked about this, I got my favorite reply in any interview I’ve ever done: “it just seemed to us quite obvious that going around with a decapitated head was a ‘white guy’ thing to do”.
IT ALL COMES TO A HEAD
So, what’s the verdict? Simply put: I loved it. It’s far from perfect in a technical sense, but we’re talking about art, not bricks. Technicalities be damned, I had fun watching this movie. It’s not the kind of experience I’d want to have on my own, though: you just can’t come up with enough head puns on your own. You need an audience. The privileged opportunity I had to watch The Brain That Wouldn’t Die in the context of Horrible Imaginings Film Festival is a memory I’ll carry with me fondly. Making new friends by finding common ground in our mutual love of 1960’s hairdos is everything that is right with movies.
And though the puns are great and a headline feature of this joyous ocassion, it would not have been possible without the effort that Mr. Huffman, Mr. Carl, and everyone involved in the making of the fine motion picture put into this momentous undertaking.
Also, Rachael Perrell Fosket absolutely kills it in this film A job that goes easily head to head with Virginia Leigh’s original performance.
A worthy, if slightly more humorous, successor to a cult classic, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is a horror fan’s dream social experience.