22nd Oct2020

Frightfest 2020: ‘The Brain That Wouldn’t Die’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Rachael Perrell Fosket, Patrick D. Green, David Withers, Jason Reynolds, Robert Blanche, Mia Allen, Julia Bray, Gaelle Lola Beauvais, Alex Tiefenthaler | Written by Hank Huffman | Directed by Derek Carl

Remember back in 1998 when everyone threw their arms in the arms and complained incessantly about Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho? Well if Gus van Sant had followed the formula of Derek Carl and Hank Huffman’s remake of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die then maybe there wouldn’t have been that many complaints!

If you haven’t seen the original, this version of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die tells the story of a mad scientist Dr. Bill Courtner (Patrick D. Green) who develops a means to keep human body parts alive. After a car accident he keeps his fiancée Jan Compton’s (Rachael Perrell Fosket) severed head alive for days in his laboratory. The film follows his search for a replacement body, leaving Jan’s head with his lab assistant Kurt (Jason Reynolds)… and a lumbering, malformed brute locked in a secret room. Scouring burlesque parlours, visiting prostitutes, and even attending beauty pageants, Dr. Courtner settles on pin-up model and former girlfriend, Doris Powell (Mia Allen) as the ideal replacement for Jan’s body.

Essentially a note-for-note remake of Joseph Green’s 1962 black and white B-movie, this iteration of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die – whilst sticking closely to the script of the original film – throws in an extra character, Detective Mancini (Robert Blanche), which remarkably rounds out the story somewhat; a wry strand of humour that pokes fun at the tropes of the 60s film; and a gleeful streak of black comedy that brings the film into a whole new light.

What also brings the film into a new light – literally – is the colour scheme this remake has. Looking very much like a colourised version of a black and white film, the moodiness of the original  The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (which was at odds with the over the top story)  is completely flipped on its head through the wonderful colourscape that Carl and Huffman chose to use. However beyond the use of colour, everything else from original is pretty much the same…

The aesthetic is still very much the 60s: the clothing, the cars, etc. The sets are as low-budget and stage-like as the ’62 film; even the credits echo the original movie, right down to the handmade look. Even the acting… The cast here manage to mimic the ham-fisted, what we would now consider over the top, scenery-chewing performances of Joseph Green’s film. Everything here – apart from the bold use of colour – screams period piece.

Yet for all that there’s very much a modern look at the tropes of the 60s filmmaking at play here too. The women don’t just submit to their fate at the hand of mad scientist Dr. Courtner; in fact one fights back in what is, on of the highlights of the film – a grossly over the top gunfight-come-chase as Dr. Courtner is chased through the streets by prostitute Roxanne! Speaking of gross, there’s a brilliantly grisly scene at the end of the film that shocks in the same “out of place” gross-out manner Raiders of the Lost Ark‘s face-melting scene did!

Whilst the original film has been mocked over the years, by the likes of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and this version of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die plays up the humorous nature of the ’62 film and the cliches of 60s sci-fi B-movies, this remake NEVER parodies Green’s movie, instead homaging and celebrating it in the best way possible. Making this one hell of successful remake!

***½  3.5/5

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die screens today, Friday October 22nd, as part of this October’s Frightfest Digital Edition.

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