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Nightmares Film Festival ’20 Review: An injection of splatstick gives new life to “THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE”

Monday, October 26, 2020 | Review


Starring Rachael Perrell Fosket, Patrick D. Green and Jason Reynolds
Directed by Derek Carl
Written by Hank Huffman
Flagship Features/Hyperbole Productions

It has been many, many years since I last watched 1962’s THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE and got a real kick out of the bodyless head snarling at her controlling fiancé, and the cheesiness of the low-budget ’60s moviemaking. When the new BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE (which just played in Nightmare Film Festival’s on-line Masquerade event) began, I got the impression it was going to be a very honest throwback to the original, aping the music, the style of dialogue, everything–just a simple update, done by a loving team. Then the first gag happened–and I lost it laughing.

Director Derek Carl’s remake follows the exact plot of the ’62 cult classic. Handsome Dr. Bill Cortner (Patrick D. Green) is a surgeon who favors experimental treatments, which seem to work despite being unsavory. When his soon-to-be wife Jan (Rachael Perrell Fosket) is decapitated in a car accident he’s responsible for, he rushes her head back to his secret lab, where he reanimates it and keeps it supported on vials of colored liquid and electricity. Now all he needs is to find a new body to attach it to.

An injection of RE-ANIMATOR-style Grand Guignol and slapstick gives new life to the material; this film is packed with canted angles, crazy jazz and pure camp. Fans of the original, or even those who would like to be but find the old-school pacing too slow, will find this beat-for-beat reimagining gleefully silly and unexpected. There is a strong chemistry amongst the cast, as everyone is devoted to making the laughs work while doing their best to avoid winking too hard at the camera. Fosket deserves particular praise for her performance; despite being limited to only using her head, she completely sells Jan’s rage and confusion Jan while keeping it funny. As Dr. Cortner, Green commands attention with his melodramatic arrogance, committed to each ridiculous stunt thrown his way. The introduction of Dr. Cortner’s old flame Doris (Mia Allen) does launch a long romantic seduction sequence, but Allen is so charming in the role, it sustains interest. Even when the movie gets a tad slow in the middle, there are still lots of pretty girls for Dr. Cortner to meet, with ulterior motives…

The camera, on the other hand, doesn’t hide anything. The lens lingers on the prop corpses, the splatter and the pieces of the set that look super-glued together. The filmmakers do not mind showing us the bones, reveling in the utter silliness of their production, but the theatricality and jokes are so strong, we remain engaged with its ridiculous world. THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE is like a fringe theater production that gets written up in punk zines instead of the mainstream media, and inspires repeat attendance to howl along with a growing cult.

Indeed, it’s a shame that once THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE–first Kickstarted back in 2016–was complete and set to premiere, it happened to be amidst the pandemic, leaving packed midnight screenings at genre fests an impossibility. I had a great time watching this alone at home, my cackling occasionally hitting such a volume that my partner ran into the living room to check on me. Yet I would leap at the chance to watch it again at a drive-in, laying on the horn during the best bits. Without a crowd, though the movie is a joy for most of the run time, it’s not quite the same. With a good group, the reaction would be huge, and hopefully, fans will soon be able to gather roommates and camp-horror-loving family and friends together for further at-home screenings, and eventually late-night theatrical shows.