Poor headless Jan: “Let me… die… Let me DIE!”
Father to son Bill: “The Operating room is no place to experiment.”
Son Bill’s replique: “He’s dead. I can’t do any harm!”
Joseph Green’s rare foray from indie film distributor to director was this beautifully awful film where bad acting, earnest but banal direction, quotably awful dialogue and sudden bursts of shocking, pre-Blood Feast gore seem to thrive for 82 priceless minutes.
Green’s script, co-written with Rex Carlton (writer of the equally poo-poo Blood of Dracula’s Castle), has brilliant, over-zealous surgeon Bill Cortner (Jason Evers) using the re-animation techniques he pioneered last week at the family’s mountain estate to keep the head of his fiancée alive while he searches for the perfect body.
How did poor Jan Compton (Virginia Leith) become a bandaged head, kept erect in a photo developing tray? Why through Bill’s poor driving skills, which made his fancy new car skid off the highway, and bisect Jan’s noggin from her torso. (The car crash visuals are kept minimal because Green’s auto was obviously a dealer loner, and the budget had just enough for smoke, fire, and one broken car door. From a different make.)
Bill manages to wrap her head in his jacket and carry it safely to the estate, where he and idiot assistant Kurt (Leslie Daniels) prep and sustain her fully functional and cognizant head for a transplant. While Bill visits strip joints for a more zaftig body, Kurt looks after the verbally abusive Jan, as well as a monster in a closet – Bill’s first real effort to graft body parts into a functional man.
The creature, a virtual melting pot of blindly-stitched arms, nose, and eyelids, is jealous of Kurt’s freedom, which Jan exploits with persistent taunts. When Bill’s assistant wanders too close to the closet peephole, the creature rips off Kurt’s arm – itself a spectacular moment where actor Daniels moans, stumbles, and blasts double-barreled shotgun salvos of blood all over the house (er, two el cheapo film sets) before finally dying already.
Green’s direction is workmanlike, but that’s a mile ahead of Herschell Gordon Lewis, who had no concept of composition and editing in spite of pioneering disgusting gore in his wet 1964 opus Blood Feast. Green also knew where to put the story on pause, and indulge in some sleazy excess for the sexploitation crowd, which is why Bill’s visit to a peeler bar has two strippers cat-fighting on the floor for his devotion. (Green even adds a fake cat’s meow at the end of the sequence for some indiscrete subtext.)
When the bar hopping fails to bring home a satisfactory victim, Bill trolls the streets the next day, following hot skirted women in his swanky convertible like an old-time masher, until he encounters friend Donna (Lola Mason) and her girlfriend. Green stops the film dead again for a bathing suit context – the girls just had to go to one – and continues with the plot as Bill rekindles a pseudo-friendship with swimsuit model Doris (Adele Lamont), a babe who hides an ugly facial scar with a poofy comb-over.
Bill’s intense self-confidence convinces her that he can fix her face to Vogue status, and in spite of Kurt’s death, he proceeds to begin the head transplant after drugging Doris, and using the fine anatomy posters in the basement lab for reference. Hubris eventually gets the better of him, and the closet creature (giant Eddie Carmel, one big guy with massive hands) kills Bill by taking a bite out of his neck, and sets the place afire, destroying the lab and leaving Jan to cackle amid the blazing flames, but carrying Doris to safety just in time (and showing the audience the seams of his latex mask).
Cat-fight and bathing suit interludes excepted, Brain is told with fairly straightforward economy, and the drama is goosed by the creepy stock music and occasionally over-emphatic ‘horror’ cues. Synapse’s uncut DVD may well be the best presentation of this public domain title, and the disc sports a worn but sharp print. Digital compression is evident now and then (this is a 10 year old transfer), but the DVD also includes a snappy theatrical trailer (likely shaped by original distributor American International) and rare behind-the-scenes stills, including the creature manhandling a naked and very boobed stripper in a scene contrived purely for the stills, plus snapshots of make-up application, and a really happy looking film set.
Co-writer Rex Carlton managed to write several more exploitation films, and produced a handful of film (including 1962’s The Devil’s Hand) before his death in 1968. Co-writer/director Green directed some extra footage for the 1966 U.S. release of Haukujitsumu / Day-Dream (1964), as well as his cinematic swan song, The Perils of P.K. (1986)
Star Evers managed to enjoy a hugely prolific career, making appearances in numerous TV series, including The Invaders (1967), Star Trek (1968), and Charlie’s Angels (1978). His rare leaps into theatrical film include Pretty Boy Floyd (1960), House of Women (1962), P.J. (1968), and The Green Berets (1968).
Brain pretty much ended the career of co-star Leith, however, and the actress made a handful of TV appearances before retiring in 1980, after the disaster mini-series Condominium. Leslie Daniels (Kurt) appeared in the 1966 spaghetti western Johnny Yuma before disappearing from filmmaking, much like strippers, bimbos, the cinematographer and editor of Brain who perhaps felt movies weren’t all they were cracked up to be. Camera assistant John S. Priestley, however, did real good by earning two Emmy Awards for his work as cinematographer on The Naked City in 1962 and 1963.
The basic plot of Brain was loosely borrowed by Frank Henenlotter for his classic Bride of Frankenstein mash-up Frankenhooker [M] (1990).
© 2010 Mark R. Hasan