The Brain That Wouldn't Die
D. Joseph Green (1962)
with Jason Evers, Virginia Leith, Adele Lamont.
D. Victor Trivas (1959)
with Horst Frank, Karin Kernke, Michel Simon.
D: Felix Feist (1953)
with Lew Ayres, Nancy Davis, Gene Evans, Steve Brodie.
The Frozen Dead
D: Herbert J. Leder (1966)
with Dana Andrews, Kathleen Breck.
D: Stuart Gordon (1985)
with Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton.
They Saved Hitler's Brain
aka Madmen of Mandoras
D: David Bradley (1963)
with Walter Stocker, Audrey Caire.
Aaaah, spring is in the air. The flowers are blooming, the birds are singing, the trees are budding, the days are beautiful, and the nights even more so. It's the time of year when a young horror movie geek's thoughts turn to SEVERED HEADS!!!!!
Any examination of the grand old B-horror-movie tradition of decapitated heads should kick off with l962's all-time drive-in classic The Brain That Wouldn't Die, directed by Joseph Green. A brilliant young surgeon (Evers) is also a leadfoot driver, and his girlfriend Jan's (Leith) head goes flying off when he crashes his sports car. Rather than mourn, he wraps her head in his jacket before it has a chance to roll into the ditch and takes it back to his lab. There, he fits it with a bathing cap and keeps it alive in a developing tray. Soon, he goes shopping around for the perfect female body to affix it to. He finds a model with the proper qualifications and a disfigured face. After he promises to fix her scarring, she agrees to come back to his laboratory where he plans to do the head swap. Jan's head, however, has other ideas. With incredible dialogue, a surprising amount of gore for the Fifties, and a catfight that will have you wearing out the rewind button on your remote, this movie is the embodiment of all that is both fine and dreadful in Fifties trash sci-fi.
Almost identical in plot is the 1959 German film The Head, directed by Victor Trivas, with a pretty female head going onto a stripper's body and a reanimated head in a dishpan. As shoddy as the special effects are in The Brain That Wouldn't Die, they're even more unimpressive in this outing. Unfortunately, The Head can't match the American film's giddy luridness and is not as entertaining.
1953's Donovan's Brain doesn't quite qualify as a severed-head movie, but it's close enough. Scientist Ayres preserves a brain from a crooked tycoon in a tank of water, and soon the brain begins to take over Ayres' actions as he turns ruthless and eventually murderous. Nancy Davis (Reagan) plays the scientist's wife, while Evans turns in a thoroughly believable performance as his alcoholic assistant. Directed by Felix Feist, Donovan's Brain was taken from a novel by the same name, written by Curt Siodmak (brother of noir director Robert), and was previously filmed in 1944 as The Lady and the Monster. Despite the ludicrous-sounding plot, this film actually rises above its subject matter to stand on its own merits.
The Nazis kept a loose head alive in 1966's The Frozen Dead, directed by Herbert J. Leder. Seeming alternately embarrassed and confused, Andrews plays a postwar Nazi scientist toiling away in Britain on a project that involves reviving key Hitler officials, cryogenically preserved in full uniform inside a walk-in freezer. Just in case, spare arms and other body parts are kept in reserve (the arms hang from a wall; one expects to see price tags dangling from their fingers Minnie Pearl-style). The Third Reichers can up and walk, but since their brains still don't work, Andrews' assistant kills off a girl and keeps her shaved head alive on a table top, hoping to hook her brain power up with the bodies. Unfortunately The Frozen Dead keeps a fairly leisurely pace throughout (which isn't livened up by Andrews' catatonic performance), but it's worth it for the bizarre plot.
Though the scene isn't key to the film, no discussion of severed heads is complete without mention of the scene in Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator in which the head of Dr. Hill (David Gale) is amputated with a shovel (and very little finesse) and then proceeds to lasciviously lick the dazed and unwilling flesh of Barbara Crampton.
At least one severed-head movie ranks among the most godawful lengths of celluloid ever to be projected on a screen: David Bradley's They Saved Hitler's Brain. Fanatical Nazis kept the Führer's head alive in a jug after the end of the war, then do his bidding on a Caribbean Island in a plot to take over the world. With segments shot in the Sixties (in the Philippines) and other parts shot some 10 years later to help pad out the unfinished film, few movies are more disjointed and difficult to comprehend than this slice of Bad-Film Hell (and that's not to mention the inattention to continuity of cars, clothes, etc. between the older and newer footage). It does, however, deliver on the title; the German madman's head leers and grimaces from inside the bell jar where it's kept as it orders its henchmen around, and the scene with a waxen Hitler head dripping and melting is nearly priceless. Hey, they didn't have to pay the head union scale for a speaking part, either! -- Jerry Renshaw