It’s hard to shake that image of Jan Compton (Virginia Leith) aka Jan The Pan with her severed head in a little medical plate filled with blood, and headphones and wires protruding from what’s left of her. I’ve always been familiar with this visage from THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE, but like a lot of horror/sci-fi classics, it’s for whatever reason eluded me all these years. But once again, the fine fiends over at Scream Factory have come to the rescue. Available now on Blu-Ray is a pristine version of the 1962 cult classic! And having finally given it a proper watch, there were a few things that stood out for me as to why you need to pick up this flick!
Firstly, this scan! I can’t explain it – but the beauty of the Blu-Ray format is being able to see restorations of old movies that make you feel as though you’re watching them for the first time. Whether it’s a prestigious Criterion classic or an old studio movie or even an obscure 80’s horror favorite, I always enjoy giving movies the proper attention they deserve in this format and on a home entertainment set-up that, these days, can rival even the best of theaters. In particular, black & white films in high def have a certain vibrancy to them that truly make these films feel alive. Scream Factory’s new edition of BRAIN features a brand new, high definition transfer from the original negative, in its uncut version. The results are terrific. Here’s a photo of my point of view from my couch of just how great this movie looks now in this incarnation.
Second, it’s got a fun, unique plot – a twist on the FRANKENSTEIN legend done in a way that has gone on to influence a slew of other genre cult classics in its wake. Dr. Bill Cortner (Jason Evers) is a brilliant and gifted surgeon whose methods to outsiders appear to be radical and unorthodox. When he and his fiance are in a terrible car accident in which she’s beheaded (!), he manages to pick up the head, bring it back to his laboratory and successfully revive it! He then becomes obsessed with making her whole again – and that means finding the perfect body to give her, even if it drives him to murder to get it. Oh and there’s a creepy monster locked up in the basement that is also a result of his experimentations.
You can probably read that top description or skim a few photos and come up with a dozen other horror movies that were influenced by this 1962 cult classic. But the two that immediately spring to mind are Stuart Gordon’s 1985 splatterfest RE-ANIMATOR and Frank Henenlotter’s 1990 berserk comedy FRANKENHOOKER. The main character of the latter title is Jeffrey Franken, a brilliant electrical engineer and former medical student who becomes obsessed with bringing back his fiancé after a freak lawnmower incident accidentally chops her to pieces! He scours the streets of Manhattan in search of hookers as potential new bodies for his bride-to-be. In RE-ANIMATOR, look no further than the fate of Dr. Hill as a major influence. After Herbert West decapitates the good ol’ thieving doctor, he reanimates his head in a pan surrounded by blood, just like Jan The Pan!
Speaking of RE-ANIMATOR, back in his 2007 Icons Of Fright interview, star Jeffrey Combs cited THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE as being one of his earliest and most vivid horror recollections. Fun tid-bit!
This movie is probably most widely known for the MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 episode that features THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE as their movie commentary. That entire episode is available on this release, along with an alternate scene (featuring brief nudity) from the International Cut. Rounded out by a still gallery, this is one of my favorite last minute home video discoveries of 2015. Check out the official trailer below!