The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Dr. Bill Cortner has been performing experimental surgery on human guinea pigs without authorization and against the advice of his father, also a surgeon. When Bill's fiancée Jan Compton is decapitated in an automobile accident, he manages to keep her brain alive. He now needs to find a new body for his bride-to-be and settles on Doris Powell, a glamor model with a facial disfigurement. Jan meanwhile doesn't want to continue her body-less existence and calls upon the creature hidden in the basement, one of Bill Cortner's unsuccessful experiments, to break loose.

  • After a car crash, a man keeps his wife's head alive in his laboratory. As if this weren't enough, an evil beast pounds and screams from a locked room adjacent to the lab.

  • The unethical surgeon Dr. Bill Cortner (Herb Evers) is developing a technique of transplantation of organs and members using a serum against rejection. When he has a car accident with his girlfriend Jan Compton (Virginia Leith), he saves her head only, and tries to find a woman with a beautiful body to transplant Jan's head against her will.

  • Brilliant but borderline psychotic surgeon does secretive, experimental work with limb transplants and tissue rejection drugs, much to the chagrin of his surgeon-father. When he crashes his car and his fiancee is decapitated, his research - far from complete - is put to the test. His focus then becomes finding an appropriate donor body to make his fiancee whole, while the current and failed experiments in his basement laboratory grow restless.

  • A doctor experimenting with transplant techniques keeps his girlfriend's head alive when she is decapitated in a car crash, then goes hunting for a new body.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Dr. Bill Cortner (Herb Evans) is a brilliant surgeon who saves the life of a patient that his father Dr. Cortner (Bruce Brighton) is operating on. Bill uses one of the techniques that he has been researching in his studies on amputated limbs and the ability to keep them alive. The research Bill has used is controversial because the ethics involved include using body parts of expired patients. Dr. Cortner appreciates his sons assistance but warns him to proceed carefully. As Bill meets up with his fiancée Jan Compton (Virginia Leith) to make plans for the weekend a call comes in from Kurt (Leslie Daniel), the doctor assisting Bill at his country house, that there is a problem in the basement. As Bill hurried drives toward the house with Jan by his side the car accidentally goes off the road and Jan is decapitated. Bill rushes the head of the woman to his country house and keeps it alive with the intention of killing a woman for her body and transplanting it onto Jans head. One of Bills earlier experiments is being kept locked in the basement and becomes more violent as time proceeds. Jans surviving body part, her head resents being kept alive and communicates with the thing living in the closet, telling it to break out. As Bill searches for the perfect female body for Jans head, he meets several women, finally meeting up with a former friend Donna Williams (Lola Mason) whose scarred face Bill promises to eradicate with plastic surgery. As Bill brings Donna back to the country house a startling reaction from the creature in the closet causes astounding results.

    ================ A More Detailed Synopsis Follows ===============

    The movie opens with a black screen and a woman's voice pleading, "Let me die. Let me die." Title and credits follow. A man is on the operating table covered with sheets. He is surrounded by three doctors and a nurse in surgical gowns, caps and masks. The patient stops breathing and the senior Dr. Cortner (Bruce Brighton) laments, "I should have known he was a good as dead when they wheeled him in." Nurse Jan Compton (Virginia Leith) tries to comfort her soon to be father-in-law, "You did everything possible. Everything you could Dr. Cortner." His son, Dr. Bill Cortner (Jason Evers as Herb Evers) seizes the opportunity and asks, "Now, Dad, do I have permission to take over and try things my way?" Father reluctantly agrees and assists his son by working on the heart while Bill takes over the brain. They manage to revive the patient, his outcome is still uncertain, but he is now alive. Bill admits he has been working in his laboratory with similar results. Dr. Cortner does finally admit his son did perform a miracle, "I may not approve of your methods, but I am proud of your results."

    After the patient is wheeled out of the Operating Room, Father and Son wash up and discuss the medical ethics of experimentation on humans. Bill tells his father he is close to perfecting a drug that will assist in transplantation without rejection. They walk back into the O.R. to talk, and Jan joins them. Bill reminds his father about the medical convention in Denver. Jan checks on his reservations. Dr. Cortner reveals that the hospital has been making inquiries about missing human parts. He tells his son, "But I can't cover up for you anymore. The Superintendent had it out with me. He thinks it's you whose been stealing those limbs from the amputee operations." Bill admits he needs them for his work. Before he leaves, Dr. Cortner asks his son about his weekend plans, cautioning him about the country house, "Place gives me the creeps. I should have sold it when your mother died." Bill promises Jan they will be married in a few weeks.

    A nurse (Doris Brent) catches Bill and Jan before they leave the hospital. She tells him about an important phone message from Kurt at the country place, "Something terrible has happened and he wanted you to come right out." Bill drives Jan's car up to the country house. He drives too fast and crashes the car. Bill is thrown clear of the wreck, but Jan is trapped inside the burning car. Bill retrieves her head, wrapping it inside his jacket. He runs back to Dad's house in the country carrying Jan's head in his arms like a football. When he gets to the palatial estate he calls to his assistant, Kurt, while pounding on the front door. Kurt (Anthony La Penna as Leslie Daniel) answers the door, still wearing his lab coat. His left arm is paralyzed, his left hand is drawn back into a claw, the skin dark and leathery. Bill explains there has been an accident. He is cradling Jan's head in his arms, he is frantic. "I've got to save her," he tells Kurt. Kurt tries to relay his concern about the thing in the closet, but Bill insists, "For Gods sake Kurt, this is urgent. Do as I tell you before its too late. I can't waste precious time arguing with you." The two walk downstairs to the lab and hook up equipment. Bill carefully pours a test tube of liquid into a flask. The time is now 10:20 and we see what all the frantic work involved. Jan's bandaged head sits in an enamel pan, attached to various tubes and wires. Kurt is astonished and tells Bill, "The eyelids, I saw them move. It can't be. My eyes are deceiving me." Bill replies, "What you see is real. What's done is done, and what I've done is right. It's the work of science." Jan starts to revive and mumbles, "I remember fire. Burning. Let me die. Let me die." Bill reminds Kurt he's had transplant success, but Kurt asks, "Transplant her to what?" Bill considers the question, then replies, "I've brought her back. She'll live and I'll get her another body. I can make her complete again." Kurt disagrees and voices his objections. Bill does admit he can only keep her alive for 48-50 hours in the pan. We learn that Kurts arm, withered and deformed, was an earlier unsuccessful experiment using an earlier formula. Kurt reminds Bill about the creature in the closet. Bill approaches the heavy door, padlocked on the outside. Something inside is breathing abnormally. Bill peers inside through an observation door near the top. He is horrified by what he sees. "Keep it locked," he tells his assistant. He then turns his attention back to his fiancée, "I've got to think about her now. I've got to find her a body." "How are you going to go about getting one?" Kurt asks. Bill assures his assistant that there are ways.

    It is late evening and Bill decides to go cruising at a local strip club, The Moulin Rouge. Outside the entrance, he sees two cut out display boards of strippers, a blonde and a brunette. He likes what he sees, obviously the discriminating shopper. Inside the blonde stripper (Bonnie Sharie) does her show for the patrons of both sexes. Bill wanders in and takes a stool at the bar. Blondie wanders over and bumps and grinds to get Bill's attention. The brunette stripper (Paula Maurice), a bit masculine looking, is jealous of her co-worker. When the blonde finishes her act, she heads for the dressing room. This gives the brunette a chance to make eyes at Bill. A table becomes available and Bill sits down next to the brunette and chats. Blondie comes back and joins Bill at his table. At the house, Jan is resting in her pan. Blondie goes back to her dressing room, and Bill follows. They chat. Jan begins to mumble again about dying. Bill is getting a little anxious and tells the stripper, "You may be just what I'm looking for." Before Bill can close the deal, the brunette enters the dressing room and changes. Bill is concerned that a witness is more than he can handle. When the girls get catty with each other, Bill excuses himself. The brunette tells Bill, "Come back later, I'll remember you." "That's what I'm afraid of," he replies. The blonde and brunette strippers get into a fight. We close this charming scene with a camera pan up the wall to a pair of cat paintings and someone meowing. [Note: Yes, we get it, a cat fight!]

    Jan awakens and looks around the lab. Her brain waves register high on the equipment. She calls out to the creature in the closet, "What has he done to you?" It is mute, so she directs it to knock once if it hears her. Kurt is attracted by the noises downstairs. Jan expresses her anger and disappointment at Bill for what he's done to her. She invites the creature to join her in a plot of revenge. Kurt goes down to the lab and Jan pretends to be asleep. Kurt tip-toes over to the closet and listens at the door. It pounds on the door and Kurt jumps. Jan laughs hysterically. Kurt runs over to the lab table and confronts his tormentor. Jan asks Kurt, "What's locked behind that door?" "Horror: no normal mind can imagine. Something even more terrible than you," Kurt replies. But Jan corrects him, "No, my deformed friend. Like all quantities of...horror has its ultimate, and I am that." Kurt explains that Bill's experimental mistakes are summarized by the creature behind the closet door. Jan realizes what Bill has been doing at the country house and Kurt's part in the grotesque work. Kurt lost his arm in a lab accident, and Bill promised to restore it. Jan realizes that Bill intends to transplant her head onto another woman's body. Jan explains the new serum has given her power Bill never expected. She demonstrates for Kurt. The terrified lab assistant runs when the creature tries to force the closet door off its hinges. Kurt runs into Bill in the living room and asks if he was successful in finding a woman. Bill explains he can't be the last person seen with a woman before she disappears.

    The next morning Bill goes cruising in his car. He runs into a woman acquaintance, Donna Williams (Lola Mason). Donna suggests a bathing beauty contest, so Bill invites her into the car. He makes an excuse to stop at home first, but they run into another woman. A friend of Donna, Jeannie Reynolds (Audrey Devereal as Devereau), joins them in the car. Now with a witness, Bill's plans for Donna are scuttled and the three go to the beauty contest. They sit down just as the M.C. (Bruce Kerr) starts the show. The first contestant is Helen Appleton (uncredited). She is wearing a one-piece swimsuit. Bill nods his approval. Next up is Betty Brockton (uncredited), a blonde with her hair in a single braid and wearing a modest two-piece swimsuit. Terri Lund (uncredited) is the third contestant. She is wearing a one-piece and the crowd applauds. Peggy Howard (Marilyn Hanold) is the final contestant and Bill leers approvingly. Donna notes, "She has the second nicest body I've ever seen." Bill assumes Donna is just trolling for a compliment and asks, "Second to you?" But Donna quickly corrects Bill and reminds him of Doris, the girl in school who was disfigured by a jealous boyfriend. Donna mentions that Doris is seldom seen and has few friends. Bill is thinking Doris may be perfect for his needs.

    Jan continues her one-way chat with the creature in the closet and concludes they must stop Bill. Bill drives over to see Doris Powell (Adele Lamont) at her apartment. He walks in and she is posing on a platform for five photographers. Bill sits on the couch and observes the display. Doris stops and puts on a robe and dismisses the photographers. Art (an uncredited Sammy Petrillo) hangs back and suggests some unprofessional work. Doris makes it clear she is not interested and tells him to leave. She confronts Bill, "See it all, mister? The show's over. Next time bring a camera and buy a ticket. I'm not running a charity." Bill reminds her they were class mates, but Doris is bitter and tells him she hates all men. She reminds Bill by showing him the scar on her face. Rather than being repulsed, Bill explains that he is a doctor and that his father is a very good plastic surgeon and they can fix her face. Doris is not convinced and tells Bill, "I've been doctors. It's no use: the scar tissue is too deep. No one can help me." But Bill convinces her that new techniques are available. He talks her into a consultation at his home with his father. When Doris asks his motive, Bill tells her his version of the truth, "I'm gonna make your face beautiful again, cut it off and give your body away." Doris laughs and explains that she believes him. Doris changes her clothes and they drive to the country house.

    At Jan's direction, the closet creature has been pounding on the door working the hinges loose. Kurt enters the lab with food for the creature. He is in a sarcastic mood, so Jan taunts him with, "Your formless, sniveling fear becomes you more." They bicker and Jan directs Kurt over to the closet door. As she distracts Kurt, she summons her friend behind the closet door to attack Kurt. It reaches out through the observation door and pulls Kurt's arm inside. As Kurt struggles, the creature pulls his good arm off at the shoulder. Kurt wanders around the lab and house, smearing blood all over the walls. In cinema's longest death scene, Kurt wanders back to the lab and collapses and dies of shock and blood loss. All the while Jan giggles and laughs.

    Bill arrives home with Doris. Bill tells Doris he will mix some drinks and they will wait for his father to return. Bill discovers Kurt's body in the lab and covers it with a sheet. He closes, but forgets to lock the observation door and then he mixes the drinks. He adds a powerful sedative to Doris' drink. Bill walks back upstairs and gives Doris the spiked drink. Doris consumes the drink, and then accuses Bill of putting something in her drink. She collapses and Bill carries her down to the lab in his arms. Bill proudly announces to Jan, "I told you I'd bring you a body. A beautiful one. Soon it will be yours." Bill rationalizes his intentions to Jan as he prepares for surgery. Jan tells Bill, "You must be stopped." Bill needs quiet, so he places a strip of tape over Jan's mouth. Just as Bill prepares to cut off Doris' head, a pounding sound comes from the closet. Bill walks over to the door. He does not notice the observation door is unsecured. He looks back at Jan. The observation door opens and a large hand and arm reaches out to the doctor. It pulls him back and the door pulls loose from the casing. A grotesque creature (Eddie Carmel) emerges, still holding Bill Cortner through the door. It is a misshapen mess with one bulging eye, folds of scar tissue for a face and a pointed head. It carries the door and its victim across the lab. It manages to knock a flask of flammable liquid on the floor starting a fire. It throws Bill to the floor, discards the closet door, and approaches the doctor. It easily picks Bill up in its arms and chews a sizeable piece of his face off. At Jan's direction, it carries the unconscious Doris off the operating table and out of the burning lab. A stunned and dazed Dr. Cortner is still lying on the floor. Jan tells him, "I told you to let me die." We close to a black screen and Jan laughing. [Note: The end title card reads, The Head That Wouldn't Die and a copyright year as 1960.]

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