10 June 2011



1959 (released in 1962)/Director: Joseph Green/Writers: Rex Carlton, Joseph Green

Cast: Jason (Herb) Evers, Virginia Leith, Leslie Daniels, Adele Lamont, Bonnie Sharie, Paula Maurice, Marilyn Hanold, Bruce Brighton

For me, the sordid atmosphere of the film is a little too genuine; it negates the kitsch appeal. A scene featuring two strippers engaged in a “cat fight” is particularly unseemly. As the women wrestle each other, the camera pans to some wall prints of cats, and then we hear a feline yowl just as the scene ends. This juvenile attempt at humor only enhances the squalid feel of the movie.

The 1962 AIP film The That Wouldn’t Die is a film I have always been aware of –in the particular the poster art featuring ‘Jan in the Pan’- but had never seen in the course of my long life. One reason is that I just felt I would not like it. I could not imagine how exciting a disembodied head in a pan would be, Stuart Gordon’s superb Re-Animator not withstanding. I had had the film here for a few months before I decided one night (actually more like one morning) I decided to pop in it the DVD player and have to put me off to sleep. Rather than helping me nod off I stayed up and finished the film in one sitting which is something I have to confess I seldom do with some most schlock cinema offerings. As the quote from the engaging blog Exclamation Mark notes the film has a reputation for being ahead of its time in the sleazy atmosphere department. That reputation is slightly warranted and the film is hardly as sordid and slimy as the above quote makes it sound to be but it has it pricelss moments to be sure.

The movie was actually filmed in 1959 independently as The Head That Wouldn’t Die and was later picked up by AIP and released with the new title on a double bill with Invasion of the Star Creatures –sometimes considered the worst AIP film of all time- with some editing of some gory scenes that, like the swanky dialog, was a bit ahead of its time. Contrary to popular belief the violent scenes were not trimmed for television release but were actually trimmed for the theatrical release. Early VHS releases are the edited version but the full uncut version is now available on DVD. The version I posted here from Google version at the Uranium Café Matinee (previous post) also excludes the opening lines of “Let me die, let me die!” which ties into the last lines of the movie. I want to offer a sampling of dialog from the film before going into my typically spoiler laden review to give you some idea of not only how sleazy some of the dialog is but how clever and enjoyable it is. The scene here follows a bit of successful experimental surgery –to be explained shortly- by Dr. Bill Cortner. He is talking to his father and fiancée when this exchange of bizarre dialog appears:

Jan Compton: Darling I'm so proud of you I could you.

Bill Cortner: Promises eh, always promises? (Bill starts to kiss Jan)

Jan Compton: Careful, your father is liable to report us?

Dr. Cortner: Huh... stop the floor show? When you towe are married it won't be fun to watch anymore.

Jan Compton: Well I can promise you one thing, your grandchildren won't be test tube babies.

So what are we talking about here? The dad making weird remarks about watching his son making out with his sexy fiancée and that in no uncertain terms Jan makes clear that his grand kids will born of sweaty loin bashing and not be mere test tube babies? And the sultry manner in which sexy Virginia Leith as Jan Compton delivers the lines strips away any possibility of innuendos. And indeed there is a tangible sexual tension running through the entire film with tall and lovely Jan ending up a frustrated head in a lab pan and husband Bill trolling various strip clubs and modeling clubs looking for the perfect body to attach Jan’s pretty little head to. But the movie actually moves along well and to add an extra element of horror and suspense there is a ‘monster in the closet’ (played by then tallest man in the world Eddie Carmel) that is the end results of Bill’s previous failed experiments. Added the mix is Bill as a man intent on murder to restore his wife to a semblance of normalcy. The film resembles the French film Eyes Without a Face and several other films –like She Demons and Atom Age Vampire- where a basically insane doctor tries to restore the face of a loved one and will stop at nothing to do that, including, of course, cold blooded murder.

Dr. Bill Cortner (Jason Evers) is your average brilliant surgeon and medical genius with a streak of selfish madness running through him. After a miraculous bit of open heart surgery –which consisted of simply cutting open the chest with a scalpel, massaging the now dead heart and sewing the patient back up- he confronts his critical father who tells Bill that the hospital suspects that it may be he who is stealing the amputated limbs from surgeries to which Bill basically says “So what if it is!”. After how can a man like Cortner be hindered by the moral and ethical restrictions that constrain other doctors and scientists? It is during this scene that we are introduced to Bill’s lovely fiancée Jan Compton (Virginia Leith) who seethes a lascivious quality rarely seen in a women fated to have her head wind up in a serving pan full of mysterious chemicals. I thought this gal was totally sexy and we don’t get to see much her really, or at least much for the neck down. Bill decides to take her for the first time to his quaint little country house –which looks like a mansion a former president would retire to- where he has been doing some super secret research. Maybe with some of those missing limbs from the hospital? He received an urgent call from his assistant that something had gone wrong with whatever it is they are working on there and this prompts Bill to drive his sedan like a fucking maniac and of course lose control and have the car fly off the road in heap of twisted fiery metal. Bill is thrown from the car and seems to suffer some stains on the knees of his trouser but poor Jan suffers a more horrid fate. But she is still sort of lucky. She has her pretty little head severed from her body but it is not burned or bruised in the least. And the cut must have been as clean as if it were done with a surgeon’s precision instrument. Bill is always the fast thinking opportunist and he wraps her head in his jacket and runs the rest of the way to his humble castle and meets his assistant Kurt (Leslie Daniels) and they basically plops in the head in a buffet dish with lots of mad scientist lab tubes and Bunsen burners and soon Jan’s cute little is alive and uttering her first sounds.

Bill is distraught since he has only about two days to find a new body on which to attach Jan’s head. Kurt insists a head to body translate is impossible of course, that Bill is basically mad. But what mad doctor ever let being called mad stand in his way. Be fore leaving on his quest for Jan’s new torso Kurt insists he have a look in the closet where their last experiment has begun to turn for the worse. We are treated to the thing in the closet but we can tell from Bill’s grimaces it must be a site not for the faint of heart. He has to collect himself from the tragic car accident, the reality of Jan’s head in a pan and the nightmare of the thing he just witnessed as he has important work to do and no time to waste. So soon the good doctor is hitting all the strip clubs he can to find a heavenly bod to attach Jan’s head to. This man will go to any painful lengths to make sure the right thing is done. Kurt is left in the basement laboratory with Jan and we soon learn that Kurt himself is an experiment of Bill’s. He lost his arm in a lab accident and Bill has tried a couple times to attach a new one but the damned things keep degenerating and looking like an alligator leg after a while. But Kurt is certain Bill can get him a good arm eventually and he can resume his own career as a brilliant mad surgeon. Jan seems to be developing some degree of psychic powers because of the chemicals used to revive her head and in little time she is making the thing in the closet do spooky things like bang on the door. All this talking head stuff and mutants in the dungeon banging around begin to take a toll on Kurt, and to be frank Jan shows little appreciation for Bill being responsible for her brutal death and then putting her severed head a pan and she takes out her bitterness on poor alligator armed Kurt who has problems of his own.

While all of this is going on in the basement of the mansion in the woods Bill is hard at work going to booby bars and provoking cat fights between the strippers. When this does get him a suitable victim he drives around and tries to pick up old friends on the sidewalk. When that subtle approach fails to work he goes to beauty contest and drools –all in the name of science- over the curvy possibilities of what could pulsate soon under Jan’s head. And when that falls flat his goes to one those sleazy ‘artistic’ photo shoots –the kind Bettie Page did- and sits back while the camera club snap away over the model Doris Powel (Adele Lamont) who has one smoking body but a horribly scarred face. Her face is the result of an encounter with some really bad guys who left Doris hating men, but Bill is an old friend and assures her that he can restore her face to former beauty, if she will only come along secretly with him to his place in the sticks and not let anyone know about it, for the sake of research and science.

When they get to the lab though things have gotten a bit out of hand. Or arm out of socket actually. Kurt earlier turns into a real rude character and Jan ain’t having it and has the thing rip Kurt’s other arm off from the little hole in the door where Kurt feeds the things slabs of meat. If Kurt’s medical career was in doubt before it is all over now with both arms gone. He slides along the walls and smears blood everywhere in one of the scenes cut form the theatrical version of the film. Bill has slipped Doris a mickey and is not going to let this minor set back stand in his way. But Jan is has no intention of letting Bill kill and innocent girl and sew her head on to a strange new –and probably much sexier- body. She again calls on the thing and it bursts from the closet and we get to see it finally. Actually this is not a bad looking monster that is played by ‘giant’ Eddie Carmel despite criticisms online. Much ado is made about being able to see the mask coming unraveled or something but I never saw it and I was looking for it. In the second scene to be trimmed by AIP the things bites off a chunk of Bill’s face and spits it out on the floor where the camera lingers on the mass of flesh for a few seconds. The monster set the lab ablaze and the film ends with Jan’s closing lines “I told you, you should have let me die.”

This is kind of film fare that divides the masses. It is something you will either scoff at or shut off in disbelief, or like me you will write a post on your cult movie site about that is longer than the last ten emails combined that I wrote to my dear old mother. This is true psychotronic fare and do not wait as long as I did to see it. Be sure to find the restored and uncut version to see the gory scenes. Consider that a heads up.


Mantan Fan said...

When I first saw this film I was 6 yrs old in 1964. This was followed by years of nightmares of the heads wierd women being kept alive in pans of black liquids.I want to publicly thank the producers of this film for forming the misshapen mind of this sick individual.I wouldn't have it any other way

Bill D. Courtney said...

Sounds like you turned out just fine if you're leaving comments at blogs like this! No more screwed u0p than I am, an I was 6 myself in 1964.

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