aka The Brain; Over My Dead Body
(Ein Toter Sucht Seinen Moerder)
West Germany. 1962.
Director – Freddie Francis, Screenplay – Philip Mackie & Robert Stewart, Based on the Novel Donovan’s Brain by Curt Siodmak, Producer – Raymond Stross, Photography (b&w) – Bob Huke, Music – Kenneth V. Jones, Art Direction – Arthur Lawson. Production Company – Raymond Stross Productions.
Peter van Eyck (Dr Peter Corrie), Anne Heywood (Anna Holt), Bernard Lee (Frank Shears), Cecil Parker (Stevenson), Ellen Schwiers (Ella), Maxine Audley (Marion Fame), Hans Nielsen (Immerman), Jeremy Spenser (Martin Holt), Jack MacGowran (Furber)
When a plane that contains millionaire businessman Max Holt crashes nearby, Dr Peter Corrie races to the accident scene. Without any time to take the dying Holt to hospital, Corrie removes Holt’s brain and is successful in keeping it alive in a tank in his laboratory. Not long after, Corrie finds that he is starting to write with his left hand and believes that Holt’s incredible willpower is possessing him. Under Holt’s influence, he starts investigating Holt’s business partners and family, trying to discover who murdered him.
Vengeance/The Brain was the third (and to date last) film made of Curt Siodmak’s novel Donovan’s Brain (1942) – the previous two entries being The Lady and the Monster (1944) and Donovan’s Brain (1953). The book is hardly a classic but the theme seems to have struck a chord with filmmakers. This German-made version was the directorial debut of Freddie Francis, a former cinematographer. Shortly after, Francis was to become a prominent name in the Anglo-horror movement, directing various of Hammer’s psycho-thrillers and Frankenstein and Dracula sequels and a number of Amicus’s horror anthology films. (See below for Freddie Francis’s other genre films).
Vengeance/The Brain is a real oddity. It distorts the original Donovan’s Brain story into something completely different to the extent that the theme of a scientist being controlled by the malevolent will of a financier’s disembodied brain is now only of secondary importance to the story. It is now more of a mystery story about unraveling who killed Donovan/Holt. It is not even clear that it is Holt’s brain that is controlling Corrie – we only get the sense that Holt is vaguely subconsciously communicating with Corrie in some way.
The ultimate measure of the story is that its greatest horror is not the fact that a malevolent brain is controlling minds and killing people, unlike all other versions of the story, but rather that the conspiracy exists among Holt’s compatriots and family. In fact, at one point, saving the brain from being destroyed is seen as a salutary act. In other film versions, the switching off of the brain has been the denouement of the story, here it is dramatically unremarkable and the solving of the murder is of far greater importance.
The film has been shot with a minimal budget. Freddie Francis shoots in intensive closeups on forelit faces all in black-and-white, which emphasizes a stark naked tension that was characteristic to 1960s thrillers. One of the more unusual parts is the casting of Peter Van Eyck. Van Eyck’s clipped Germanic directness and single-minded determination gives the film undeniable resonances of WWII German experiments.
Freddie Francis’s other genre films are:- Paranoiac (1962), The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), Nightmare (1964), Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), Hysteria (1965), The Skull (1965), The Psychopath (1966), The Deadly Bees (1967), They Came from Beyond Space (1967), Torture Garden (1967), Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly (1969), Trog (1970), The Vampire Happening (1971), Tales from the Crypt (1972), Craze (1973), The Creeping Flesh (1973), Tales That Witness Madness (1973), Legend of the Werewolf (1974), Son of Dracula (1974), The Ghoul (1975), The Doctor and the Devils (1985) and Dark Tower (1987).
Curt Siodmak’s other genre scripts include:- F.P.1 Does Not Answer (1932), Trans-Atlantic Tunnel (1935), The Ape (1940), Black Friday (1940), The Invisible Man Returns (1940), The Invisible Woman (1940), The Wolf Man (1941), Invisible Agent (1942), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), Son of Dracula (1943), The Climax (1944), House of Frankenstein (1944), The Beast with Five Fingers (1946), Tarzan’s Magic Fountain (1949), Riders to the Stars (1954), Creature with the Atom Brain (1955) and Earth Vs the Flying Saucers (1956). Siodmak also directed/wrote several films with Bride of the Gorilla (1951), The Magnetic Monster (1953), Curucu, Beast of the Amazon (1956) and Love Slaves of the Amazon (1957). Siodmak’s lesser known novel Hauser’s Memory (1968) about transplanted memories was also filmed as the tv movie Hauser’s Memory (1970).
Full film available online here:-