Jan in the Pan
Though Rhino failed to impress with their initial DVD offering (Galaxina), they’ve come to play ball with their Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVDs. No, it doesn’t have any alternate audio options, deleted footage, or even subtitles – but it does come with a nifty bonus that makes a lot of sense. Since Rhino can only release the MST3K episodes for which they’ve procured the video rights to the original film, someone came up with the bright idea of putting both versions on the DVD. This title has been expected for months on a long-delayed DVD release on the Synapse label, but unless they come up with something special for theirs, the Rhino disc will render the Synapse one superfluous (Don May of Synapse assures me that their version will have superior sound and picture, so keep watching this space for another review).
This was the episode midway through season 5 in which Mike Nelson (Mike Nelson) took over the role of human guinea pig on board the “Satellite of Love”, a curious space station on which Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) marooned Gizmonics Institute drone Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson) since 1988 (or 3000 in dog years). The transition was a bumpy one, especially those fans who were attracted to the show mainly by Hodgson’s inventiveness and quirky sense of humor. This is understandable, since Hodgson always used the show as the perfect outlet for his talents, mixing prop comedy, puppetry and surrealism. The “Invention Exchange”, once a comic highlight of the show, was soon abandoned. Though a very funny writer and performer in his own right, Nelson proved a sharp right turn away from Hodgson’s little world.
While Hodgson always appeared to be secretly relishing his role as a sleep-deprived lab monkey, making us half believe the truth of the matter (that he was actually the puppet-master in charge), Nelson immediately gave the impression of an innocent in way over his head. Even the robots tended to treat him as a kid brother, constantly making him the butt of their pranks, and reacting with oft-annoying passivity. Mike was truly a flavor that one needed to get used to.
The ‘bots prep Nelson with a marathon of past turkeys so that he’ll be in shape for his first experiment. Give the kids at Best Brains kudos – they picked a truly legendary bad film for Mike’s debut. The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is a low-budget, Z-grade horror film of the very best kind. It’s gory and sleazy, with ridiculous plot twists, tin-ear dialogue, a monster in a closet, and sexy pin-up girls – all rolled into one glorious mess.
In fact, it’s such a perfect film for MST3K that it hardly needs any wisecracks from the shadow-vision front seats – though they provide plenty of great commentary. I’d laughed through this favorite with friends enough times before Best Brains got to it that I was convinced they’d already done this one.
Soap star Herb (Jason) Evers plays Dr. Bill Cortner, a twisted surgeon seemingly inspired by Lovecraft’s “Herbert West, Re-Animator.” Despite the wagging finger of his brain surgeon father, Cortner is always playing God in the operating room, saving patients’ lives through untested operating methods – while secretly playing Devil in his basement lab in the family country house on weekends.
Cortner has recently decided to give up being a playboy brain surgeon and settle down with pretty nurse Jan Compton (Virginia Leith), but before he ties the knot, he decides to let Jan tag along on his latest run out to his mad lab.
Fortunately for us, Dr. Bill’s not as handy behind the wheel as he is with a scalpel, and he ends up crashing his convertible. Though he’s thrown clear, Jan’s not so lucky, and Cortner takes advantage of the situation by making her the subject of his latest experiment. After a few hours of feverish work, he has Jan’s head up and running again – despite the lack of a body.
As these events unfold onscreen, a suffering Nelson decides he’s had enough. Burrowing below decks, he tries in vain to take control of the ship, but only finds the “cheese” conduit. Later, he gets more in the spirit of the proceedings and leads the robots in designing hats for the body-less Jan.
One would think that even an evil scientist would be satisfied with any available healthy body on which to graft his fiancé’s head, but our boy Bill proves himself even creepier. He goes “shopping” at strip clubs and beauty pageants! Meanwhile, “Jan in the Pan” decides that enough is enough and the marriage is OFF.
A little research into the fringes of medical science will show that it’s now possible to keep a human head alive – though hardly considered legal or ethical. Yet. But some day, it may come to pass that one of us may find themselves in a similar situation. In which case, you could do worse than to have the nurse prop you in front of this episode of Mystery Science Theater for a while. It’d tickle your ribs – if you had any.
The menus feature helpful instructions on how to turn the disc over. There you’ll find Brain in all its uncut glory, including a few scenes cut from the MST3K version for time. Build your own robots and pretend you’re trapped in space, too!