The Thing with Two Heads
U.S.A. / 1972
Directed by Lee Frost
Starring
Ray Milland
Rosey Grier
Don Marshall
Color / 91 Minutes / PG
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
MGM Home Entertainment
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
6
    5   10 = Highest Rating  
"They transplanted a white bigot's head onto a soul brother's body!"
    I saw this in the theater in 1972, when I was 10 years old. It's amusing to recall that, at the time, I actually took it seriously! (I was just a kid, okay?) Over 30 years later The Thing with Two Heads is still a fun little flick a goofy B-movie concoction that somehow manages to mix horror, sci-fi, and blaxploitation themes with a Dukes of Hazzard-style demolition derby. Such diverse elements result in a rather schizophrenic film, as if it doesn't seem quite sure about what kind of movie it wants to be. One thing's for certain though: it's incredibly, joyously silly.
    Ray Milland (Panic in Year Zero!, Frogs) is Dr. Max Kirshner, brilliant transplant surgeon and director of a prestigious research hospital. An unapologetic racist, Kirshner tries to deny a promising black physician, Dr. Fred Williams (Terminal Island's Don Marshall), a position he'd offered him on his staff before learning his ethnic background. Kirshner is also dying of inoperable cancer. In order for his genius to continue, Kirshner has secretly perfected a technique for transplanting human heads. The procedure calls for an initial adjustment phase in which both heads coexist on the same body for up to a month. His experiment with a gorilla (played by makeup wizard Rick Baker in a pretty decent two-headed ape suit) has proven 100% successful. With his demise imminent, Kirshner plans to transplant his own head onto the body of a willing human donor even though this ultimately means death for the Good Samaritan. But where to find such a sacrificial lamb? Kirshner's trusted assistant, Dr. Desmond (Roger Perry of Count Yorga, Vampire) turns to the prison system to locate a donor. An offer of 30 extra days of life is made to the prisoners on Death Row should one of them choose to donate his body to science. African-American Jack Moss (NFL star Rosey Grier) is scheduled to be executed for a murder he didn't commit. While being strapped into the electric chair he decides to take the offer, hoping the postponement of his death will buy enough time for his girlfriend to prove his innocence.
    Dr. Desmond performs the first stage operation in the basement laboratory at Kirshner's mansion. Needless to say, the old man isn't too pleased to discover his noggin's been attached to one of "those people." Jack isn't too happy, either, when he finds out what's been done with him and the ultimate fate of his own head. With the help of the disgruntled Dr. Williams the two-headed convict escapes from Kirshner's estate, a posse of cops hot on their heels and Max's honky head bitching and moaning the whole time. Jack's only hope is to get to his girlfriend's place and hide from the authorities while Williams figures out a way to safely unattach the unwanted 'guest.'
Meanwhile Kirshner's head slowly begins gaining mental control over Jack's body...
    Whether it's the sight of Grier or Milland with a fake head of the other actor strapped to his neck, or the two men squished together in a special costume (which had to monumentally uncomfortable), The Thing with Two Heads is a veritable laugh riot once the operation is done. It's routine B-picture fare until then but well worth the wait. The situations and dialog are so absurd all played totally straight that I simply have to believe this was done intentionally, putting the film squarely in the realm of camp. Milland is especially fun to watch, playing his patented late career 'crotchety mean old man' shtick to the hilt. (And to think he was the 1945 Best Actor Oscar winner for his performance in Lost Weekend... Here, he's strapped cheek-to-cheek with a hulking 350-pound black guy, grumbling lines like, "What's for dessert? Watermelon?") Grier isn't much of an actor but you can't help but root for him; I suspect he was hired mainly because his huge frame could conceal Milland while trussed up behind him. (Where the flick could've really gone for the gusto would've been casting "Dolemite" himself, Rudy Ray Moore, in the part. I can only imagine the comebacks!) Then there's the prolonged chase sequence, involving the demolition of 14 police cars (though some are the same wrecks shot from different angles). While escaping Jack and Williams blunder onto a motocross course, stealing a cycle from a startled rider and leading the cops on a merry dance. Set to funky "wocka-chika-wocka-chika" riffs, the sequence lasts for nearly 10 minutes, with a fleet of patrol cars basically doing donuts in a field as they chase the stuntmen on the bike, one of which has the bobbing fake Milland head buckled to his shoulder. It's mindless filler of the most blatant kind, the part of the film that deliberately and unsuccessfully goes for out-an-out humor with its Keystone Cops antics. Still, the scenario's so gonzo one can't help but be agog. I mean, where else will you ever see anything even remotely like this?

Occasionally MGM's Midnite Movie line includes discs with bonus features, even audio commentaries. Thing isn't one of them. Only the amusing theatrical trailer is provided. It's a missed opportunity, I feel, because I'd really love to hear some of the behind-the-scenes stories concerning this flick. (Milland passed away in 1986 but Grier, Marshall, Perry and director Lee Frost [The Defilers, The Black Gestapo] are still around.) Even as a bare bones DVD, however, this is a great buy for cheese addicts. For a 30-year old low budget exploitation pic the disc's audio-visual quality is exemplary. The (1.85:1) widescreen print used for the transfer looks terrific; the digital mono audio track is particularly good very crisp and clear. The keepcase cover art is wonderfully lurid. 2/01/03
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