Primates, Inmates & No-mates! – Rediscovering ‘The Thing with Two Heads’ (US 1972 – 91 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - October 12, 2015
Primates, Inmates & No-mates!  – Rediscovering ‘The Thing with Two Heads’ (US 1972 – 91 mins)

A Sci-fi exploitation piece that’s marginally better than its reputation, ‘The Thing with Two Heads’ was once regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. But it’s actually far from that, and deserves another look, as its premise and ultimate silliness is more than enough to keep discerning genre buffs satisfied.

After successfully operating on a two-headed ape, and suffering from terminal cancer, pioneering surgeon Dr Maxwell Kirshner (Ray Milland) devises a plan to have his head transplanted onto another man’s body where, once it proves successful, he will then have the original head removed so he can take over the body as his own. What Kirshner doesn’t realize however is that the doner is black death-row inmate; Jack Moss (Rosiey Grier), and upon wakening from the operation, the racist surgeon is shocked to be stuck with this equally-surprised prisoner. Moss also doesn’t take kindly to their situation, and soon they both find themselves on the run from the law after Jack takes another surgeon; Fred Williams (Don Marshall) hostage.

Oscar-winner Ray Milland was clearly in a bit of a career slump at this time, appearing in such dull flicks as ‘Frogs’ (’72) and ‘Terror in the Wax Museum’ (’73). Still, he’s a good sport here and it’s fun to clearly notice his rubber head on Grier’s shoulders in long shots, while in close-ups they both struggle to endure the same jacket. Former football star Roosevelt ‘Rosie’ Grier would never win an acting award, but he did an OK job, relying more on his build than his acting skills, and comes across far more likable than Milland’s bad-tempered bigot.

Exploitation director Lee Frost had earlier made far more notorious features including the once-banned Nazi shocker ‘Love Camp 7’ (’69), and the sleazy kidnap drama ‘Poor Cecily’ (’74). Frequent Frost collaborator Wes Bishop co-wrote the screenplay and appeared (as did Frost) in a minor role. Famed make-up artist Rick Baker created and played the two-headed gorilla, and pretty Joan Prather debuts as a nurse.

Unfairly dismissed as a racially exploitative movie upon release, it’s actually a tongue-in-cheek piece of entertainment that grows more ridiculous as it goes on. Any initial serious intentions are soon quashed, as the second half of the movie is basically a non-stop police chase. You can’t help but laugh at the sight of Milland and Grier on a motorcycle where they enter (and win!) a bike race, before riding off into the sunset with Jack’s girlfriend.

A cult movie that must be seen at least once, ‘The Thing with Two Heads’ is not as bad as its critical reputation, and although it descends into silliness, it’s a watchable B-movie with minor attempts at a social message. From an era when there were countless genre flicks produced, it’s a lot better made than many of them, and how many have gone on to be parodied in ‘The Simpsons’?

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