Saturday, 30 April 2011

Ray Milland Heads Up Horror In ...

The Thing With Two Heads

Blaxploitation meets Grind House in this bizarre ‘B’ movie exploitation flick. Ray Milland stars as Maxwell Kirshner, an eminent surgeon working in the field of body part transplantation. He has found a way to attach a second living head to an ape, whilst the original one still functions, only then to remove that and leave the newly grafted head in its place. Successful in the operation he seeks to do the same with a human subject, that subject being … himself !.

Kirshner has been working flat out on his pioneering transplant technique due to having incurable cancer, and his efforts are self motivated, as he wants to live on with another body harbouring his head. When he divulges to his long time professional colleague, personal physician and friend, that he only has a few weeks to live they have to act immediately to acquire a suitable host.

The theme of the movie is not just one of fantastical science fiction but also that of race, and the colour of a mans skin. Maxwell Kirshner isn’t just a brilliant surgeon, he is also a blatant racist !. When a black doctor, Fred Williams, played by the instantly recognisable Don Marshall (TV’s Land Of The Giants), a welcome regular of popular television shows during the Sixties and Seventies, joins Kirshner’s staff it is made clear that his contract was compiled without the usual cross referencing, and Dr. Williams ‘kind’ is not welcomed !. Dr. Williams properly stands up to Kirshner, holding him to his contract and fulfilling his position in order to further his want to improve himself under such a revered physician in the field of transplantation.

A truly wry quirk of fate plays its hand when Kirshner’s time to undertake the transplantation comes around. With his body giving itself up to the cancer his friend and aid has no alternative but to turn to an inmate on death row. Someone prepared to turn their body over to science in order to avoid the death sentence. That someone is Roosevelt Grier (Rosey Grier aka Jack Moss), a man sentenced to death for murder. A crime that he still pleads he is innocent of, and any further time extension affords his friends and family time to prove his position. The ironic twist is of course that Roosevelt Grier is a black man !.

The reactions of both actors upon the realisation, after the operation, that they have been surgically conjoined at the neck, as a two headed being, is priceless !. Great credit must be given to the creators of Ray Milland’s false head and features as the attention to detail, when not reliant upon the real star in close up shots, is exceptional. It truly is a believable prosthetic and is freakily functional. During the operation, when Milland’s fake head is manoeuvred across to be attached to its sedated host body, seeing the eyes open and move is, for a film at this time, perhaps as audience reactive as that of witnessing the classic scuttling head sequence in John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).

Two heads are better for fun should have been the slogan blurb for the movie, as splicing Ray Milland’s characters head upon the black neck and shoulders of Rosey Grier’s character Jack Moss works with entertainingly unexpected results. Props to both actors for keeping straight faces and dealing with the obvious cultural clash and race issues from a truly bizarre view point.

Jack Moss manages to overcome the effects of his induced drugged state and escapes from the shackles of Dr. Kirshner’s home medical facility. He goes on the run, taking Dr. Fred Williams as hostage, in order to reunite with his girlfriend and to pursue proving his innocence. A task more difficult than ever when you are sporting an extra head !.

Unbelievably the movie never actually plunges to the depths of complete farce, despite how preposterous the premise, retaining a typically seventies grind house stature that keeps things gritty and salacious in a good way. All three main actors draw the best out of their characters to keep a doubtlessly original audience open mouthed and aghast at what they were witnessing.

One of the stand out moments, of this strictly ‘B’ movie, comes just after the midway point when Moss and Kirshner, along with Dr. Williams, jump aboard an off road motorcycle, to be pursued across the off road mud track by the police in their standard cop cars. This quite long scene delivers car carnage akin to The Blues Brothers (1980), which of course actually came after The Thing With Two Heads. Car upon car crash and smash all over the place, left in the wake of their intended pursuit.

The longer that Dr. Kirshner is attached to Jack Moss the stronger his bond with the body becomes, and as Moss concentrates on eluding recapture and clearing his name, Kirshner focus’s his will upon taking control of the host bodies functionality. A battle to take control plays out, and Dr. Williams has to decide which of the two men his ethical loyalties should side with.

A wild oddity for sure, but one that deals with the issues of bigotry, and science playing God, with a transient proprietary that for its time was as bold as its precociousness. Dealing with issues that are not so far removed from the realms of reality of a spoon fed society today !. Seek it out, but be sure to leave your dismissive mind behind, and engage your thinking head to fully appreciate the underlying cautionary poignancy within the films generic veneer.

The Thing With Two Heads Trailer

Movie Details IMDB

1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.