Have you ever wondered how cool it would be to have a second head grafted on your body, right next to yours? I have, and so has Hollywood, the land of candy cane dreams and pennywhistle fantasies. Now I know some will say, 'Why do we need another two headed freak type movie? We've already got two entries in the 'two-headed man' genre with The Manster (1962) and The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant (1971).' And I might agree, if not for the fact that neither of those two films really deals with the social ramifications that the AIP release of The Thing with Two Heads (1972) touches on, specifically what happens when you graft the head of a white bigot's head on a soul brother's body, the consequences being pure cinematic gold (well, okay, maybe not, but it's sure fun to watch).
The Thing with Two Heads was directed by Lee Frost, who also gave us such lurid exploitation pictures as The House on Bare Mountain (1962), The Defilers (1965), and Policewomen (1974) and stars Oscar winning actor Ray Milland (no, he didn't win the award for this film, but for the 1945 film The Lost Weekend) and former L.A. Rams football player Roosevelt 'Rosey' Grier. With respect to Milland, it certainly is interesting, even a bit sad, to see a once great star wallow uncomfortably in number of trashy 70's B pics like this or Frogs (1972), just to name a few.
As the film starts, we are introduced to Dr. Maxwell Kirshner (Milland), a highly successful surgeon who runs a number of clinics specializing in human transplants. We also learn that Maxwell is terminally ill, and is conducting a secret experiment in his basement, one designed specifically in mind with the possibility of saving his life. If you guess it has something to do with transplanting his head onto another body, you'd be right. The experiment involves grafting a second head onto a gorilla (played by Oscar winning special effects makeup artist Rick Baker), and then removing the original head, seeing if the newly grafted head survives. The process takes about a month, allowing for the second head to grow strong enough assuming control of the host body. There's a pretty funny scene when the gorilla escapes, and terrorizes a convenience store before being recaptured.
Anyway, the gorilla experiment is a success, opening the door for a human head transplant, but Maxwell's condition is deteriorating rapidly, and he soon goes into a coma, but not before instructing his subordinates to follow through with his plans. Only problem is a compatible host/donor body is extremely difficult to come by...until inquires are made with the prison board, and a likely candidate is found in a supposedly wrongfully convicted black man on death row, Jack Moss (Grier), scheduled to be executed. Jack, seeing a chance to prolong his existence for another month, allowing for him to try and find the only man, who went missing at the time of his trial, and could clear him by supplying a credible alibi, accepts the deal. Thing is, Jack has no idea what's in store for him. So what happens when both men realize what has happened? And who gets to keep the body in the end?
The concept here is surely interesting, albeit deeply entrenched in the realm of fantasyland. I know not if this film was meant to be a serious science fiction picture or not, but given the smattering of comedy throughout, I am assuming the latter. Most of the truly funny scenes come from the situations arising after the surgical procedure, and Milland's character's expounding of bigoted statements. Racism in and of itself certainly isn't funny, but the level stupidity within Milland's character and his lack of control over the situation sure is...okay, the scenes where Grier is running around with a plastic head attached to his should did look fake, but I didn't focus on that too much. The scene that really sort of derailed the film from being better than it was, for me, was the extended chase scene on the motorbike. It was funny for like a few minutes, but then, probably due to the skimpiness of the plot, runs for much longer than it should have, lasted well over 15 minutes. My favorite scene was when Jack and Maxwell, on the lamb as Jack is still a convicted criminal, go to Jack's girlfriend's apartment (I love her absolute lack of shock at seeing this strange creature, and her utterance, 'You get into more sh$t...'), and Jack tries to initiate intimacy with her, to which she expresses uneasiness with Maxwell's head right there. Jack then turns to Maxwell and states, 'Now you know you got to go...'
The print used on this release looks really good, and is in wide screen format. The only special feature available is a theatrical trailer for the film, which is almost as funny as the film. Sure, this cheese may stink, but at least it goes easy, not taking itself too seriously. One thing I did learn from this film is that when one head of a two-headed man smokes a cigarette, the smoke will actually expel from the mouth of the head not smoking...seems logical to me...and pretty funny...