In 1971, AIP released a profitable two-headed monster movie, THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT, which featured the head of lunatic criminal being transplanted on to the body of a 7-foot simpleton. The following year brought us this offering, with the even more palatable idea of transplanting the head of a white bigot onto the body of a convicted black man (the ads screamed, "They transplanted a WHITE BIGOT'S head onto a Soul Brother's Body ...Now they're in Deeeeep trouble!"). This ludicrous/fun sci-fi picture is actually one of the slickest efforts made by the exploitation producer/director team of Wes Bishop and Lee Frost, also responsible for one AIP's final biker films, CHROME AND HOT LEATHER (1971). THE THING WITH TWO HEADS now makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Olive Films.
Dr. Max Kirshner (Ray Milland, FROGS) is a bigoted brain surgeon, confined to a wheelchair and dying of terminal cancer. Despite this, Kirshner conducts secret experiments in his basement (where else?) laboratory and has succeeded in transplanting the head of a gorilla onto the body of another gorilla. The two-headed ape escapes and causes havoc in a local corner grocery, but the creature is sedated after if finds solace in mushy bananas. Kirshner is able to remove the gorilla's original head, allowing the other head to fully function with the new body, and he now wants to put his head onto a healthy human. Since his crippled, cancer-ridden body is expiring quickly, the operation must be done at once.
Kirshner talks his colleague, Dr. Philip Desmond (Roger Perry from the "Count Yorga" films) into conducting the operation, and now a donor must be found. With the confidential aid of a politician (George E. Carey, THE BABYSITTER) who subsequently is catapulted into a public relations disaster, a call is made to death row and Jack Moss (Rosey Grier, THE GLOVE), a beefy black man sentenced to the chair for a crime he didn't commit, volunteers in order to buy him time to prove his innocence. After the transplant is completed, Kirshner wakes up to the surprise of his life ("Is this some kind of a joke?"), but is able to accept it, realizing his head can later be transplanted onto a more fitting body (meaning Caucasian). Moss on the other hand freaks out and escapes.
Now on the run with the loud-mouthed whitey affixed to his shoulder, he forces another doctor, Fred Williams (Don Marshall of "Land of the Giants" fame) to drive them away from the police who are in high pursuit of them. Williams had earlier been turned down for a position at Kirshner's hospital since he is black, so he's perfectly content to help Moss. After running on foot for a while, Moss grabs a Kawasaki dirt bike with Dr. Williams straddling behind him as they ride around recklessly. What ensues is an action-packed but much too lengthy car chase involving inept policemen (one of them played by chubby exploitation regular Bruce Kimball, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN) and the entire scene plays out like something you'd see in a Hal Needham film (and almost as many cop cars are trashed as there were in THE BLUES BROTHERS).
Though played pretty straight, much of what makes the film so amusing is the lively banter between Milland and Grier. Milland often shouts lines that would make Archie Bunker blush, and by the time they get to house of Jack’s girlfriend Lila (Chelsea Brown, THE RETURN OF CAPTAIN INVINCIBLE) for refuge, he asks thing like, "What are we having for dessert, watermelon?" when subjected to soul food, and "Is that all you people ever think about?" when they consider making love in the presence of his flustered head (but then again at the sight of her husky boyfriend with an old white man’s head attached to his shoulder, Lila greets him with the question, "Honey, I was wondering... do you have two of anything else?"). You do have to wonder what was going through Milland's head as he was reciting dialog while resting his chin on the shoulder of a 300 pound ex-football player. When a clip from the movie was shown ten years later in the satirical compilation IT CAME FROM HOLLYWOOD, narrator Dan Aykroyd jokingly exclaimed, “This picture started the black street fad of wearing middle-aged white men”!
Yes, when Rosey walks around or rides a motorbike with the phony Milland head on him, it does look pretty silly. But the special effects are actually pretty good on a whole, with the Milland and Grier substitute heads being created by Dan Striepeke (who worked on some of the “Planet of the Apes” movies and would later be the chief make-up artist on the “Apes” TV series), and his accomplished team included a very young Rick Baker, basically just starting out here (that's Baker in the convincing two-headed gorilla suit). The actual head transplant scene is fairly well done and comes off a lot better than many of today's exaggerated CGI effects. Look for cameos by William Smith as a raving death row prisoner, R&B singer Jerry Butler (from The Impressions) as a prison guard, legendary B-movie producer Albert Zugsmith (!), future THE DEVIL’S RAIN and “Eight is Enough” star Joan Prather as a nurse and the director himself shows up as a bumbling police sergeant (even producer Bishop appears as yet another doctor). And don't forget the cheerful ending, featuring a sing along chorus of that gospel favorite... "Oh Happy Day!"
MGM first released THE THING WITH TWO HEADS on DVD in 2001 as part of the cherished “Midnite Movies” series, then re-released it in 2004 on a double feature package (appropriately enough) with THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT. Both releases use the same letterboxed transfer which was not anamorphic. The Blu-ray from Olive Films remedies that problem, using MGM’s HD master for this 1080p presentation which preserves the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The opening title sequence comes off as a bit flat looking in appearance, but soon afterwards, the picture is brimming with sharp detail and nice colors which really pop out in more than a few scenes. Contrasts look very good and darker scenes benefit from strong black levels. The English audio is available in DTS-HD mono, and the track is free of any defects. The dialogue is clear and is well balanced with the music and sound effects. There are no extras on the disc or subtitle options. (George R. Reis)
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