The Thing With Two Heads/Review

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

< The Thing With Two Heads

Dr. Maxwell Kirshner (Ray Milland) is the founder of The Kirshner Transplant Foundation and a master scientist. His latest subject is a large gorilla (played by FX wizard Rick Baker) which he's given an extra head to monitor how it will work. This is all being done to help him find a way to live longer since he is gravely ill, which confines him to a wheelchair. While Kirshner and his assistants are watching the gorilla's progress in his secret lab, it goes wild and breaks out of its cage. It then attacks Dr Kirshner, destroys the lab and escapes. The assistants chase after the two headed beast as it runs down the street then enters a small market where the customers scream in horror. When the two men discover the gorilla, its comically sitting peacefully, munching on bananas.

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Back at the foundation, Dr Kirshner's associates introduce a new surgeon, Dr. Williams (Don Marshall), who happens to be black. From his reaction, we see Dr Kirshner is in fact a bigot as the camera stays on his seemingly disgusted face. Dr. Kirshner tries to get Williams off the job by offering him a very low wage, and refers to him as "you people". Needless to say, the two doctors don't get along well. When Williams demands his right to work, Kirshner tells him he has the right to hire who he chooses...but will let him stay for awhile. Kirshner soon finds out he has terminal chest cancer and has only two to three weeks to live. He makes it clear to his head doctor (pun intended), Phillip Desmond (Roger Perry) that he wants to live and is forced to show him the gorilla subject whose new head has been transplanted with total spinal alignment making his initial experiment a success. Kirshner states that he wants to now transplant his own head to a healthy body. Of course, the only problem is, they have to find a willing subject.

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The medical staff begin making lots of calls. Phillip makes a request at the state office where he gets the go ahead to use a death row inmate for Dr. Kirshner's operation. Meanwhile, Dr. Kirshner is rapidly dying and they must get a body as soon as possible. On Death Row, Jack Moss (Rosie Grier) is up for his execution (watch for a great cameo by none other than William Smith as a crazy inmate who yells at Jack). When Moss makes it known his friends on the outside are on the verge of clearing his name, he decides he'd like to donate his body to science, thus letting him live a bit longer. The warden must comply and give him to Dr. Kirshner as the volunteer. Little does Moss know what he's getting himself into. The scientists and assistants begin preparing, washing the walls and sanitizing the operating room. The transplant goes well and Dr Kirshner's head is stuck onto Moss's shoulder, thus creating "The Thing with Two Heads". When Moss finds out that he's got a second head, he goes berzerk, but is quickly sedated. He later breaks out, taking Dr. Williams hostage with him and his new bigoted appendage.

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What follows is the adventures of a racist head and his new body which happens to be a soul food loving black man. Ray Milland is superb as usual as the cranky racist Dr. Kirshner, while Rosie Grier plays Jack Moss with lots of humor and charm. The special FX are also what make the movie very enjoyable to watch as you try to see how the two actors (now attached at the neck) play their roles and how they are manipulated through the scenery. For most of the running time, Rosie and Ray are shown stuck together, either lying down, riding in a car (the backseat making it easier to create the illusion of the two heads) and walking around. There is some quick long shots with Rosie and a fake head as he's running, although the FX team did do a fantastic job with the makeup. Ray Milland's fake head looks pretty damn real. The most entertaining sequence in the movie involves the two, along with Dr. Williams, riding a motorcycle in a race which turns into a pretty lengthy police chase sequence with them driving through the sunny California countryside. There's some really great stunts here with vehicles crashing and rolling down hills etc. The writers of this film were exploitation veterans Lee Frost and Wes Bishop who were known for their tightly paced scripts and smart low budget filmmaking in the exploitation biz. The Thing with Two Heads is yet another gem from the two. If you like this one we also recommend checking out The Incredible Two Headed Transplant (written by this film's co-writer James Gordon White).


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Peter Roberts is the co-founder/editor-in-chief of the Grindhouse Cinema Database (GCDb) and contributor to the GCDb's sister site Furious Cinema. A Massachusetts native, he is an avid film fan that has been immersed in the world of entertainment and pop culture his entire life. He is currently majoring in Communications and Interactive Media Design.

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