MGM // 1972 // 91 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // May 31st, 2001
They share the same body...but hate each other's guts!
Academy Award winner Ray Milland was like the Jim Carrey of B-movies back in the 1960s and 1970s. It seems as if he popped up in everything, from the croaker Frogs to the Roger Corman sci-fi flick X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes. In 1972 came the goofy horror treat The Thing With Two Heads, starring Milland as a white bigot and ex-football player "Rosey" Grier as an African-American convict who has Milland's head attached to his shoulders. Sound silly? It is, and that's what makes The Thing With Two Heads extra special. Part of MGM's "Midnite Movies" collection, The Thing With Two Heads lumbers towards your screen on DVD!
On the back of the DVD case is a reprint of the original poster. The tag line reads: "They transplanted a white bigot's HEAD onto a soul brother's BODY!" In all my years of watching and studying movies, I don't think I have ever seen a blurb that sums up a movie as well as that sentence.
Dr. Max Kirshner (Milland) is a brilliant surgeon who is devoted to his craft. He owns his own surgical ward, and has a bright and worthy staff. Kirshner has also just had a medical breakthrough: he's successfully transplanted the head of a gorilla onto the shoulder of a completely different gorilla. That's right, they've created a two-headed monkey.
This revelation has come just in time, as Kirshner has discovered that he has cancer, and it's spreading fast in his chest. There is no way to save his body, but his mind...ah, that's a different story. Kirshner decides to be the first guinea pig for his newest breakthrough. There is, however, one catch: they need a donor.
Enter Jack Moss (Grier), a convict about to be executed on death row for a murder he says he's innocent of. The warden offers one convict the chance to help humanity (i.e., Max Kirshner) by donating their body for this scientific experiment. Though it will ultimately end in death for the con (Kirshner plans to surgically attach his head then remove the con's), the convict will live for an extra thirty days. Moss thinks this is a great opportunity for him, as he will have thirty extra days to prove his innocence with the help of his girlfriend (Chelsea Brown) and Moss' newfound friend, Dr. Williams (Don Marshall).
The experiment goes as planned except for one hitch...Kirshner didn't know he'd be on a black man's body, and Moss' didn't realize he'd have a white man's head on his shoulder!
Let the wackiness ensue!
The Thing With Two Heads is one of the silliest movies I've ever seen. It was also one of the funniest. The Thing With Two Heads is definite proof that they just don't make fun, wacky movies like they used to.
The Thing With Two Heads is the type of movie you can't, and I repeat, CAN'T watch with an iota of hope that there will be continuity and realism. I'm pretty sure that the makers of this film went into it knowing exactly what they were making. It's all very goofy stuff, a romp filled with funny effects and dopey acting. I can see the pitch meeting now:
Writer: "It's about a guy with two heads!"
Studio Rep: "Does it have an ex-New York Giants Football player in it?"
Writer: "Uhh...it does now!"
Studio Rep: "It's a GO!"
The storyline is actually interesting, which is what helps to make The Thing With Two Heads work. Who isn't fascinated by the prospect of seeing someone surgically attach one man's head to the body of another man? While watching the first twenty or so minutes, I remember thinking, "I have no idea how they are going to pull this off, but if they fail, it will still be a wondrous sight to behold." Luckily, the film doesn't fail (well, at least not in the confines of B-movies), making the two-headed goon a reality.
Every cast member brings their own special touch to this film. Ray Milland plays it straight, knowing that's the only way his character will work with this material. Kirshner is a real butt nut, a bigot who turns his nose up to the African American Dr. Williams when he comes in for his new assignment at Kirshner's hospital. He doesn't want to hear about Williams impressive credentials; he's black, which means Kirshner despises him.
Former New York Giants player "Rosey" Grier shows why he was a better football player than an actor. I suspect they cast him because he was so large, hulking enough to shadow Ray Milland as he stands behind him with his head on Grier's shoulders. Grier's acting abilities aren't very impressive, but with this type of movie they don't need to be. He's very soft spoken, so it's hard to see him as a deranged convict. Though he is sugar sweet with the ladies.
Then there's the effects, which have to be seen to be believed. The filmmakers smartly keep Milland's head on Grier's shoulders as much as possible, except when there are running long shots or surgery scenes. At these points, a fake head is used, which looks surprisingly like Milland's own head. For a very low budget film, the effects were better than I'd imagined. There's even that two-headed gorilla I mentioned before, running around the streets of Los Angeles, wrecking havoc in a mini-mart. That was undoubtedly the funniest thing I'd seen in years. There's also an extended chase scene where Moss/Kirshner are on a motorbike being pursued by squad cars. I've never seen so many police cars get pummeled in such a short length of time.
The Thing With Two Heads is presented in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. For its age, The Thing With Two Heads looks pretty good. Though there was some grain present, the picture's colors were generally bright (slight fading), with blacks being solid. A small amount of compression was spotted, though overall the picture was crisp and clear. Though it is disappointing that this was non-anamorphic, it's still the best you'll ever see of this small fantasy title.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital Mono and is nothing overly impressive. The mix is mostly centered, with dialogue sounding clear and effects/music mixed well. Hiss was kept to a minimum, with that sweet '70s soul music playing loud and clear. Also included are French and Spanish subtitles.
The only extra feature included here is a widescreen theatrical trailer. Tons of fun for you B-movie freaks.
The Thing With Two Heads never achieves greatness, nor even comes close. It's a relatively forgettable film, filled with mildly shoddy effects and ho-hum acting. But isn't that what makes B-movies grand? The lack of an anamorphic transfer is certainly cause enough for complaint, and the extras are slim pickings for this release. Although on the back cover it has some fun facts, including the interesting tidbit that Grier was the guy who tackled Sirhan Sirhan to the ground after the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968. See, The Thing With Two Heads is not just a cheapie flick, but also a history lesson!
MGM's "Midnite Movies" collection is a nice value, giving the consumer rare film treats (usually in widescreen) for a very low price (around 10-15 bucks). The Thing With Two Heads will make you shiver fear and quiver with laughter, and may also be seen as a precursor to the Lethal Weapon buddy series. Further proof that two heads really are better than one (like you didn't see that gag coming a mile away).
Innocent! Deranged! Terrifying! Look out, it's The Thing With Two Heads!!!
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Original Theatrical Trailer