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The Thing

with Two Heads

a/k/a The Thing with Two Heads Heads

Part One of Sinister Soul Cinema

"Level with us doctor: Did you create a monster?"

-- The Power of the Press, Baby!  




Gonzoid Cinema




So ... Mr. Milland ... tell me again about that Oscar you won for Lost Weekend?


Watch it!



Sights &
The Thing
with Two
Heads Heads
  Lee Frost
  Lee Frost
  Wes Bishop
  James Gordon White
  John Lawrence
  Wes Bishop

Newspaper Ads

Two Heads

Are Better

Than One:

The Films of 

Lee Frost and

Wes Bishop.

The Defilers

Mondo Bizarro

The Animal

The Pick-Up

Hot Spur

Love Camp 7

Chain Gang Women

Chrome and Hot Leather

Zero in and Scream

The Thing with Two Heads

The Black Gestapo

Race with the Devil

Dixie Dynamite


More Sinister

Soul Cinema:

The Thing with Two Heads

Scream, Blacula Scream

Dr. Black and Brother Hyde

The Black Werewolf

Sugar Hill



Our film opens with the arrival of Dr. Maxwell Kirshner (Ray Milland) at his palatial mansion. Once a world renowned specialist in organ transplants Kirshner's career has been derailed by a crippling case of arthritis. Thus, confined to a wheelchair, the doctor spends most of his time running the Kirshner Institute and Transplant Center -- kinda like the Mayo Clinic of body parts swapping, but lately he's been concentrating most of his dwindling energy on a secret pet project. And so, we follow along as Kirshner is wheeled down to his super-secret laboratory, where he's briefed and updated on his latest test subject's vitals, and is happy to hear that there are no signs of rejection and all traces of pneumonia have disappeared. Over in the corner of the lab, we spy a cage and realize his patient is confined within. And after a few suspenseful camera turns, it's revealed that this patient is a gorilla. (Well, a guy in a gorilla suit. Rick Baker, actually.) And not just any gorilla: a gorilla with ... *gasp* TWO HEADS! 

So pleased is Kirshner over this latest diagnostic check that he wants to proceed immediately with the next stage of this diabolical grafting experiment and remove the gorilla's original head. But when his two assistants try to sedate the creature, they kinda botch it and the gorilla escapes, runs amok, and trashes the lab. This rampage then continues when the freakish simian breaks out of the mansion and gallops away. Not amused with this development, Kirshner orders his bumbling techs to recapture the beast -- alive, or all of their work is lost. This tandem of idiots do manage to track the renegade gorilla to the local grocers -- but only because the excited screams of the evacuating shoppers caught their attention. Cautiously entering with their tranquilizer gun ready, they find the big galoot in the produce aisle happily stuffing bananas into each head.

Oh, the horror and the -- hey, he's kinda cute.

Well, I'm guessing it was an easy capture because they didn't bother to show us as we immediately jump back to the lab, where Kirshner finishes up work on the gorilla -- who is noticeably back down to one head, making the operation a complete success. (Except for poor Cheetah lying over there in the waste bucket.) Done tampering in God's domain, Kirshner returns to the Institute and meets with his chief surgeon, Dr. Phillip Desmond (Roger Perry). Seems the mad doctor wants to let Desmond in on his experiments. Why? I've got a pretty good idea, but we'll have to wait because word has come that Dr. Williams, their new associate, has arrived for his orientation. A specialist, Williams' work on the prevention of donor organ rejection is tops in the field, and has them anxious to meet him, but Kirshner seems nonplussed when meeting the new hire. And confusion reigns when Kirshner suddenly withdraws the job offer, citing unexpected budgetary cuts. Dr. Williams (Don Marshall), of course, isn't very happy with this news; he left his old job and took a substantial pay cut to come and work for the great Dr. Kirshner. Told that a contract was signed that should at least entitle a six-month probationary period, a grumbling Kirshner reveals the real -- and odious -- reasons for withdrawing the job offer when he starts spewing racial slurs about certain people always trying to work in places where they don't belong. Realizing he's dealing with a bigot, Williams does his part for affirmative action and demands that he be granted his trial period anyway. A bitterly reluctant Kirshner gives in, but promises Williams will be terminated as soon as those six months are up.

After Williams leaves, Desmond tries to argue with the boss about his narrow-mindedness, but Kirshner says there is no time for that because he has something more important to show him. Taken back to Kirshner's super-secret lab, Desmond goes over the notes and X-rays of the gorilla experiments, and then the gorilla itself, as Kirshner claims to have discovered the secret of spinal realignment, and how he's able to keep the dismembered head alive until it can blah blah blah, sci-fi goobledy-gook about electrifying nerve endings. (Which is kind of what I did while rewiring my clothes dryer the other day.) An astounded Desmond thinks this will revolutionize the transplanting business and promises to start writing up the necessary paperwork to get it approved by the FDA. But Kirshner says there isn't enough time for that, and reveals that on top of the debilitating arthritis he has terminal chest cancer. (Can you have chest cancer? Lung cancer, maybe, but chest cancer?) His genius must live on, Kirshner decrees, and with only two to three weeks to live he asks Desmond to help him secretly transplant his head onto a healthy body. Drunk with the nectar of uncharted scientific discovery, Desmond agrees to do it -- if they can find a suitable donor. 

When all the normal channels prove fruitless (-- normal channels to find a body for a head transplant?), Kirshner greases the palm of the Lt. Governor, who agrees to offer all condemned criminals the opportunity to donate their bodies to science to avoid the electric chair. However, there's a catch: the prisoners will only get a thirty-day extension for the experiment; and when it's completed, they'll still die -- but they'll die for science! Obviously, there are no takers. Weeks pass and Kirshner grows more ill, to the point where life-support is the only thing keeping him alive. And even with these machines, he only has two to three days left. Meanwhile, out at the State Pen, the soundtrack turns super-funky-soulful as Big Jack Moss (Rosey Grier) is escorted down death-row by several guards, the warden, and a priest. And after they strap Big Jack into Old Sparky, the warden reads his sentence and asks for any last words before the switch is flipped. Still professing his innocence, Big Jack swears his girlfriend is real close to getting the evidence that'll exonerate him -- and since thirty more days ought to do it, he agrees to take part in that mystery experiment to stay his execution.

Escorted to Kirshner's mansion, where that super-secret lab has been converted into a super-secret surgical center, the prisoner is turned over to Desmond, who is rendered speechless by his patient's hue. Putting Kirshner's feelings about African Americans aside, a desperate Desmond knows time is short and orders his underlings to get Big Jack prepped for surgery. Placed on a gurney and sedated, as a tech carefully shaves the side of his neck, Big Jack asks if this experimenting will hurt but dozes off before getting an answer. Now, knowing where all of this is heading, and taking into account that Big Jack is a man-mountain built like a brick-shithouse, things are bound to get very interesting when he wakes back up with the head of a crotchety old bigot welded to his neck. Well, you'd think they would -- he typed ominously...

And as usual -- per whenever I start one of these marathons, Sinister Soul Cinema month stumbles off the blocks with a film that's long on potential but short on results, proving most definitively that two heads aren't necessarily better than one.

"The most fantastic medical experiment ever dared! They transplanted a white bigot's head onto a soul brother's body! And now, with the fights and the fuzz, the choppers and the chicks, they're in deeeeep trouble!"

That's what the promotional materials promised for this movie, and -- well, it just didn't deliver and probably should have read something more like this:

"The most fantastic medical experiment ever dared! They transplanted a white bigot's head onto a soul brother's body! And now, with the fights and the fuzz, the choppers and the chicks, the audience is in deeeeep trouble -- if they can stay awake, that is!"

An exploitation piece made under the guise of social satire, The Thing with Two Heads breaks the biggest cardinal sin any movie can commit: it is, despite the wonky premise, incredibly bland, and therefore, incredibly dull. Starting out strong with that two-headed gorilla, and maintaining that momentum up to the actual grafting of Milland's head onto Grier's body, after that, the script just doesn't quite know what to do with the monster it has created and, after several prolonged and protracted chase scenes that can only be generously described as padding, eventually just peeters out.

A collaborative effort from director Lee Frost and screenwriter Wes Bishop, trying to cash in on the burgeoning blaxploitation market, these two were familiar names in the naughty, Nudie-Cuties of the late '60s like House on Bare Mountain and other, lurid Roughies for Bob Cresse's Olympic International, including Hot Spur -- an X-rated version of The Wild Bunch, where the rapes are shown in slow-motion -- and The Pick-Up -- the definitive sleaze-noir to end all definitive sleaze-noir, where a couple of gals mistakenly roll a couple of hoods, not realizing the money they're stealing belongs to the mob and realize payback can be a real bitch. These two also had hands in a couple of Mondo movies, the Nazisploitation of Love Camp 7, and perhaps the ultimate movie anachronism, The Black Gestapo.

Produced by John Lawrence for American International the film came on the heels of Lawrence's other, sleazier double-headed feature, The Incredible Two Headed Transplant. Frost and Bishop had already contributed to AIP with the outlaw biker flick Chrome and Hot Leather, which proved so dire it effectively ended the studio's 'cycle-cycle. And as was typical for a feature baring the name Samuel Z. Arkoff presents the film's press-kit included several off-the-wall promotions, including urging the theater owners to obtain a ghoulish mask available at any trick and novelty store and have it set on the shoulder of a tall man so that he can walk through busy shopping sections of town with a sandwich board advertising the play date. If that failed to bring them in, try framing an ear of corn with two big bites taken out it and post a sign stating: BITTEN BY THE THING WITH TWO HEADS.

Again, I don't think any amount of ballyhooing can save this film, but, judge for yourselves as we pick things up with the grafting procedure, where Spike Jones hijacks the soundtrack with a lot of gongs, hiccups and gurgles as Big Jack's head is shifted to the side to make room for Kirshner's -- which is unceremoniously lopped off his decaying body and attached to the magic machine. Much surgical jargon about mosquito-clamps, retractors, and a machine that goes *PING* follows as Kirshner's head is attached to his new hulking frame. And when the surgery is completed, all Desmond can do is wait and see if the new head takes or turns gangrenous and falls off.

Okay, I made that last part up ... Anyways, there was some explanation as to why they had to have both heads attached for a while, but it didn't make any sense aside from plot-contrivance so I won't bother to pass it along.

Time passes, and eventually Kirshner's head is the first to regain consciousness. Desmond is right by his side, and though groggy, Kirshner can feel his new and powerful body. But as his assistant tries to delicately tell him about the body being black Kirshner is too excited and keeps interrupting him. Able to raise his new left arm, Kirshner sees Big Jack's enormous paw, is dumbfounded, and quickly melts into a rage. Before Desmond can explain, the host wakes up, too, and as the two heads start to argue -- You got your Rosey Grier in my Ray Milland! No! You've got your Ray Milland in my Rosey Grier -- Jack realizes what happened, freaks out, and starts screaming. Luckily, they get his head sedated before he can pull any stitches but Desmond warns it will take at least ten to fourteen days before Kirshner's head asserts full control over the other; and until then, Jack's head will have to remain sedated.

But the patient soon takes a turn for the worse as infection and pneumonia set in. Needing help, specifically Dr. William's help, Desmond convinces him to join the project -- but doesn't reveal the true nature of the experiment. As things get even more dicey, Desmond orders the sedative dosages to be reduced to help the body fight off infection. (Uh-oh.) With William's help in the lab, they manage to stabilize the patient and it looks like the incredible two-headed transplant will survive. (No, wait ... that's the other two-headed movie.) However, things get complicated when a nurse is tardy with the latest round of injections, allowing Big Jack to finally wake back up. He hears Kirshner snoring, then the door opening, and feigns sleep. The nurse approaches, needle in hand, but Jack springs into action, seizes the hypo, deposits the injection into her derriere, and she promptly passes out. (That's some fast acting stuff.) Moving quietly, to not wake Kirshner up, Jack gets his clothes on and heads out. Luckily, his extra head proves a big enough distraction that he easily takes out the guards and gets his hands on a gun. Running into Williams, Big Jack elects him to be his chauffer. By now, Kirshner is also awake and starts spitting racial slurs as they get into Williams' car and roar off.

Desmond gives chase, spots a patrolmen and reports that Big Jack Moss has escaped ... Meantime, as Kirshner grumbles about how their kind always stick together, Jack asks Williams if he's a doctor, and, if so, can he get this, pointing at Kirshner's head, off fast like? (Just pull it off, big daddy.) But Williams warns if Jack kills the spare head, he kills himself. (Oh, never mind, big daddy.) Still, the doctor thinks he can do it but he'll need the right equipment for a proper amputation. Then, when the police catch up, Big Jack takes over the driving and manages to lose the pursuit. Nothing can be done to avoid the blockades, though, so they have to ditch the car and hike into the countryside to lay low. While they rest, when Williams asks what he did to get arrested Jack says a cop got killed by a gun he used to own. He has an alibi the night of the murder, but the alibi, Willy Thompson, is a known felon, who was hiding out at Jack's until the heat was off from his latest caper. When Big Jack was arrested, Willy skipped town, which allowed him to be railroaded straight to the chair. But, his girlfriend, Lila has been searching for Willy ever since and is very close to drawing a bead on him.

Later, the police find the abandoned car and call in a helicopter to help search for the fugitives. Speaking of which, since Big Jack's head has dozed off, Kirshner tries to bribe Williams into helping him return to his super-secret lab. Promised a full partnership and equal credit for the new and revolutionary transplant procedure, Williams sees right through this and counters that he won't listen to, or work for, a bigot. Overhead, the police helicopter spots them and opens fire. On the run again, the two and half fugitives come across a dirt-bike track, where one of the racers sees them and wipes out. Seizing the abandoned bike, Big Jack, with Kirshner and Williams in tow, revs up the engine and away they go...

Now that's how you avoid a police dragnet. Run amok on a public racetrack and go in circles for a half-hour. Man, they'll never find you.

The pursuing cops aren't very bright, though, and their attempts to traverse the rough track to chase them end with little success and the expected disastrous results. Then, Big Jack knocks out all the other racers, takes the checkered flag, and roars off the track and out of sight ... Back at the Institute, Desmond takes a call from the Lt. Governor and, since their security and secrecy umbrella has been shattered, gets a blistering earful of pissed off politician. Thanks to their incompetence, Big Jack Moss is on the loose, and worse yet, hundreds of witnesses claim he's been turned into some kind of two-headed monster. And when Desmond won't confirm -- or deny -- anything to him or the press about the experiment or the two heads, the "former" Lt. Governor thanks the good doctor for helping him commit political suicide before hanging up.

Next, our film is interrupted for about twenty-minutes for Roscoe P. Coltraine Memorial Demo-Derby and a reenactment of Hiltz's motorcycle ride from The Great Escape, with about a dozen police cars as the Germans and Rosie Grier and a dummy-head that sort of looks like Ray Milland glued on his shoulder as Steve McQueen. After the smoke clears, fourteen patrol cars are ready for the junk heap and Buford T. Justice's distant cousin jumps up and down on top of his former squad car ... As night falls, Big Jack, Kirshner and Williams makes it to Lila's (Chelsea Brown) pad. (Being Big Jack's girlfriend you'd think the cops would have that place staked out, but from the skills we've seen demonstrated thus far, yeah, they're probably safe and sound.) Lila's happy to see him, of course, and is actually pretty cool about the whole middle-aged white guy's head being attached to her big lover. Her only question revolves around Jack having two of anything else. (Wanh-wanh-wanh-waaaanh -- boing!) Jack is feeling a bit frisky but Lila is spooked off by Kirshner's head to reciprocate. (His head-head! He's only got two of one thing remember!) So Jack takes a nap instead, and while he sleeps, Kirshner realizes he can assert more control over Jack's body and practices moving his arms. In the kitchen, Lila convinces Williams that Jack is innocent; she has several detectives tracking Willy Thompson down, and it's only a matter of time before they find him. Later, during dinner, Kirshner makes with more slurs until Williams shuts him up with the announcement that he's going to help Jack. That settles it, then; Jack says the vote is three to one and Kirshner has got to go.

Later that night, the fugitives break into a medical warehouse. And while Williams looks for the right drugs for the operation, Kirshner manages to take control and, using the brute's body, knocks Williams out first and then sucker punches Jack's head, too, knocking him out cold. Finding a phone, Kirshner calls Desmond and orders him to prepare the super-secret lab for the immediate amputation of Jack's head. But when Desmond says he can't because the police are watching him, Kirshner says to forget it; he'll do it himself ... Williams wakes up in time to see Kirshner make off with his car. And knowing the old crackpot will try to get rid of Jack's head, and since there's only one place he can do that safely and in secret, Williams calls Lila to come and get him -- and to hurry. Meanwhile, Kirshner makes it back to his mansion and enters his super-secret lab. Preparing an amputation tray, he lies down on the gurney and prepares a local anesthetic. And he's about to inject it when Williams and Lila burst in and stop him ... Sometime later, Desmond receives an anonymous phone call that he can find Dr. Kirshner in his super-secret lab -- but he'd better hurry up and get over there. And when Desmond arrives at the mansion, he finds Kirshner's dismembered head lying on the gurney attached to the magic machine, demanding that he find him another body. (Oh, just pull the plug already!)

From that macabre sight, we move to a car speeding away, and while "Oh Happy Day" plays on the radio, Jack, Lila and Williams head toward parts unknown -- I'm gonna assume to find Willy Thompson, but, eh, I really just don't care anymore. Luckily, it doesn't matter as we've mercifully reached...

The End

When it's all said and down, The Thing with Two Heads is a colossal disappointment on almost all fronts. You can't blame the cast because they do a good job with what they've been given, so most of the blame can, and should, be laid at Frost and Bishop's feet. The film just has an annoying habit of building up a situation that has absolutely no pay off -- or an extremely lame one. And situations that should be funny come off as just plain dumb.

One could almost make an argument that the film loses all momentum in the grocery store after the two-headed gorilla escapes. After a tense search of the food aisles, the moron twins find the gorilla happily eating some bananas. It's supposed to be funny, and it is, to a point, but you can almost hear the films momentum deflating like a errant whoopee cushion that no one sat on -- so you have to do it by hand. The joke is ruined, you're crushed, and so someone offers to re-inflate the cushion and then sit on it to try and cheer you up -- but it's not the same thing. Is this making any sense? Let's see: one, two ... seven empty bottles -- no probably not. *sigh*

Anyways ... What a couple of troopers Ray Milland and Rosey Grier prove to be during this picture. These guys spent a lot of time in very close proximity to each other, though I think Milland's fake head almost had as much -- if not more -- screen time as the legendary actor did. Grier became an actor and folk singer after terrorizing the NFL for the Los Angeles Rams as a member of the Fearsome Foursome -- along side Lamar Lundy, Deacon Jones and Merlin Olson. He was also one of the people who caught and detained Sirhan Sirhan after he shot Bobby Kennedy; Grier stuck his thumb in the trigger casing, so the assassin couldn't shoot anymore. Later, he went on to a reoccurring role as Benji in the '70s "Keep on trucking" staple Moving On, and later became a preacher and an advocate for the moral majority. His co-star, Milland, has a long and storied acting career. Winning a most deserved Oscar for his role in The Lost Weekend, by the 1950's and '60s the only work he could find was in low-budget B-movies like Panic in the Year Zero and X-The Man with X-Ray Eyes. Along with several European film forays, Milland continued to work for AIP well into the '70s with this picture and the ecology gone amok oddity Frogs. We children of the '70s will also remember him as the vile Sire Uri, who always butted heads with Commander Adama in Battlestar Galactica. The rest of the cast may also look familiar to you, too. Don Marshall just ended his run as Captain Dan Erickson on Irwin Allen's Land of the Giants. And Chelsea Brown was one of the go-go dancers from Laugh In. Around the same time, Roger Perry could also be seen fighting off Count Yorga. And if you check the credits, you realize that Frost and Bishop show up in the cast too, as a doctor and a police officer.

Add it all up and The Thing with Two Heads is a film sunk by a paper thin plot, bad pacing, and sloppy editing, and -- no matter who's acting in it, or how many heads are involved -- it can't be saved. And how come The Thing With Two Heads Heads (-- check the title-card above --) doesn't get as much grief as Larry Buchanan's Attack of the the Eye Creatures?

More Sinister Soul Cinema

Originally Posted: 10/05/02 :: Rehashed: 11/05/10

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.

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