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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Thing With Two Heads

American International quickly followed up Amazing 2-Headed Transplant with yet another 2-headed-man film. The Thing With Two Heads (TW2H) repeated the trope of transplanting a second head onto a man, but with a twist. Instead of the by-now-customary good and evil head, the polarity was made racial. There was one racial bigot head, and one soul-brother head. Veteran actor Ray Milland plays the bigoted Dr. Kirschner. Rosey Grier plays the black man. TW2H was aimed at the drive-in B-feature market, playing second bill to Baron Blood starring Joseph Cotton.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Dr. Kirschner (Milland) is a brilliant surgeon with his own transplant foundation. He, however, is wheelchair bound and crippled with arthritis. A new hire at the foundation turns out to be a young black doctor, Dr. Williams. Kirschner makes excuses, but it is obvious to all that he's declining Williams because he's black. He gets to stay due to his contract. In Kirschner's mansion basement lab (which all mad doctors have, apparently), he and his minions have successfully transplanted second heads on other animals, the last being a gorilla. When they were about to operate and take off the extra ape head, it gets loose and runs amok in suburbia. The excitement and chase were too much for Kirschner. He is dying of chest cancer sooner than expected. If he is to live, a human 'donor' body must be found very soon. None can be found the usual way. Dr.Desmond (an associate from the foundation) gets the prison warden to ask for volunteers on death row. One does, a Jack Moss (Grier) who maintains his innocence. Instead of the electric chair, he's sent to Kirschner's mansion. There, Kirschner's head is grafted on. Jack/Kirschner (JK for short) wake up, get dressed and flee (to go prove's Jack's innocence). JK gets one of the guard's guns and forces Dr. Williams to drive them. Desmond alerts the cops. A chase ensues. They flee on foot until happening upon a motocross race. They take one of the dirt bikes. Yet another grand chase ensues over rolling meadow with convenient gullies and hillsides that consume the 14 police cars. JK and Williams get to Jack's girlfriend, Lila. An extended set of blaxploitation scenes ensue. JK escape with K in charge. He plans to cut off the J head himself, but is stopped by Williams and Lila. Kirschner's head ls left on the small table, hooked up to life support. He calls out to Desmod to get him another body. Jack, Lila and Williams drive off singing "Oh Happy Days…" The End.

Why is this movie fun?
After all the previous good-evil two-headed movies, TW2H is almost a light-hearted treatment. It's low on the gore factor and even interjects some humor now and then. The score is so thoroughly 70s that you can almost taste the 8-track tape.

Cultural Connection
Blaxploitation was a variant of the age-old Exploitation type of film. Those were, loosely speaking, films which relied upon some sensational or titillating draw, in lieu of good writing, quality acting, decent budget, etc. Reefer Madness, Wild Women or Diary of a Nudist. Blaxploitation was a genre that started in the 70s. It featured mostly black actors acting especially "black" via slang and the vicarious satisfaction of epithets hurled at white characters. ("cracker", or "honky") The most famous blaxlploitation film was Shaft. TW2H has its threads of blaxploitation, which common as they were in the 70s, were otherwise rare in sci-fi. A notable early exception being Omega Man which had elements of militant "black" culture voiced by Zachary and Lisa.

Black and White -- TW2H has an inevitable variation on the customary Jekyll and Hyde moral formula of one head being "good" and the second head being "evil." Instead, the "good" head is black (and innocent, you'll notice), while the "bad" head is a racial bigot. Instead of violence vs. peaceful, or chaste vs. rapacious, the good/bad element has been pared down to mere racism. This seems insufficient "steam" for the format. It does provide some humor though.

Extra Head -- As developed in the prior 2-head movie, the whole point of the extra head transplant was to allow the new head to acclimate to the new body. After it had taken control of the nervous system, etc., then the original head could be removed. In this, the 2-head films are a cousin to the brain transplant films. Just, instead of transplanting only the brain, the whole head is taken.

Car Wars -- The opening credits point out that automobiles were provided by Chrysler Corporation. Keep this in mind when you watch the Keystone Cops-ish chase scene. When the police cars are just driving in the usual manner, they are clean and tidy Dodge Coronets or Plymouth Satellites. In some of the chase footage, there are Dodges and Plymouths, but note that whenever a cop car crashes, it is a Ford Custom 500. No Chrysler cars get wrecked, only Fords. Coincidence? I think not.

Bottom line? TW2H is a silly film and not really worth much effort to track down (let alone buy). It does give a flavor of the silliness of the 70s. And, it is a sort of eventual distillation of Jekyll and Hyde into banality.

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