Cult Movie: The Thing With Two Heads

Rosey Grier and Ray Milland put their heads together
Ralph McLean

I FIRST stumbled across a clip of The Thing With Two Heads on an episode of Channel 4's Incredibly Strange Picture Show in the 1990s.

Nestling neatly between the host Jonathan Ross slavering over the soft-core delights of Russ Meyer and the blood-spilling beauty of all-out cinematic trash like The Gore Gore Girls, it seemed to have a cult cache all its own and, forever keen to investigate the dustier corners of Hollywood's halls of shame, I found myself suitably intrigued.

It had a perfect B-movie friendly title, it was made in the early 70s by AIP – always a good thing – and it starred the great Ray Milland as a racist doctor who has the head of a black football star grafted ont o his own neck in a weird, and somewhat unlikely, experiment. What's not to like?

Freshly released on blu-ray by Olive Films, the movie still entertains and amuses even if the old head-grafting special effects leave a little to be desired in this age of seamless CGI.

First creeping out to the flea pits and dusty American drive-ins in 1972, it was, and is, a shamelessly sleazy viewing experience. Whoever genuinely thought it's blending of cheap horror hokum and jive-talking blaxploitation would equal box office paydirt is anybody's guess.

That's all part of its appeal, however, and the sheer insanity of the whole thing is what qualifies it as a pure cult classic.

Milland, an Oscar winner for The Lost Weekend, remember, is seriously slumming it here as the rich bigot who winds up surgically attached to his worst nightmare in the shape of a black American footballer played by Rosey Grier. His turn as Dr Maxwell Kirshner is fantastically delivered, though, and watching him as he develops his theories of head grafting is great fun.

Kirshner is dying and he needs to find a way to transfer his withered old head on to new, young and healthy shoulders before it's too late. First he allows his colleague Dr Desmond (Roger Perry) to attach a gorilla's head to the body of another but that fails miserably when the poor beast goes on the rampage through the city.

Running out of time, Kirshner goes looking for a human volunteer and settles on the only one available. Jack Moss (Grier) is on death row awaiting execution for the proverbial crime he didn't commit when he's offered a way out. All he has to do is join heads with Kirshner.

Neither the whiny racist or the wise-cracking black dude are too happy with the twin-headed results of this agreement and before Krishner's people have the chance to sever the head of Moss for good, leaving the doctor running around with the body of Moss, our tough-talking death rower takes to the hills with the cops in hot pursuit.

The image of the burly Grier hurtling over hills on a motorbike while the nagging noggin of Milland moans constantly in his ear is one that will stay with you.

Director Lee Frost, a biker-film veteran, loads it all up with B-movie bravado and despite the meagre budget there's much to relish in the low-rent debris.


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