The Thing with Two Heads
I have been accused by people of my daughter’s generation being fall related really bad films. While I admit there is a certain degree of veracity to such a statement must be placed in context with the flicks that most frequently elicit such a comment; sci-fi movies of the 50s and grind house films of the 70s. While I freely admit many of these movies were really bad, especially the latter category, the ones in the 50s frequently had solid stories that are diminished in the modern view was eyes by primitive special-effects. As for the movies we watch in the grind house theaters, they were terrible but they were also a lot of fun to watch. During this period of time in the history of cinema I was either engaged or newly married. On Friday nights a group of us who’s girlfriends and wives did not share our enjoyment of movies of this sort would take the train into Manhattan’s Times Square area where most of the grind house theaters could be found. There was still the audience of like-minded individuals since the studios have not only released these movies on DVD but it kept up with technology and have now made Blu-ray editions available. One of the more recent movies that meet these criteria is ‘The Thing with Two Heads’, and yes its lack of technical merit is everything the title would indicate.
While it did seem to avoid being used as fodder for ‘Mystery Science Theater 3K’, there was a parody of it in an episode of The Simpsons;’ Treehouse of Horror XXIV’. The vast majority of cases high definition release would match or exceed the experience of watching the original theatrical premiere of the film. However, in the case of the grind house movie such perfection the video and audio specifications are not only wasted on such material but it removes us from the aspects of the experience that that contributed to our enjoyment of it. I’ve never been in a grind house theater do amongst movie houses a fine reputation; palaces to the cinematic arts. It was not uncommon for people to dress up to attend a showing. By the time they got around to showing the exploitation movies that were the current fair for grind houses, the seats were torn, the floors sticky what you hoped for many years dropped pieces of candy. The principle of the films that were shown commonly passed around from one such theater to another fairly well-established circuit. The accumulation of badly made splices and scratches derived from gross mishandling, by the time restore the film the Prince for as dilapidated as the theaters. We loved it. It was an experience to share with friends and for teenagers of the time, the seedy atmosphere held and alluring tinge of the forbidden. There were three basic elements of these movies gratuitous sex, gratuitous violence while ridiculous premises. This examination of why two heads are not better than one solidly falls into the last category.
Maxwell Kirshner (Ray Milland) is extremely wealthy man. His position will read now would refer to as the one percent made it possible for him to possess anything he desired. That is until he realizes that his rapidly deteriorating health is indeed terminal. While many in that position would consider the old adage, "you can’t take it with you", Mr. Kirshner would rather use his enormous financial resources in an attempt to pay off the Grim Reaper. He demands that his head be transplanted onto the body of a healthy person. There’s a little twist that the little five visits position as an exploitation flick; Mr. Kirshner is prejudice. While he wouldn’t go as far as to join the KKK, he was not at all inhibited in his expression of hatred for African-Americans. It is therefore only fitting that the body that becomes available for his purpose is that of Jack Moss (Rosey Grier). His body came on the market, so to speak, when Mr. Moss was convicted of first-degree murder. Despite his adamant claims of innocence he was sentenced to execution by electric chair. Often a reprieve of sorts, he agrees to be part of an unorthodox medical experiment. The methodology for this extremely experimental surgery was the first graft the subjects head onto the donor’s body, leaving the original head intact. This should make sure that the body remained alive in functional as the many neurological and vascular grafts necessary to attach the new head were healed and established themselves. Once that was achieved the now superfluous head of the donor can be removed. Since the person was legally sentenced to death any right the fatality of this final step was accepted by those involved is inconsequential. The interim period had a very unfortunate side effect of placing a race is old white man’s head on a much younger and decidedly more athletic black man’s body. This condition, intolerable to Mr. Kirshner was greatly exacerbated by the time he would have to spend face-to-face with a rather confident and expressive black man’s head.
Once the anesthesia wears off Moss realized that he is still alive and very much still sentenced to die. His thoughts were reduced to only one thing; escape. The fact that he has this unwanted passenger screaming racial epithets at in his year is inconsequential. Moss wants only to get a followers Ray from everything as he can. One comment we made while watching this old Times Square Theater; the filmmaker, Lee Frost, must’ve seen the 1958 movie, ‘The Defiant Ones’. In that film two escapees from a chain gang, one white one black, managed to escape albeit still chained together. The consensus of my friends was at this filmmaker must’ve been substantially inebriated at the time of his viewing. ‘The Defiant Ones’, was an extraordinary film That Won the Academy Award That Year for Best Screenplay and received nominations for Best Picture as well as best actor nominations for both of the leading men, Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis. The closest the film considered here major any accolades was Ray Malan did receive an Academy award as leading man for his role in ‘The Lost Weekend’ and Mr. Greer was an extremely successful football player. One redeeming quality here is that the film was categorized as a comedy. It would be quite disconcerting if the filmmakers had intended this is a straight, horror movie. Some have described it like a train wreck that you can’t look away from but my friends and I had a different viewpoint. For us it was something so bad that it entertained us. This is a significant reason why we can be more tolerant of the current batch of bad films; we are still able to see them as a source of entertainment. Back then there was no cable television or Internet and there were only seven broadcast stations to choose from so we took our entertainment where we could and made the best of it. Sitting in a dilapidated theater fall away from our neighborhood we were able to make fun of the movie and have a laugh with our friends. Despite the fact that the Blu-ray is so much better preserved than anything we could see you then, it does bring back fond memories of a simpler time when having fun was more how you perceive things that how they were presented.