The Thing with Two Heads (1972) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

The Thing with Two Heads (1972) Review

Horrorific content by TE Simmons on December 07th, 2021 | Movie Review | Sci-Fi, Medical, Body Horror, B-Horror

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It’s about grafting a racist’s head onto “a soul brother’s body!”

The Thing with Two Heads was directed by Lee Frost (House on Bare Mountain). It stars Ray Milland (X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes) and Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier (famed defensive tackle for the Rams (and the Giants), author, gubernatorial candidate, needlepoint virtuoso, Protestant minister, and co-star of Skyjacked) along with Don Marshall (from TV’s Land of the Giants (no relation to the New York Giants)) and special effects guru Rick Baker himself as “the gorilla.”

Can a black motorcyclist with a superfluous white head win an enduro race, outrun the police, and prove his innocence?

The Thing with Two Heads Review

Ray Milland is Oscar-worthy as Dr. Maxwell Kirshner, a brilliant, tetchy brain surgeon with cancer. He has only a few weeks to live. Milland’s pathos and depth of characterization are bottomless. He conveys his character’s racist core perfectly with disgusted shrugs while delivering lines like “That’s not the gorilla’s original head” with incontestable authenticity. It’s a performance few actors could match. That he was denied the Prix d'interprétation masculine at Cannes is truly inexcusable.

The publicity for The Thing with Two Heads cautioned viewers against the risk of apoplectic strokes. Even with all due respect to Milland, that’s an overstatement. And that previous sentence was a bit of an understatement. You see, somewhere there’s a dictionary in which the definition of the term “over-the-top” explains: “See, e.g., The Thing with Two Heads.”

This is a film in which just the right amount of excess is delivered. The golden mean of excess. This film is the very definition of over-the-top. It’s perfect.

Admittedly, there have been other head-transplant horror films (e.g., The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant and Man with the Transplanted Brain) but they were mere pretenders to the throne. The Thing with Two Heads wears the crown (or two crowns, I suppose).

Observe the fine brush strokes of naturalism. Even though the sequence of the two-headed protagonist surreptitiously entering a dirt bike race with dozens of law enforcement sedans nipping at their heels might be a tad contrived (presaging The Blues Brothers chase sequence by eight years), there’s a restraint in all the performances – and especially the Rev. Rosey Grier’s performance – that allows the inherent body horror violence of racism’s dirty core to display itself in a way no other film has ever managed quite so effectively.

Worth Watching?

Yes. By all means. Even if those means include the use of a two-headed transplant or a gorilla decapitation. This is a film which must be seen. It’s more important than Casablanca.

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