I am currently dying of hayfever (I’m pretty sure it’s fatal), but attempting to take at least a rainforest’s worth of tissues with me. Not helping was the fact that I decided to make an 8-mile round trip through field after field on a pushbike just to get a carvery at a pub. It was kind of worth it, but since I got back I’ve been doing an uncanny impression of a plague victim, a condition exacerbated somewhat by being subjected to my parents’ inexplicable addiction to Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s new reality sing-or-be-crucified show Superstar.
The Thing With Two Heads was certainly something special, if not ultimately disappointing. Following a genius but racist surgeon dying of “terminal chest cancer” who recruits his colleagues to reattach his head to a healthy body, the film takes a turn for the morally confused after he wakes up on the shoulder of a black death row inmate…who’s still alive. Naturally taking offence at being host to a bigoted asshole, “Big Jack” makes a break for it, kidnapping a black doctor and absconding the hospital with the fuzz in tow and the good doctor’s head firmly present and spouting hilariously mistimed racial slurs.
Strangely enough the kidnapped doctor take’s Jack’s side after a lengthy (seriously, it’s like 20 minutes long) motorbike-car chase included – I’m assuming – purely to justify the director’s stunt budget, as the sheer number of OTT car crashes, flips, spills and attempts at slapstick humour certainly aren’t there for any entertainment value. Then again, if you ever watch the film, try to count exactly how many cop cars get totalled during the sequence, because I’m reasonably certain that it’s at least three times the number that are actually chasing the escapees. Oh, and the sight of a stuntman riding a dirtbike with a rubber head mounted poorly on his shoulder is good for the first five minutes at least.
Eventually they make it back to hospital undetected after visiting Big Jack’s girlfriend, who seems to have a reasonably calm reaction to her boyfriend’s mutilation. Jack’s obviously fine with it, as evidenced in the scene where he attempts to reconnect with his lady friend and, upon seeing her discomfort, generously offers to “put a pillowcase over his head.” Unfortunately, a freaky ménage à trois scene doesn’t follow and we’re left to the simple business of watching the doctor’s head get lopped off fairly painlessly and our three fairly blaxploited heroes driving off into the night singing a gay old tune. If you think it might not be in bad taste, just check out the poster:
The film offers some good laughs, most of them unintentional, as the lead’s method for acting in the same body at the same time appears to be standing behind one another or in an exceptionally large suit. The rubber head fools nobody, nor does the two-headed gorilla costume seen early in the film, though interestingly the credits reveal that it was worn by none other than future practical effects wizard and makeup specialist Rick Baker. I think we’re all glad that this wasn’t his defining picture.
There were some interesting concepts ill-explored; the good doctor discovers that he can control Jack’s body and makes him poke himself in the face repeatedly before delivering a knockout punch to his own head. Unfortunately this is criminally undeveloped, though an early image of the two of them lying on a gurney shortly after the operation, with the doctor staring at his new, dark fingers and making them bend and tighten to his will is very much a modern Frankenstein moment.
You can fault most 1970s B-movies for execution, but certainly not ideas…