(A look at 2-headed transplant movies)

By Dr. Abner Mality

Here at Wormwood Laboratories, I've been working tirelessly to find a way to improve the human condition. What if human beings had double the brain power they do now? What if they were forced to share their bodies with another consciousness? The struggle of integration might just force a new state of calmness and acceptance upon the being with two minds, therefore leading to a new age of enlightenment and cooperation. And what better way to achieve this utopia than grafting a second human head onto a person?!

But wait! Wouldn't the two-headers need more food? Or would they only THINK they do? Would twice as many crops need to be grown? And how about the effect on the fashion industry? All those useless shirts and sweaters!

Perhaps I better think this thing through a little better. No wonder I can't get anything done! But if Dr. Abner Mality has been a perpetual failure in the wonderful world of two-headed transplants, there are others who have had more success...especially in the world of lurid horror cinema. Yes, that's where we will find the true pioneers of science...on the movie screen! And that's where we'll spend the rest of this article: investigating the amazing world of two headed transplant films!!!

That's still a pretty exclusive club. There are really only three major films dealing with the subject in depth and we'll focus on this ground-breaking excursions into the world of duocephalic monstrosities. The movies are: "The Manster", "The Incredible Two Headed Transplant" and "The Thing With Two Heads".

We'll start with 1959's "The Manster" first. Not only is it the first, but it's also the best. It's a truly unique Japanese/American horror film that features moments both absurd and profound, including some weirdly disturbing scenes that are unlikely to leave your consciousness anytime soon. Although filmed in Japan and featuring a strong Japanese atmosphere, the film is not dubbed and has many hallmarks of the just emerging grindhouse horror market in America.

The opening scenes are striking and something you'll never forget, especially if you're a kid. We see some cute (and probably naked) Japanese girls frolicking in what looks like a natural hot spring. Cut to a lovely geisha preparing for sleep...the shadow of an ape-like beast appears on the paper window of her home. There is sudden movement...and a shocking splash of blood on the paper. Camera cuts to the bodies of the girls in the pool below...dead and slaughtered. Cue ominous music and the opening credits...a great lead-in.

We next enter the huge laboratory of Dr. Robert Suzuki, which is inside a volcanic cavern on the side of Fuji itself. It's quite a spacious layout, complete with bizarre giant plants and fungi as well as plenty of equipment. That's not the only surprise it holds. Suzuki is speaking out loud to a hideous female creature gibbering in a cage...with rotten teeth, an eye sliding halfway down her face and ratty hair, this is an unwholesome looking thing indeed. It is also Suzuki's wife Emiko, the unfortunate result of one of the doctor's experiments gone wrong.

So is the ape like beast who murdered the girls at the beginning of the movie. It enters the lab just as Suzuki expected..."returning to its birthplace". He knows the monster is now out of control, so he lures it into scalding steam, killing it. We then learn that the monster is none other than Suzuki's brother Kenji. Another mistake..."an experiment that didn't work out". The doctor throws the hairy body of his late brother into a volcanic vent as Emiko screams and snarls. This whole scene is pure nightmare stuff.

We then get introduced to our protagonist/monster...freewheeling American journalist Larry Stanford. Larry is tired of working the bureau in Japan, but his boss and best friend Ian ropes him into one last interview with the unorthodox scientist Robert Suzuki. Larry reluctantly agrees...and thereby plunges himself into two-headed hell!

Never a man to turn down a drink, Larry accepts a glass of drugged booze from the amiable Suzuki. Promptly knocked out, the ethically challenged Doctor then injects the unwilling American with the same drug that had such great results for Kenji and Emiko. Suzuki's gorgeous lab assistant Tara protests that his actions are outrageous, but like all great mad scientists, Suzuki follows the beat of his own drum. This is a perfect place to mention that Terri Zimmern, as Tara, is a breath-taking example of womanhood, with a very Latin look. She is very memorable in the role and it's a shame that this is her only movie credit.

Waking with what he thinks is a hangover, Larry returns to Tokyo. Already subtle personality alterations are manifesting themselves and as Larry's friendship with both Suzuki and Tara increases, he finds himself slipping into a world of decadence and sleaze. "I'll show you a side of Japan you've never seen, Larry, " Suzuki tells Stanford during a drunken geisha party. And indeed, "The Manster" does seem to open up a dark underbelly of Japan, full of sexuality and uncontrolled desires.

Larry becomes sullen and surly, rejecting the true love of his wife Linda for a scandalous relationship with Tara. His drunken rages baffle Ian. Little do the others know that not only is Larry's mind starting to distort, his body is as well. One of his hands become a hairy claw...the sure sign of a degenerate...and he develops a stabbing pain in his shoulder. Finally succumbing to the terrible forces raging within, he first kills a Buddhist priest and then engages in a rein of terror. When Ian brings a psychiatrist to see him, Larry throws both of them out of his apartment in a rage. In one of 50's cinema's most memorable horror scenes, Larry howls in anguish and tears the shirt from his shoulder. On his shoulder is a fully formed human eye...

That's the real beginning of the end. When next we see Larry, not only has he become a growling beast, but a second hideous head has sprung from his shoulder. His evil is literally taking a second form! The special effects here are laughable, as anyone can see the second head is a made-up balloon, but the second head is wisely kept in shadow and rarely shown full on.

All Tokyo is now on a hunt for the bloodthirsty two-headed killer, the "Manster" of the title. The creature eludes the police even when they have him trapped in a graveyard. But he is being called back to the place of his birth, the underground lab of Dr. Suzuki, deep within an angry mountain that is ready to explode. There good and evil literally separate so they can battle for the soul of Larry Stanford...

There is real power in the way this story unfolds. In many ways, the movie is better BEFORE Larry's second head sprouts from his shoulder. Larry's descent into the abyss is obviously an analogy to drug addiction, alcoholism and even sex addiction. He undergoes the same radical personality changes that any hardcore addict does, becoming moody, violent, self-destructive. And here is a great place to mention the wonderfully intense performance of Peter Dyneley as Larry Stanford. He puts real anguish into his performance...the scene where he tries to reason with the Buddhist priest before killing him sticks out in my mind. His rage when he confronts Ian and the psychiatrist is is his soul-wrenching scream when he sees the eye on his shoulder.

With the emergence of the second head, the movie becomes a more standard hunt for a murderous monster. But even here, "The Manster" has potency in its imagery. The night-time landscape of Tokyo is a film noir nightmare of deep shadows, fog and strange architecture. The pursuit of the monster through the old graveyard is a wonderfully moody scene. Unfortunately, what kills the movie for many modern viewers are the weak effects of the two-headed creature. If you can put those out of your mind, you'll find "The Manster" to be a strong horror film, with a unique atmosphere.

The other major character is Dr. Suzuki, who is one of the oddest mad doctors you'll ever encounter. Tetsu Nakamura gives a strangely mannered performance as the extremely misguided have the feeling that Suzuki is struggling with his own dark side. He obviously knows all the local geisha dives and he has no compunction about injecting innocent Larry with his nasty formula. His relationship with the beautiful Tara also has a very unhealthy is pretty clear that Tara was a prostitute at one point. But eventually, Suzuki crosses a line even Tara won't go past. She presents him with a hara-kiri knife and leaves him. Suzuki's final speech is a sympathetic one as he addresses the mindless monster that was formerly his wife..."Remember when we were young, Emiko? We were sweethearts and science was our passion. What happened to us? Perhaps I offended the gods..."

In the micro-genre of two-headed transplant movies, "The Manster" is really the first...and in my mind, the best! But 12 years later we have another scientific disaster resulting in "The Incredible Two Headed Transplant". 12 years was enough time to bring color film, acid rock and bikers to the mix, but unfortunately the scientific wisdom advanced not one whit in all that time.

"Incredible..." is a different kind of film from "The Manster". Both are exploitation films, but "Manster" aspired to something a bit darker and more meaningful than "Incredible..." With the 1971 film, we have a pure and undiluted example of early 70's drive-in trash, shot cheaply and quickly to toss something up on the screen. But if you're not expecting more, you will definitely be entertained by this sleazy and absurd tale of medical mayhem.

Bruce Dern portrays Dr. Roger Girard, the misguided scientist this time around. It's obvious from the get-go that Roger is quite a different character than the tormented Dr. Suzuki of "The Manster". Doc Girard is a man of the 70's, comfortable in a leisure suit and spouting hip lingo while grabbing drinks at the local lounge. His lab is no dark castle or underground abode, but a nice ranch style house somewhere in the hills of Pasadena, from the look of things. Girard likes a good time and enjoys the company of his hot blond wife Linda (former Marilyn Munster Pat Priest).

However, Girard's real passion is two headed transplants. I can understand, I've been there. His tightly secured lab is a virtual zoo of double-craniumed creatures, include a two headed fox, a two headed rabbit and a two headed monkey. Why Girard is so obsessed with creating two headed freaks is never adequately explained, but it might be related to his creepy and oddly commanding assistant Max. As played by Berry Kroeger, Max is actually one of the great weird lab assistants of all times. Constantly wearing white gloves, he speaks with a sinister soft lisp and looks immediately as if he's up to no good. We get hints that the unusual surgery may be for Max's own benefit, as he is dying.

Roger is so busy stitching heads onto animals that he has a little help keeping his place up. So he enlists the aid of groundskeeper Andrew (a grim Larry Vincent, who was the famous horror host "Seymour" in Southern California) and Andrew's giant half-witted son Danny (John Bloom). It seems Danny had a terrible accident after being buried in a mine as a young child, resulting in him have the mind of an 8 year old.  Despite the mental deficiency, Danny is a seven foot giant with the strength of an ox, who can uproot stubborn tree stumps with his bare hands. His strength will be put to different use later on.

Into this reasonably idyllic situation comes the inevitable this case, the completely homicidal lunatic Cass. Our introduction to this gentleman comes just after he has slaughtered a family with knives and is preparing to rape the pretty young wife. Before he completes the deed, Cass is captured by police. As played by the utterly over the top Albert Cole, Cass is a character with absolutely no desire in life to do anything except slaughter and rape. He is the total definition of a cackling, lip-smacking maniac with no redeeming features whatsoever.

Cass manages to escape from the utterly clueless cops and his path takes him to the ranch house retreat of Dr. Girard, where as you can imagine he makes pretty Linda his target. Poor Linda spends most of this film in various states of undress, usuallly tied up and bound. That would have never happened if Herman and Lilly Munster were still in the house. Just as Cass prepares to do the unthinkable, in stumbles Andrew, who is bloodily slaughtered with a garden hoe by Cass, who heads to the hills.

After an afternoon mooning around at the mine where he lost his wits, Danny returns home to find the dead body of his father. In a sympathetic scene, the giant with the soul of a boy gently rocks his father's body. Into this mess stumble Roger and Max. Again showing an utter lack of common sense, the two grab rifles and take off after the homicidal lunatic, finally managing to shoot him. Cass clings to life despite a hole being shot through him and evil wheels begin to spin in Max's head. In his twisted mind, here's the perfect opportunity to put Girard's theories to their ultimate test. Take the head of the dying maniac and graft it onto the body of the retarded hulk who is virtually catatonic due to grief. Of course! Why didn't I think of that?

Girard is relatively easy to convince as far as this mad scheme goes. What possible advantage there could be in this situation other than simply proving you can create a two headed monster is unclear. This is where "Incredible..." differs from "The Manster". Suzuki was not trying to create a two headed creature...that was merely a side effect of his experiments. But Girard is specifically trying to bring a two headed monster to life. And he succeeds.

After several days of recovery, the merger of Cass and Danny comes to. The first scenes are comical to say the least. "Who are you? Danny asks the leering head attached to his shoulder. "I'm your big brother, stupid!", snaps Cass. "Look what those maniacs have done to us!". The sinister lunatic asserts his dominant personality on Danny and commands him to get up and walk. "Come on, you moron!" he snarls. It's like somebody grafted the head of Tommy Udo from "Kiss of Death" onto the body of Lenny from "Of Mice and Men".

Well, needless to say, the two-headed freak soon escapes from captivity and starts lumbering around the countryside. Cass' superior brainpower totally dominates Danny's feeble mind and with absolutely no plan to do anything but rape and murder everyone in sight, the Incredible Two-Headed Transplant becomes a terror on the land. As is typical in such films, the Transplant first stumbles into a lover-s lane, which suits Cass just fine. There's a refreshing lack of subtlety or character to his see somebody, you kill them. The deaths are not particularly gory but there is a brutality to them. The most striking thing in these scenes is the contrast in how the heads the creature  strangles a girl, Cass is full of lip-smacking glee while Danny's head shakes in disbelief and horror. That gives a real pathos to these scenes.

Dr. Girard and creepy Max have no idea of the killing spree...they just think they're after a confused, sick experimental subject. Girard's grip on reality seems to be disappearing faster than kielbasa at a Bears game,,,he ties up and imprisons poor Linda in much the same manner as Cass did earlier, all to keep her "safe". If the idea of seeing a helpless Pat Priest in bondage turns you on, this movie is not one to miss. Girard's strange behavior has also aroused the suspicion of his cool buddy Ken. Ken is played by no less than Casey Kasem, host of America's Top 40 and the voice of Shaggy on Scooby-Doo.

The film's best scene comes when the Transplant interrupts a fight between bickering bikers in the countryside. Every early 70's exploitation movie had to have a biker scene and "Incredible Two Headed Transplant" has a memorable one. Two tough guys are brawling over the skanky charms of their female companion when they are attacked by Cass and Danny. Believe me, you haven't lived until you've seen a motorcycle-riding thug swinging a chain zooming at a giant two headed freak in dungarees.

The whole mess ends up in the abandoned mine where Danny lost his mind years before. The denouement is poorly directed and lacks the fire it could have had, but there is a strangely touching scene at the very end between Girard and Danny. As for Ken, he takes the shockingly immoral step of covering up for his crazy buddy Roger by blaming everything on Danny.

"The Incredible Two Headed Transplant" is not one bit more than what it is...a cheap and absurd early 70's drive-in horror flick. But there's something about it that keeps you glued to the story for the entire length. Although there's camp value in the movie, nothing is played for laughs, the tone is unrelentingly grim throughout. Also helping the film is a peculiar soundtrack full of plodding ominous bass and weird scratchy psychedelic guitar notes. The end title song "It's Incredible", on the other hand, is pure Tiki Bar lounge schlock that somehow fits the movie like a glove.

The gap between "Incredible..." and the next two headed monster movie wasn't anywhere near as long as it was from "The Manster" to "Incredible..." fact, it was barely one year. And for many, the final movie in the "two-headed" trilogy of fame is probably the most iconic..."The Thing With Two Heads". If you thought Cass and Danny made for strange "head-fellows", wait until you see who winds up sharing shoulders in this one!!!

Although "The Thing With Two Heads" may also be considered a low budget film, it is definitely a step up in look and approach from "Incredible Two Headed Transplant" and "The Manster". It is crisply directed by exploitation legend Lee Frost, features special effects work by a young Rick Baker and most importantly boasts a role for Oscar-Winning actor Ray Milland as one of the two heads! I wonder if Milland in his wildest bender during "The Lost Weekend" ever thought he would someday by sharing shoulders with hulking black football player Rosey Grier.

That's what we get here. One of the taglines for the movie reads: "They put a white bigot's head on a soul brother's, they're in DEEEEP trouble!" What we really get with "The Thing..." is a kind of hip horror version of "The Defiant Ones"...only this time, it's more like Tony Curtis' head stuck on Sidney Poitier's body! This crazy AIP film has it all....a two headed gorilla on the rampage, blatant social commentary on race relations, a wild police chase involving The Thing on a motorcycle, surreal comedy, nauseating soundtrack. It's the perfect recipe for an early 70's drive-in classic!!!

Milland portrays Dr. Maxwell Kirshner, respected doctor, super wealthy philanthropist...and absolute bigot. He is also a dying man, confined to a wheelchair and rapidly approaching the end of his life. Milland portrays the grumpy irascible Kirshner much like he did the mean old patriarch of "Frogs" fact, they could be the same man. Kirshner can't image a world without him, so he is sinking much of his fortune into unorthodox research to keep him alive.

Some of that research involves his associate Dr. Desmond creating a two headed gorilla. The whacky theory is that the head of a dying man can be transplanted temporarily onto a healthy specimen until such time that the body of an otherwise healthy man can be made available for a total head transplant. That sounds crazy only if you haven't been exposed to the methods of Dr.'s Suzuki and Girard.

The two headed gorilla is a pretty cool looking Rick Baker creation that of course gets loose and starts roaming around LA. Can you imagine seeing a two-headed gorilla running amok in your neighborhood? The beast is finally brought to bay when he's found snacking on a banana in a neighborhood grocery store. That scene is the first sign that "Thing..." has some of the humor that "Incredible..." and "Manster" lacked.

Despite the gorilla debacle, Kirshner is impressed with the two-headed transplant idea. He brings in Dr. Williams to help with the procedure...but rejects the respected doctor strictly because he's black. Williams is furious with the rejection and you see that Dr. Desmond is none too happy with Kirshner's prejudice. That might just play a part when the time comes to find a donor...

A frantic search begins for some poor dying slob to donate their body to Kirshner's "project". When conventional methods fail, a plea goes out to inmates on deathrow to "do the right thing" and give their dead body to a bunch of eggheads to play around with. Enter "Big" Jack Moss...a hulking soul brother waiting to play with "Old Sparky" on death row. Moss is played by Rosey Grier, a man little remembered today but who was a genuinely huge celebrity in the early 70's. A former football superstar, he was Bobby Kennedy's bodyguard on the night he was assassinated and somehow parlayed this into an acting career. He was also notorious for being an advocate of knitting and crochet, which I'm sure kept him entertained while waiting for execution!

"Big" Jack is an innocent man whose conviction was based on false testimony by a cat named Willie. Don't trust anybody named Willie in the hood! At the last minute, literally sitting in the electric chair, Jack decides to take the prison officials up on their unusual offer. And with Kirshner on the verge of death, Dr. Desmond is in no position to refuse Moss's help.

That sets up a long, grueling operation where Kirshner's head is detached from his cancer-ridden body and attached to the copious shoulders of Big Jack. You can imagine the shock of both men when they wake up from the successful operation. "Get me off this black bastard!", roars Kirshner, while Moss is utterly bemused by the grumbling racist head now attached to his body. Unlike Cass dominating Danny in "The Incredible Two Headed Transplant", Jack Moss, "the host", is in pretty firm control of his huge least, at first.

Moss has no interest in being Kirshner's guinea pig, so as soon as he's capable (which seems to be less than a takes longer to recover from a root canal than a head transplant, apparently), he makes a break for freedom in an attempt to reach his girlfriend Lila, who can shelter him while he tries to track down Willie. How a two-toned, two-headed giant can do much of anything without attracting attention is a mystery, but that doesn't stop the plot's forward momentum. The Max/Jack hybrid breaks out of Kirshner's lab at gunpoint and forces Dr. Williams to be their unwilling chauffeur. Jack figures Williams can help because he's a brother.

At this point, any pretense towards being a serious horror film vanishes into smoke as the movie morphs into that old stand-by of early 70's cinema, the "chase" movie! "The Thing With Two Heads" now somewhat resembles "Smokey And the Bandit" as the two-headed escapee leads bumbling cops on a merry chase comprising almost a third of the film. When Williams' car gives up the ghost, the fugitives commandeer a dirt bike from an off-road race to further elude the police. You haven't lived until you've seen Rosey Grier with Ray Milland's head on his shoulders tearing through the countryside on a dirt bike, with an army of cops in hot pursuit.

If you like to see police cars destroyed, this is your movie! Somehow, all 14 cop cars get crunched, smashed and wrecked as Max/Jack and Williams drive in circles through an open field. The chase makes virtually no sense at all,  and how one man (even if he does have 2 heads) can elude an entire police force in a flat plain is crazy. Included amongst the cops are director Lee Frost and screenwriter Wes Bishop.

The Thing winds up at the home of Big Jack's hot mama Lila, who seems only slightly taken aback by what's happened to her man. "What kind of shit have you gotten into now?" she demands of him. Dr. Kirschner is none too happy to be eating soul food with the colored folks and when Jack and Lila make a few amorous jokes, he gripes "Is that all you people ever think about?"

Kirshner is beginning to exert control of Moss' body, somewhat in the fashion of Cass in "The Incredible Two Headed Transplant". In a scene of hilarious disbelief, he gets Jack to slug his own head into unconsciousness, overpowers Williams and gives Dr. Desmond a call. It's time to get rid of Jack's head, leaving the beefy black body solely to the racist physician. But things do not turn out the way Kirshner expects...

I suspect they ran out of funds about three quarters of the way through this movie, leading to an abrupt and utterly ridiculous ending. A movie that started with some small pretension of thoughtfulness winds up in a campy, jumbled mess and the final "singalong" scene is proof everybody has given up on it. There's probably no way an AIP movie with Ray Milland's head stuck on Rosey Grier's body  was ever going to be taken seriously, but it's pretty clear a lot of chances were lost on "The Thing With Two Heads". A lot more comment on medical ethics and race could have been made aside from some lame jokes and the nightmare of two total opposites sharing a body is cheapened. Even though "Thing" is a superior movie in terms of cinematography and acting, "Incredible Two Headed Transplant" actually conveyed the horror of a two headed monster much more effectively. And compared to the hellish surrealism of "The Manster", both of the 70's movies pale in comparison.

You'll occasionally see some two headed creatures pop up in CGI and stop motion animated films, but the three films we've looked at here are pretty elite in their examination of the phenomena of two-headed men. All are representative of the time and place they were made.

But maybe your old pal the Doctor is just taking the whole subject too seriously. Maybe two-headed monster movies aren't better for anything more than just leaning back with a beer and a big tub of popcorn and enjoying the craziness of it all.

Right now, I'm quite inspired by these films. Think that two-headed transplants are impossible? Let's know, you've got a wonderfully developed cranium...