In addition to having a completely ridiculous title, The Thing With Two Heads has what must be one of the most ludicrous plots ever committed to film. In brief, the world’s foremost expert on transplant surgery, Dr. Maxwell Kirshner can no longer operate due to severe arthritis. He hires a talented young doctor to fill his shoes without an interview but is livid to find his new partner is black. Kirshner’s latest experiment was to transplant the head of a gorilla onto the shoulder of another gorilla, an achievement which gives him an idea when he learns he only has a few weeks to live. He forces his staff to help him find a healthy body to act as host organism for his head. Growing increasing desperate as the doctor hovers near death, they accept a convict from death row who agrees to an unspecified surgery in exchange for 30 days on the outside. The transplant is a success, but the doctor is furious when he learns that his head as been attached to a black man. The black head still has control of the body, and he escapes, along with the reluctant white head, on a mission to prove his innocence in the crime that landed him on death row, with the two heads bickering with each other all along the way.
The Thing With Two Heads was a product of American International Pictures, which single-handedly invented the teen picture in the ‘50s with low-budget hits such as I was a Teenage Werewolf, then created the beach blanket movies in the 60s, and more or less founded the blaxploitation genre in the ‘70s. They were soon blending genres with Blaxploitation horror films such as Blacula. The Thing With Two Heads is an experiment in Blaxploitation sci-fi, and is the best, and possibly only, film in this sub-genre.
The most remarkable thing about this B-film is the fact that they got some prominent performers to agree to appear in something with such a ridiculous script. Football superstar Rosey Grier appears as the convict “Big Jim”, makeup master Rick Baker makes his first film appearance inside a two-headed gorilla suit, and most remarkable of all is the presence of Ray Milland, who worked with Hitchcock on Dial “M” For Murder and won an Oscar for his turn as an alcoholic writer in Billy Wilder’s Lost Weekend. How Milland wound up in this film is anyone’s guess, but he was obviously a consummate professional, as he is somehow able to keep a straight face as he delivers lines like “I need you to transplant my head onto another body. It is the only chance I have to live.”
Although the story is completely ridiculous, The Thing With Two Heads is not a completely terrible film. The fact that Milland and Grier seemed willing to go along with all the silliness and try to make a good movie makes it mostly bearable and even entertaining at times.