This noirish, highly-stylized German sci-fi confection laden with atmosphere was released in 1959 and originally titled DIE NACKTE UND DER SATAN (THE NUDE AND THE DEVIL). Stateside it was released through Trans-Lux and was simply entitled THE HEAD. This opus has the feel and texture of a good 60s Edgar Wallace mystery and at 92 minutes is a standout black and white fearfest.
THE HEAD was directed by the Russian Victor Trivas, a man who had worked with G. W. Pabst! Set design on this film was by Hermann Warm who had fashioned the Expressionist rooftops, bridges, lampposts and look of Holstenwall in the seminal KABINET DES DR. CALIGARI (yes, from 1919, THE grandfather of all horror films, CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI)!
Also on hand was Michel Simon as Dr. Abel who achieved international recognition for the title role in BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING (1932) and had also appeared in FABIOLA (1949) and Jean Vigo's L'ATALANTE (1934). All three aforementioned were friends and this was their reunion. Horst Frank is appropriately menacing as Dr. Ood. Frank would go on to appear in Dario Argento's CAT O' NINE TAILS (1971) and MARQUIS DE SADE: JUSTINE (1969). Dieter Eppler is memorable in the genre for his roles in THE DEATH RAY OF DR. MABUSE (1964) and as the vampire count in SLAUGHTER OF THE VAMPIRES (1962).
The jagged lettering of the film's credits are suitably eerie with the moon obscured by dark evening clouds in a manner Tim Burton emulates in both ED WOOD and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. We spot the wicked Dr. Ood (Horst Frank) at the outset as he approaches the residence of the noted Prof. Abel. The professor's home is surrounded by barren trees and is filled inside with futuristic apparatus and a staircase very much in the tradition of the Bauhaus (not unlike the staircase in Edgar Ulmer's THE BLACK CAT of 1934).
Dr. Abel has perfected Serum Z which kept the head of a dog alive after being separated from its body. His refusal to go a step further in experimentation with Dr. Ood forces the silver-haired doctor to remove the kindly professor's head and keep it alive in the serum. He then embellishes on his mentor's work and converts a hunchbacked nurse into a stunning sex-bomb with a stripper's body. Eventually Irene becomes aware that her body is that of the dead stripper from a seedy nightclub, the Tam-Tam, and soon has an ally in an artist (portrayed by Dieter Eppler), who confronts Dr. Ood and eventually brings his madness to an end in a fiery conclusion.
THE HEAD remains one of the better entries in the decapitated body genre like THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE (1962), THE MAN WITHOUT A BODY (1957) and THE THING THAT WOULDN'T DIE (1959). The Germanic influence makes this film most entertaining and the image of Michel Simon's disembodied head begging to be disconnected from its life-giving fluids is a guilty pleasure worth reliving from time to time.
This correspondent lauds Alpha Video for providing the public with an immensely watchable transfer of this film. There are a few scratches and splotches here and there, but overall the film looks wonderful for its age. Sound quality is very good on this as well and there are six chapter stops. Previously faults were found in some Alpha releases but this effort redeems their name completely. Last year Steve Kaplan began operating Alpha Video and issued a massive 250 titles in 14 months! Once a former instructor in film, his devotion seems to be paying off as he is attempting to release better-looking product culled from purchasing an extensive library of public domain titles of varying quality. If Kaplan's Alpha Video titles in the future look as good as this effort, there will be cause for rejoicing among collectors. Kudos, Steve Kaplan and Alpha Video for this presentation of West Germany's THE HEAD! (Christopher Dietrich)
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