In 1971, AIP released this profitable independently-made two-headed monster movie, which featured the head of a lunatic criminal being transplanted on to the body of a 7-foot simpleton. The following year brought us THE THING WITH TWO HEADS, with the even more palatable idea of transplanting the head of a white bigot onto the body of a convicted black man (the two, or rather four heads, were often paired together theatrically). THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT, arguably the more entertaining of the two films, mixes 1950 monster mayhem with 1970s exploitation drive-in motifs and now receives a welcomed Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
Shortly before his mainstream Hollywood acceptance, Bruce Dern stars as Dr. Roger Girard, a nutty scientist living in the middle of nowhere with his beautiful and neglected wife Linda (Pat Priest, “Marilyn” from TV's "The Munsters") and creepy little oddball assistant Dr. Max (Barry Kroeger, NIGHTMARE IN WAX). Roger is obsessed with experiments dealing in animal head transplants, which have been successful on the various snakes and rabbits in his lab, so he now has his sites on human beings. In the meantime, deranged killer Manuel Cass (Albert Cole, ANGELS’ WILD WOMEN) has escaped and is on the loose in the barren California area where Roger's home lies. Cass makes his way to the house, kills the caretaker (the late Larry Vincent, better known to many monster movie fans as 1960s TV horror host “Seymour”) and abducts the bikini-clad Linda. Roger and Dr. Max eventually catch up to them, saving the wife and shooting the nutty Cass in the back. When they bring his dying body home, Dr. Max suggests transplanting Cass' head on to the body of the 7-foot mentally retarded son of the caretaker, Danny (John Bloom, the monster in DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN). The result is the campy titular creature, sporting red underwear and denim overalls.
Preying on several unwashed bikers (one played by Al Adamson regular and frequent stuntman Gary Kent, here billed as “Donald Brody”) as well as some hapless necking teens, the two-headed monster goes on a rampage of destruction, as Roger's best friend and fellow doctor Ken (played by Casey Kasem!) tries to convince his pal to put an end to the hulking beast. In the meantime, Linda can't keep her mouth shut, and her threats to call the police have her gagged, tied up to a bed, and even thrown in a cage for most of the duration!
THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT has always been kind of fascinating for grade Z movie fans, as its monstrous combination of Al Cole's gap-toothed grinning and devious natured lunatic fixated on the shoulder of and easily taking control over John Bloom's crying, head-shaking idiot is simply unforgettable. This exercise in low budget sleaze is accompanied by a grating yet appealing score by John Barber of the "wah-wah" and heavy base sort, and also includes a melancholy theme song (performed by female vocal artist Bobbie Boyle) titled, "It's Incredible." There's enough bloodshed and sadism on display for its rating to change from the original "GP" to a more extreme "R" today, and anyone with knowledge of Kasem's career as a DJ and cartoon voice artist will get a chuckle hearing him doing the film's "maniac on the loose" radio news flashes, especially when he himself is listening to them in his car! The effects are comprised of actor Cole with his head on Bloom’s shoulder by being situated behind him for close-ups and master shots, with phony heads used in action and long shots. The results are as obvious as you’d expect, but admirable since no one is taking the film too seriously and there’s also some crafty editing styles to be found. Aside from Bloom, Cole and Kent, other Al Adamson personnel involved include John “Bud” Cardos (who was a production supervisor and did stunts) and actor William Bonner (both he and Cardos had just been in Adamson’s SATAN SADISTS) can be seen briefly as one of the sheriff’s more hippyish-looking posse members. Director Anthony Lanza also directed another film for AIP, 1967’s THE GLORY STOMPERS, which also featured Kasem as a scruffy biker gang member.
In Bruce Dern’s 2007 autobiography, Things I’ve Said, But Probably Shouldn’t Have, he makes mention of THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT in a chapter entitled, “Star of the Second-Best Two-Headed Transplant Movie of 1971”. Dern mentions that he was paid a total of $3,500 for two weeks work, and that the funds enabled him to get married to Andrea Beckett, his spouse to this day. Dern called this film, along with CYCLE SAVAGES, a “grim” but that he never worked on a movie he didn’t want to do. He sums it up like this: “Andrea and I got married off the money from THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT. That was the end of my bona fide B days. That wasn’t a B. If you’re going to call THE WILD ANGELS a B movie, this was a Z movie”.
In 2004, THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT was given its first “official” home video release when MGM paired it with THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (now out on Blu-ray through Olive Films) on DVD as part of their “Midnite Movies” series of double features. The new Kino Blu-ray, which presents the film in its original aspect ratio in 1080p HD, does look incredible, bringing out amazing detail and vivid colors never before evident in the standard definition transfer. Clarity is excellent, there’s good grain structure, black levels are strong and fleshtones also shine. Like in the previous DVD release, the Blu-ray transfer displays some brief abrasions on the film elements which mainly occur during the film's climatic mineshaft explosion, so they are not at all distracting when put in perspective of the overall top-notch quality. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is satisfying, with dialogue, sound effects and music all being properly clear. No subtitle options are included.
Extras include a “RiffTrax” audio commentary with Mystery Science Theater 3000 comedians Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett. As expected, they’re simply mocking the film rather than sharing information about it, with the expected bad Casey Kasem imitations and references to his “America’s Top 40” countdowns. Most of this is blatantly unfunny and tedious, but the track is there as an option for those who enjoy this sort of thing (I’m not one of them). A far better supplement is the interview with screenwriter James Gordon White (9:08) who was completely content writing screenplays for AIP and their drive-in films for the youth market, because they entertained. He mentions some of the other scripts he wrote for the company (including THE GLORY STOMPERS, THE MINI-SKIRT MOB, THE DEVIL’S 8 and HELL’S BELLES) and he states he had dreams of Vincent Price playing the mad doctor in THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT, which he deems a tongue-in-cheek take-off on Frankenstein. A radio spot for the film is included, as is the original trailer, which like the original poster, reads the title as "The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant”. (George R. Reis)
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