Double Feature of Doom! The Quadruple-Header pt 1

The Quadruple-Header, or:

Why Two Heads Are So, So Much Worse than One

By M.G. Marshall

American International Pictures likely has one of the most interesting back catalogues of any low budget studio around, because looking through it you can basically pinpoint what the B-movie trend of the day was between 1954 and 1980. Drive-in monster movies are the big thing? AIP made hundreds, from I Was a Teenage Werewolf to Roger Corman’s Attack of the Crab Monsters. Hammer Studios has brought artsy, gothic horror movies back onto the cultural landscape? AIP has a response for that in Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe cycle, and they even distributed a few Mario Bava movies here in the United States as well. Biker movies are the new fad? Well, look no further than AIP for gems such as The Born Losers, or Corman’s The Wild Angels. Bonnie and Clyde was a huge hit and Depression-era bank robber movies are all the rage? AIP has got you covered with Bloody Mama, A Bullet for a Pretty Boy, and Dillinger. Hell, in the early to mid-70’s, they were basically the premiere studio for the Blaxploitation boom, with stars such as Pam Grier, Fred Williamson, Isaac Hayes, and Jim Brown in their stable, and numerous classics of the genre under their belt. Yes indeed, if AIP knew one thing at all, it was how to ride a trend.

And I bring all of this info to your attention merely as a preface to the following question: Were two-headed monster movies a trend at some point…? They must’ve been, because AIP apparently had enough confidence in this concept to devote two whole movies to it. Oh yes, that’s right- there’s two of these things. It’s a double-headed double feature that I’m quite certain nobody ever asked for. First up is The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant.

The movie centers on Dr. Roger Girard (Bruce Dern, in what has to be a career low point), a brilliant, obsessive surgeon who spends all of his time locked away in his laboratory with his creepy assistant Max (Berry Kroeger), attempting to perfect his theorized head transplant operation, where the head of one subject is grafted onto the shoulder of another subject, before the  original head is removed and the transplant head overtakes the body. How exactly this operation would be useful is really anybody’s guess. Despite essentially being a hermit, Dr. Girard has a loving wife Linda (Pat Priest, of The Munsters), a concerned best friend Ken (Casey Kasem, of literally every Hanna-Barbera cartoon ever), and an enormous estate with a live-in groundskeeper who’s assisted by his hulking, mentally disabled son, Danny (John Bloom).

Dr. Girard’s idyllic mad scientist lifestyle is interrupted one day when escaped serial killer/rapist Manuel Cass (Albert Cole) happens upon the grounds, murders the groundskeeper, and makes off with Linda. Dr. Girard and Max are quickly able to rescue her, shooting and mortally wounding Cass. But with his father dead, Danny is left in a near-catatonic state, refusing to leave the corpse’s side. For some reason, Girard decides that it would be a great idea to graft the head of the homicidal rapist onto the body of the mentally disable giant and decides to make Danny and Cass his first human test subjects. Upon waking, Cass takes it shockingly well that he’s now a disembodied head sewn to another man’s shoulder, and almost immediately convinces Danny to escape so the two of them can wander the countryside, murdering necking teenagers and random biker gangs.

This is not a very good movie. It should be noted that this was produced in the post-Roger Corman, drive-in schlock era of AIP’s output. Yeah, that whole Blaxploitation boom I mentioned earlier really gave these guys a shot in the arm they desperately needed, because their horror output at the time was pretty atrocious. This was the same era when they were putting out notable Mystery Science Theater 3000-fodder like The Bat People (featured on MST3K as It Lives by Night) and The Incredible Melting Man. And, honestly, it’s kinda hard to see why the Bots never got around to The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant.

Normally intense and smarmy, I can’t overemphasize how low-key and unhappy-looking Bruce Dern is in this movie. He is just dead-eyed and devoid of energy for the entire duration. Interestingly, Dern would later claim that he was never paid for his services in this movie. I believe him. Pat Priest brings all the acting talent you’d expect out of the second Marilyn Munster. I kid, but in all seriousness, she does fine for a role that mostly calls for her to scream in terror and be held captive by her bored mad scientist husband. Casey Kasem does a good job of playing Casey Kasem, although the filmmakers make the weird cost-saving decision to have every radio announcement that plays throughout the movie voiced by Kasem as well, and his character isn’t a radio announcer. Did they just think nobody would notice?

As half of the titular monster, Albert Coles is probably the most fun thing about the movie in all of his wide-eyed, gap-toothed glory. Although once I noticed that he really resembles a young Cheech Marin, it was kinda hard to unsee. As the unfortunate Danny, John Bloom is serviceable at hitting the one childlike note the movie asks of him, but he’s clearly no great shakes as an actor. He is really large though. I can’t take that away from him.

Another thing of note is the weird, trippy 70’s editing the movie employs in a few scenes. It’s hard to describe without actually seeing it for yourself, but it’s sort of an odd, crosscutting between scenes where the beginning of a scene will be rapidly intercut with the ending of the previous scene. It’s interesting and eye-catching at first (although the first time I saw the movie I thought the DVD was skipping) but it gets really old as the movie goes on, and there’s never really any rhyme or reason to its use. It just keeps happening every now and then out of nowhere.

Overall, while it would probably be a pretty good fit for a bad movie night, I can’t really envision The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant securing any serious cult following any time in the near future. It’s just nowhere near as fun as that title would leave you to believe. And if this were made by any other studio than AIP, this would’ve likely been a movie that just came and went, forgotten and unloved, but the ground was apparently fertile for a companion piece…

MG Marshall