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Movie of the Week: The Frozen Dead (1966)

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

Not the first, and certainly not the last, The Frozen Dead (1966) belongs in the subgenre of “disembodied head” movies. What seems like a ridiculous subject on the surface can, in fact, be treated with genuine thrills and chills, although it’s usually treated with humor (whether intentional or not.) The Frozen Dead does a pretty good job with the former, but desperately needs some of the latter.


Don’t believe everything you read on the IMDb. The movie is not about “A crazed scientist (that) keeps the heads of Nazi war criminals alive until he can find appropriate bodies on which to attach them so he can revive the Third Reich.” Dr. Norberg (Dana Andews) is not crazed, although he is a Nazi. He’s under pressure from General Lubeck (Karel Stepanek) to perform his crazed experiments.


He’s been keeping not just heads, but full bodies hanging in the freezer behind a metal door in his castle in the English countryside. From a beginning number of 12, he’s down to three. The first nine were revived with complications. Apparently, reviving a brain so that it functions properly 20 years later is a mystery that remains unsolved. (“There’s nothing more delicate or complex than the human brain.”) If only Dr. Norberg had a live brain that he could study...


About this time, Dr. Norberg’s niece, Jean (Anna Palk) conveniently arrives from the United States with her friend, Elsa Tenney (Kathleen Beck.) The truly crazed character in The Frozen Dead is Dr. Norberg’s assistant, Karl Essen (Alan Tilvern.) He abducts Elsa, straps her to a table in the lab, and unleashes one of the failed experiments upon her. You see, they’re kept in a dungeon adjacent to the lab and it’s easy for Karl to blame any shenanigans on them.


Finally, we get to the disembodied head. Just one. This is no “Jan in the Pan,” though (The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, 1962). It’s more like “Beck in the Box.” Like Jan, she has hoses attached to her (one for nutrition and one for oxygen), but she’s kept hidden in a small crate that seems to cast an eerie blue light upon her. She’s able to reach Jen telepathically and give her nightmares about a body buried without a head.


General Lubeck hopes to revive a lot more than 3, or even 12, frozen Nazis. He has 1,500 of them on ice someplace else. It’s never explained exactly what he plans to do with them, but it’s irrelevant since the “action” is never far removed from the castle in the English countryside. All that’s missing is a love interest for Jean when Dr. Ted Roberts (Philip Gilbert) arrives from the United States.


Norberg sent for him based on his successful attempt to remove and keep a dog’s head alive. It’s funny that Roberts is our hero; I guess there’s an innocent, practical reason for keeping a dog’s head alive. He’s kind of a wishy-washy character, though. First, he’s an ear for Jean to bend, then he’s Dr. Norberg’s confidante in crime, then he’s sharing everything he knows with Jean. He’s definitely a character of convenience rather than one whose actions matter.


Let’s continue the comparison to The Brain That Wouldn’t Die since I’m willing to bet more people have seen it than The Frozen Dead. The production values here are much more impressive and the acting is better. (That is to say, it must have had a bigger budget.) The script by Herbert J. Leder is quite ambitious, introducing some layers and surprises I haven’t spoiled here. On the other hand, it’s too long and has none of the fun of its predecessor.


With fewer repetitive scenes and less focus on the mystery subplot about the disappearance of Elsa, The Frozen Dead might be a more entertaining experience. Give it credit for sticking to its guns, though. Leder, who also directed, keeps things serious throughout. While that means the movie sometimes drags, it also means that a disembodied head in a box whispering, “Bury me… bury me…” can actually send a shiver down your spine.


Screenplay by Herbert J. Leder

Directed by Herbert J. Leder

Starring Dana Andrews, Anna Palk, Philip Gilbert, Kathleen Breck, Karen Stepanek Released October, 1966 (UK) RT 95 min.

Home Video Warner Archive Collection (DVD)

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