The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant (1971)
When I got to the point in this review that I was going to reference actor Larry Vincent, I was going to say, “…and in the role of John Carradine, Larry Vincent.” Such is the nature of his minimal part in The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant, a groundskeeper with a wild look in his eye and a giant of a son with the mentality of an eight-year old.
Finding little to no information about the film in my research, though, I learned something very interesting about Vincent that I did not know: he was a television horror host! In his four-page obituary (he died of cancer on March 9, 1978, at the age of 50) in Famous Monsters of Filmland #146, he’s described as having…
…a wry sense of humor & devilish delivery that delighted legions of admirers who faithfully followed his terrorvision presentations in the Southern Karloffornia area of grade Z schock-schlock which he panned unmercifully.
He must have had more than just a “wry” sense of humor to ridicule such films and then take part in one like The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant, a film made a little less preposterous by AIP’s second movie of the sub-subgenre (if you want to call it that) a year later, The Thing with Two Heads.
Three years earlier, Famous Monsters, briefly mentioned The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant in an article about two-headed creatures. It’s as good a synopsis as anything, so let’s take a look:
Since sometimes nature is a little slow to provide double-headers, science takes a hand (or a head) and helps. In The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant (1970) the head of a psychopathic killer is grafted onto the body of an oafish farmboy. The resulting carnage is enough to turn anybody’s head.
Compared to The Thing with Two Heads (1972), to which I awarded a glowing 3-star review (click here to read it), The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant is a masterpiece. However, I do appreciate the serious tone it gave the story. The production plays it straight, trying to be serious instead of comical. From that perspective, and for the most part, I think it succeeds.
What I mean is, it sticks with creepy atmosphere and suspenseful scenes. The actors’ tongues are removed from cheeks. Beyond that, some of the subject matter is, frankly, grim. There’s nothing humorous about the opening scene where lunatic Cass (Albert Cole) manhandles a young woman while her parents lie bloodied and dead in the kitchen.
Early scenes where the calm, mad scientist, Roger (Bruce Dern), shows initial results to buddy Ken (Casey Kasem) are disturbing, unless animal experimentation doesn’t bother you. Snakes are one thing, but rabbits and monkeys with two heads genuinely make me cringe, more so than humans. Perhaps that’s because they’re more realistic.
Yeah, the writers, James Gordon White and John Lawrence, and the director, Anthony M. Lanza, show no reserve in their treatment of women and animals. Surprisingly, they’re sensitive to the “oafish farmboy,” Danny (John Bloom) and treat him with as much respect as can be expected in what’s clearly an early 1970’s AIP film with what felt to me at times like a Blaxploitation score (by John Barber.)
In a nine-minute interview on the Kino Lorber Studio Classics Blu-ray, writer James Gordon White explains how horror had lost favor in the eyes of AIP and was replaced by the more successful (at the time) biker movies. It’s interesting to me, then, that most of the early 70’s AIP horror films have biker elements. They’re sort of “crossovers.”
Here, it’s a small biker group on a camping trip that is terrorized by the “monster.” Even as one-half a creature, Cass still giggles maniacally and licks his lips as he ogles and fondles the young woman. (That’s disturbing in itself.) When the leader zooms by on his motorcycle, twirling a chain in the air, you know the Danny half is going to grab it and pull him off his bike. Expectations are met (although not exceeded.)
The story attempts to create some drama in the relationship between Roger and his wife, Linda (Pat Priest). She wants him to come out of the lab and spend a little time with her. Ken warns him that she might leave him. However, the subplot becomes repetitive and doesn’t head anywhere. I thought Ken and Linda might be getting a little something on the side, but the drama isn’t that deep.
Finally, you have to wonder what Bruce Dern was doing in this movie. This was not an early project for him; he’d been working since 1960. It seems like he was making a lot of films for AIP at the time and I had forgotten that he didn’t really become a “thing” until Silent Running (1972), as far as I’m concerned, but also Coming Home (1978), as far as Hollywood and the Oscars were concerned.
You know, I enjoyed The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant. That might be because I’m comparing it to The Thing with Two Heads. I wonder what I would have thought had I not seen that. The special effects are better, showing a fake head on the shoulder far less frequently and only from behind. And again, I like the more serious tone, although one could argue that it doesn’t succeed with it.
Written by James Gordon White and John Lawrence
Directed by Anthony M. Lanza
Starring Bruce Dern, Pat Priest, Casey Kasem, Albert Cole, John Bloom, Berry Kroeger, Larry Vincent
RT 88 min.
US Release Date April 28, 1971 (San Francisco)
Home Video Kino Lorber Studio Classics (Blu-ray)
Deborah Falen, Famous Monsters of Filmland #120, it's double the trouble when - 2 + 2 = FEAR!
Oct. 1975, Warren Publishing Co.
Famous Monsters of Filmland #146, "Seymour" Nevermore with regret: another obit
Aug. 1978, Warren Publishing Co.