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Thing with Two Heads, The

Olive Films // PG // June 23, 2015
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 22, 2015 | E-mail the Author

The Thing with Two Heads!

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The Other Thing with Two Heads!

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The Thing with Two Heads and a Gun!

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The Thing with Two Heads and a Sedan!

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The Thing with Two Heads and a Dirtbike!

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Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (The Thing with Two Heads!)

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The Thing with Two Heads and a WooooWooooWooooWooooWoooo! Nyuk nyuk nyuk nyuk!

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I kid because I love, and I genuinely do love The Thing with Two Heads.

The incomparably brilliant Dr. Maxwell Kirshner (Ray Milland) pioneered pretty much everything we've come to know about organ transplantation. Even at his advanced age, Kirshner's mind remains as gleamingly sharp as ever, but the body housing it...well, not so much. Riddled with inoperable cancer, the surgeon has at most weeks to live. It's a death sentence his body can't hope to escape, but as for his mind...? Kirshner has spent most every waking hour over the past few months in his basement laboratory, engineering a method of transplanting heads from one subject onto another. The procedure itself is startlingly straightforward, and though it takes a month or so for the grafted-on head to achieve dominance, the host body's original head can readily be removed after that. Kirshner can ensure that his genius lives on, just as long as he can get his hands on a viable donor body. Turns out that lining up a healthy, willing body on such short notice is a hell of a tall order, but all the right strings are pulled, and a donor is supplied for the doctor fresh off death row at the absolute last minute. The now-comotose Kirshner isn't conscious to consult, but his gifted staff ensures that the transplant goes through without a hitch just the same. Everybody gets what they're after! Jack Moss (Rosey Grier) bucks the death penalty, giving him at least a little more of a window to prove he's innocent of murder. Kirshner, meanwhile, gets the new lease on life he'd been craving. Wouldn't be much of a movie if it were all sunshine and roses, though. See, Kirshner is a seething racist, and now he's surgically attached to a 300 lb. black man fresh off death row. Moss is desperate to prove that he's not guilty of the frame job the authorities slapped together, but detective work is a little tricky to pull off when you're a two-headed monster not entirely in control of your own body. Two heads enter, one head leave?

The same as its titular Frankenmosshner, The Thing with Two Heads plays kind of like a few wildly different things stitched together. Even with those Hanna-Barbara "boing!"s over the opening titles and a two-headed ape wreaking havoc around town, the first act of the movie is played remarkably straight, inching closer to a medical drama than a drive-in cautionary tale of science run amok. The middle stretch doesn't spend quite as much time exploring the dynamic between a loudmouthed bigot and a wrongly accused black man on the run as you might think. A pretty much endless parade of chases -- first in a hostage's car and then on a dirt bike -- seriously clocks in around twentysomeodd minutes all told, unspooling so much like an episode of The Dukes of Hazzard that I was waiting for a freeze-frame and for Waylon Jennings to tell me what a bucket of syrup the Duke boys had found themselves in this time. The Thing with Two Heads draws to a close by shifting the setting to Moss' home turf, playfully mocking what a close-minded simp Kirshner is and tearing down some of the stereotypes he holds. The movie is tonally all over the place, but strangely enough, that scattershot approach works in its favor.

From a snoring prosthetic head to Kirshner cockblockingsecondheadblocking Moss to the general lack of surprise people have at seeing a two-headed monster, The Thing with Two Heads is ridiculous in the best possible ways. Even with the lengthy setup -- the transplant doesn't take place until a half hour in, and the movie's half over before Kirshner and Moss are on the run -- the pacing rarely ever drags. In fact, it's the film's most action-packed sequence that's the biggest slog to wade through, with so many cop cars careening far out of their way to cartoonishly crash into one another that this demolition derby stops being fun after a while. Don Marshall does a terrific job as the voice of reason caught in the middle, basically casting the deciding vote as to whose head gets to remain attached to Moss' body. Intriguingly, the movie doesn't wrap things up with the neat, tidy bow you might expect either. The Thing with Two Heads doesn't come close to fully capitalizing on the possibilities its premise offers, but it's a hell of a lot of fun regardless, and I can't help but love the snarky back-and-forth between Ray Milland and Rosey Greer. As long as you waltz in with the right expectations, The Thing with Two Heads absolutely comes Highly Recommended.

I can't get over how phenomenal The Thing with Two Heads looks in high-def, easily ranking among the best looking cult titles culled from MGM's catalog of late. Though there is some sporadic softness, almost always alongside dissolves and the like, the image is otherwise nicely defined and teeming with fine detail. Contrast is spot-on, and its palette is as richly saturated as the dead grass and understated production design will allow. Its filmic sheen of grain is rendered immaculately, and even in challenging sequences -- say, the fine pattern of Rosey Greer's oversized coat during the dirt bike sequence where the camera is bouncing all over the place -- the AVC encode never sputters or stutters. Speckling and wear never meaningfully intrude either. I don't have MGM's original DVD handy to do a direct comparison, but there's no doubt in my mind that Olive Films is offering up an essential upgrade here.

The Thing with Two Heads has been lightly letterboxed to preserve its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and with a lean runtime and no extras to speak of, its AVC encode fits comfortably onto this single layer disc.

There's only one audio option on this Blu-ray disc, but...well, it's the one to have: a 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack in two-channel mono. By and large, The Thing with Two Heads sounds as good as it looks. I found myself almost immediately in awe of how punchy and full-bodied this lossless soundtrack is. Its dialogue in particular is, with very few exceptions, remarkably clean and clear, belying the film's age by quite a few years. Every instrument in the score is impressively clear and distinct, and most of the sound effects -- such as the shattering of glass during the two-headed ape's rampage -- are reproduced masterfully. There's not the faintest glimmer of clipping or distortion to get in the way either. Admittedly, many of the effects and some of the dialogue throughout the endless car chase sequences sound awfully boxy and dated by comparison, and there are a few scattered lines elsewhere that can't clear the otherwise high bar that The Thing with Two Heads sets. There's also one song early on that doesn't pack anywhere near as much of a wallop as the score proper. Those are all extremely minor gripes, though. At its best -- which, in this case, is the overwhelming majority of the movie -- The Thing with Two Heads's audio completely eclipses all of my expectations. A tremendous effort all around.


The Final Word
I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that this was my first time giving The Thing with Two Heads a spin, but in pretty much every conceivable way -- its visual presentation, its lossless soundtrack, and, well, the movie itself -- it stomped over anything I could've hoped to have experienced. It's hard to pass up a cult classic like The Thing with Two Heads, especially when it's been lavished with this sort of white glove treatment. Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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