Most underground movie mavens know
what a head film is. Late-'60s, artsy, laced with psychedelia.
Wrong, in this case. A favorite sub-
sub-genre of fright-film fans is a different type of head
film. Human heads. Disembodied, transplanted or just plain
brainless. Bargain-basement filmmakers have been lopping
off noggins for years in hopes that the gruesome spectacle
of one man's (or women's) head studiously stitched onto
the body of another would prove to be an irresistible box
The Man Without a Body was
a 1957 release, lensed in England by the prolific skinflint,
W. Lee Wilder. As Wilder's brother, Billy, churned out mainstream
Oscar coppers like Some Like it Hot and The Apartment,
W. Lee targeted the drive-in crowd. Titles, like Killers
From Space and Snow Creature, delighted 1950s
monster lovers. Maybe these flicks weren't as intrinsically
valuable as brother Billy's, but who's to say which brother's
films delivered more enjoyment to their respective audiences.
The film in question chronicles millionaire
George (Citizen Kane) Coulouris, here about as far
removed from the Mercury Theater as surely he had ever imagined,
and his attempts to graft the revived head of Nostradamus
onto his own ailing frame.
The tomb of the French prognosticator
proves surprisingly easy to rifle, and in no time at all,
the head is giving Coulouris invaluable advice concerning
his stock portfolio. Fortunately,
scientist Robert (Slime People) Hutton is on hand
to staunch the tide of terror that predictably ensues.
In the unimpeachable opinion of the
B Monster, one film stands headless and shoulders
above the many others populating this gory field; The
Thing That Couldn't Die is among the finest head film
offerings of the 50s. Robin Hughes stars as the cretinous
cranium, back after a 400-year snooze to reclaim his separately
interred carcass. As colonial-era Satanist Gideon Drew,
he was put to death by no less than famed explorer Sir Francis
chest containing his cabeza is unearthed on the site of
a 20th century ranch. Soon after a slow-witted ranch hand
pops open the trunk, against orders, Gideon sets about putting
every hombre in the bunk house under his spell.
All-purpose "B" lead William
Reynolds is on hand as the nominal hero of the piece. Reynolds
had appeared the previous year in producer William Alland's
The Land Unknown alongside Jock Mahoney and a herd
of rubber lizards.
Undone in part by an unnecessarily
soapy subplot and cheap sets that undermine the sense of
omnipresent evil the script would have us buy into, Thing
does contain at least two memorable images that help account
for the fact that many long-ago viewers can recall the film,
if not its title.
The spectacle of Gideon's severed
head appearing suddenly at an open window, accompanied by
shock music left over from Creature From The Black Lagoon,
is certainly good for a chill or two, as is the slow-motion
witch trial that appears to our clairvoyant heroine as she
wanders the woods. These sequences stand out amid Will Cowan's
otherwise workmanlike direction.
The severed-head sub-genre is not
exactly crowded with unheralded filmic gems, but any accounting
of the topic would be invalid without mentioning the following,
decidedly lurid drive-in shockers:
The Brain That
Wouldn't Die (1959)
Cold fish Herb Evers stars as a maverick scientist bent
on head transplantation. Surviving an auto crash that decapitates
his girlfriend, he reanimates her head in his spook house
laboratory, and sets about stalking the strip clubs in search
of a fine frame to paste it on. Barely coherent enough to
qualify as lurid.
They Saved Hitler's
Big chunks of a previously-filmed potboiler called Madmen
of Mandoras comprise much of this patchwork schlocker.
Der Fuhrer's noggin is lugged around in a bell jar by zealous
Nazis (are there any other kind?) hoping to resuscitate