Cast & Crew
Wheelchair-bound transplant surgeon Dr. Maxwell Kirshner has only weeks to live because of an inoperable form of cancer. Founder of the Kirshner Transplant Foundation, Kirshner is desperate to finish secret head-grafting experiments on a gorilla in his basement laboratory that might prove to be the answer to extending his own life. In the two-part process, the new head is attached to the old body and, after the thirty days needed for the new head's alignment and neuro-muscular control, the original head is removed. One day during a routine injection, the agitated two-headed gorilla breaks out of his cage and flees into the surrounding neighborhood. Lab assistants chase it into a convenience store, where they tranquilize the gorilla, but not before it has terrorized a dozen customers. Later at the foundation, Kirshner is shocked that his new transplant rejection specialist, Dr. Fred Williams, whom he hired sight unseen, is African American and quickly announces that, due to budget constraints, he will be unable to honor Williams' contract. Easily recognizing Kirshner's bigotry, Williams insists that his six-month commitment be kept and joins the foundation team, hoping to learn Kirshner's technique despite his animosity. Soon after, Kirshner tells Dr. Philip Desmond, his chief aide and surgeon, about his terminal condition and shows him the gorilla. After explaining the innovative head transplant procedure, Kirshner asks Desmond to transplant Kirshner's head onto a healthy body. Although he abhors Kirshner's prejudice, Desmond recognizes the doctor's genius and agrees to help. Over the next few weeks nurses under Desmond's direction canvas for a person with a fatal head injury who might donate his or her body to the experiment, but they have no success. With Kirshner now on life support equipment and barely conscious, Desmond decides to take desperate measures, approaching the governor and attorney general through his friend Mitch to find a convict on death row who might agree to be a donor. Concerned about negative publicity, the governor agrees, but only on the condition that the operation be done in secret and under police security. Soon after, convict Jack Moss decides on the day of his execution to consent to the unspecified transplant operation, hoping to add enough hours to his life to find proof of his innocence with the help of his girl friend Lila. After Jack is escorted to the Kirshner mansion, Desmond and his colleagues transplant Kirshner's head onto Jack's neck, attaching it beside Jack's own head. Kirshner awakens hours later feeling the powerful strength of his new body, but is appalled to discover that the body is black. When Jack regains consciousness only to be insulted racially by a white head attached to his own body, he lashes out in anger, forcing Desmond to sedate him. Knowing that it will take fourteen days for Kirshner's brain to establish control over Jack's body, Desmond keeps both patients sedated as a precaution and, without revealing the identity of the patient or procedure, enlists Williams' help to prevent rejection problems. Desmond ensconces Williams in a separate laboratory in the mansion where he cures Jack of pneumonia through his diligent lab work. One day, Jack manages to stab a nurse with a sedation injection, then dresses, grabs a gun and attempts to escape the mansion, but Kirshner screams for help, alerting the foundation staff and police. When Jack threatens to shoot Kirshner's head, Williams warns Jack that he will also die as a consequence. Realizing that Williams might be able to aid him, Jack takes him hostage at gunpoint and flees in Williams' car. While eluding police cars in pursuit, Jack states that he thought his donation would be for a dying child, not for a bigoted scientist. Seeing a police blockade, Jack drives onto a dirt road where the car gets a flat tire. After fleeing on foot over rugged terrain, the exhausted pair stops for a rest, and Jack explains that he was falsely convicted of killing a police officer after his only alibi witness, an ex-convict, disappeared on the night of the murder. When Jack falls asleep soon after, Kirshner offers to share the prestige of the experimental surgery with Williams instead of Desmond, if Williams will remove Jack's head. Insulted by Kirshner's lack of ethics, Williams ignores the plea. When a police helicopter spots them, Jack and Williams run until they stumble upon a dirt bike race, where Jack steals a bike and, with Williams sitting behind him, joins the race. Terrified by the two-headed man, the other motorcyclists are run off course and Jack easily outmaneuvers the police cars with sharp turns that cause numerous crashes. Jack and Williams finally arrive at Lila's apartment, where Lila, looking at Jack's two heads, asks, "Do you have two of anything else?" When Jack tries to seduce her in a moment alone, Lila, appalled by Kirshner's ceaseless tirades, keeps her distance. After Lila convinces Williams of Jack's innocence, the surgeon offers to sever Kirshner from Jack's body. That night, when Williams and Jack break into Kirshner's laboratory to perform the surgery, Kirshner, who now has control over Jack's body, knocks out Jack and Williams. He then calls Desmond to arrange to finish the surgery, but Desmond tells him the police want Jack dead, and refuses to help. Desperate, Kirshner tries to perform the surgery on himself, but Williams interrupts and severs Kirshner from Jack's body, leaving the head attached to the heart and lung machines for Desmond to find as Williams, Lila and Jack escape.
George E. Carey
Samuel Z. Arkoff
Dr. Cadvan Griffiths
Robert O. Ragland
James Gordon White
Philip, get me another body.- Dr. Maxwell Kirshner
What the hell is the matter with you, Moss? Get back to bed!- Dr. Maxwell Kirshner
You jive.- Jack Moss
It's all right, honey, I'm not gonna hurt you.- Jack Moss
You get into more shit...- Lila
Williams! If you cut off my head, that'll be murder!- Dr. Maxwell Kirshner
The working title for the film was Man with Two Heads. In the opening credits, Ray Milland and Roosevelt "Rosey" Grier's credits read: "Ray Milland and `Rosey' Grier as The Thing with Two Heads." In the closing credits special thanks is given to the following persons: William Smith, Albert Zugsmith, Tommy Cook, George E. Carey and Dick Whittington, all of whom made guest appearances in the film.
An May 18, 1972 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that the film was to begin shooting that month in Los Angeles and San Francisco, but no Hollywood Reporter production charts were found for the film. The picture marked the first feature film credit for Rick Baker, who played the gorilla. Baker, who also appeared in a gorilla suit for the 1976 King Kong and other films, went on to become a noted special effects makeup artist, winning multiple Academy Awards for such films as The Nutty Professor (1996) and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000).
Although The Thing with Two Heads was not a sequel or remake, American International Pictures had released a film with a similar theme entitled The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant in 1971. As noted in the Los Angeles Times review, many absurdly comedic moments depicting racial prejudice happen throughout The Thing with Two Heads in arguments between the two heads on the same body, the white "Maxwell Kirshner" and the black "Jack Moss." In 1972 the film was named Best Science Fiction Comedy by The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films (originally known as The Count Dracula Society). As noted in a July 14, 1972 Hollywood Reporter news item, music producer Michael Viner created a soundtrack album to coincide with the film's release. The album included the songs listed onscreen and several songs inspired by the film that were not listed in the pictures' credits, including songs by the Incredible Bongo Band.
Released in United States 1972
Released in United States 1995
Released in United States 1972
Released in United States 1995 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Blaxploitation, Baby!" June 23 - August 10, 1995.)