The 70s were a time of terrible fashions, the beginning of Disco, and exploitation films that came and went at the local Drive-In with haunting regularity. Good or bad teen-agers flocked to these films in droves. American International Pictures were not known for quality films, but were more dedicated to releasing independently produced low-budget exploitation films that were made specifically to fill those Drive-Ins. Now the likes of Roger Corman managed to put together a decent product on a B-movies budget, but he was an exception and not the rule. The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant is prime example of a film that teen-agers would flock to see, but then spend most the time in the backseat of their care necking.
The movie open with a homicidal-rapist’s killing spree being cut short by the police. Manuel Cass (Albert Cole) is nuttier than a fruitcake and for his malicious criminal acts he is sentenced to a hospital for the criminally insane. Though the fact that he escapes by taking out just one orderly, and stealing a car in the parking lot, this is more the case of it being a hospital for the criminally inept staff.
But Cass isn’t the only insane person in this movie, though he cackles madly and murders wantonly, the real winner of the “Bug Shit Crazy Award” goes to Dr. Roger Girard (Bruce Dern) a scientist experimenting with head transplantation. Now when one thinks of mad scientists a certain image leaps to mind; such as the likes of Vincent Price or Boris Karloff, but certainly not Bruce Dern. Even with a white lab coat, and an even crazier assistant, we at no point in this film buy Dern as a doctor, mad or otherwise.
We learn that he was forced out of his job at the hospital due to some kind of nervous breakdown, and now he spends all his time in his private lab, much to the chagrin of his wife Linda (Pat Priest) who bemoans her marital problems to Dr. Ken Anderson (Casey Kasem), an old friend of the family. When Ken confronts Roger about his failure as a husband he is shown what is taking up all his time; that being of course the transplanting of second heads onto animals.
Things go off the rails when the recently escaped Cass stumbles upon the Girard home, hogties Roger, kills the groundskeeper, and makes off with Linda. The groundskeeper’s giant mentally handicapped son Danny (John Bloom) finds the hogtied Roger, but he is unable to do anything but cradle his dead father. Luckily Max (Berry Kroeger), who is Roger’s equally obsessed and crazy lab assistant, arrives and the two race off to rescue Linda. They succeed by shooting Cass in the back with a shotgun. Now this is the time when most people would have called the police, but then again most people are not mad scientists. So Roger and Max take the dying murderer back to the lab and graft his head onto the body of poor distraught Danny.
Later when Linda asks where Danny has disappeared to Roger tells her he must have run off, but will probably wander back in a few days. We must assume that Linda is still in a little shock here as who would something like let that slide? A mentally handicapped boy, who she considers a member of the family, has just run off and you don’t insist your husband notify the authorities? Then again her decision making process did result in her marrying the type of man who would graft a psychotic murderer onto the body of a super strong half-wit, so maybe she just isn’t all that bright. Of course Cass/Danny breaks free of the leather straps holding them to the table, and this is just in time for a curious Linda to decide to take a peek into the lab. She sees the two-headed atrocity and faints, but before Cass can rape Linda with Danny’s body Max and Roger show up and manage to chase off the two-headed abomination. When Linda awakes she immediately wants to notify the authorities, but Roger can’t let that happen so he drugs her and ties her up in bed.
Meanwhile Rogers’s Frankenstein creation goes on a killing spree, because Danny’s feeble mind cannot dominate the stronger will of homicidal Cass. They kill a couple at Lover’s Lane and a trio of bikers by the river, but when they start feeling the need for painkillers they return to the Girard home looking for drugs. Ken repeatedly shows up at the Girard home, but he;s basically useless, and is eventually forced to help Max and Roger hunt down their escaped monster. While they are off wandering the hills hunting their medical mistake they lock Linda inside a cage in the lab, and where she is later abducted from by Cass/Danny. Just exactly how does Roger think this is going to affect his marriage? Even if they manage to capture Cass/Danny does he expect Linda to keep quiet about all this? I’m sure during the divorce hearing someone is going to mention Roger turning a mentally handicapped man-child into a monster.
The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant is supposed to be a Frankenstein type movie, but it fails on just about every level. Colin Clive’s Henry Frankenstein was a sympathetic character, he may have been a tad obsessed, but you could understand where he was coming from. That his assistant grabbed an abnormal brain was an unforeseen incident, something he couldn’t plan for, but Roger in this film graphs the head of a notorious killer to the body of an emotionally and mentally stunted giant. How could this not go fucking wrong?
The biggest failing in this film is the tone, it takes itself way to seriously for such a moronic premise. The following year MGM put out The Thing With Two Heads, and it knew exactly which part of the cheek to place its tongue. Bruce Dern is horribly miscast and every time Casey Kasem opens his mouth I expect him to list Americas Top 40. Director Anthony M. Lanza never really gives us a chance to sympathize Danny’s plight and so when we get that tragic ending we really don’t care. The special make-up effects for the monster consists mostly of actor Albert Cole standing behind his larger co-star, and peeking his head over his shoulder. This is a film that’s enjoyment hinges greatly on the amount of alcohol one partakes, or if you’ve managed to avoid the whole thing by making out in the backseat.
Trivia Note: Bruce Dern was never paid for his role in the film, he was issued a check for $1,700 during filming but when he went to the bank to cash his check the check bounced. He returned to the set on the next day scheduled for filming to find that the set had already been shut down.