Last year I got him a plaint from kvetchy old coot Burt Prelutsky, but since M. is himself a proud member of the Coot-American Community, it seemed redundant. So at a loss for a gift, I turned, as I so often do, to the wisdom of Hollywood. For what are films but the collective dream of an audience? In the light and shadows of the cinema, we find a reflection of our common hopes and dreams, the threads which bind humanity together. Look at movies across the ages, and you will see that deep down, we all desire the same things: to love and be loved; to know that we have lived lives possessed of meaning and purpose; and most important of all, to have a parasitic twin.
Directed by Anthony M. Lanza
Written by James Gordon White and John Lawrence
Director Anthony Lanza learned his craft at the feet of such independent visionaries as Arch Hall, Sr. (Eegah) and Coleman Francis (The Skydivers), and his command of metaphorical imagery is apparent from the very first frame: a close up of an oddly flaccid pear tree, symbolizing to anyone looking for a crappy movie to snark on that there's lots of low-hanging fruit ahead.
Principle screenwriter James Gordon White, on the other hand, leaned more toward the auteur school. Like filmmakers such as John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, and Akira Kurosawa, White often returned to the same grand, overarching themes in his work; in this case he followed 1971's The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant with 1972's The Thing With Two Heads.
Our story gets off to a grindhousey start as a maniac terrorizes a tied-up woman by brandishing a butcher knife and a porn mustache (judging by where her gaze is fixed, she seems to fear the mustache more), while her (parents?) lie dead on the floor, covered with blood so red and rich and thick you just want to dunk your home fries in their jugulars.
Suddenly four Highway Patrol cars pull up for no reason, and then we’re in court, where a judge sentences Porn Stache to a mental institution, and by “court” I mean “Sears Portrait Studio”, since the judge is sitting at a cheaply-made bench, while the defendant is posed in front of a black velvet curtain. (I guess it’s possible that in this small town, they conduct their murder trials in the same place the Junior High snaps its class pictures.)
Cut to the theme song, a lush cocktail jazz number sung by a sultry chanteuse who just seems to be winging it (“It’s incredible/That we can simply/Ooooopen wiiiiide…”) over scenes of a huge man in bib overalls running through meadows in slow motion like there was a serious casting snafu with a Tampax commercial.
Casey Kasem, World Famous Doctor, visits Marilyn from The Munsters, who’s worried, and has reason to be, because she’s just discovered that she's married to Bruce Dern. “He hasn’t come out of that laboratory in two days," Marilyn frets, although you’d think she would have gotten used to that kind of thing with Grandpa. Anyway, Casey comforts her with some crap about how her husband loves her, despite his recent nervous breakdown, and she should just keep loving him back and keep reaching for the stars, then he goes in to talk some sense into Bruce, which in 99 movies out of a 100 means he’s about to die.
It turns out Bruce can’t leave his lab because he’s achieved a major scientific breakthrough by taping two monkeys together! Casey is impressed, and immediately dedicates “Reunited (and It Feels So Good)” by Peaches and Herb to the conjoined capuchins.
Bruce decides to leave the lab after all, because he’s being glared at by his assistant, Max, who like most movie lab assistants has poor posture and a withered hand. However, unlike the usual crop of willowy, neurasthenic Igors, Max is wizened, bloated, and pasty-white, and looks less like a mad doctor's henchman and more like Poppin Fresh playing the Jack Nicholson part in Ironweed.
Bruce and Marilyn walk Casey to the door, where their guest is nearly decapitated by the Bib Overalls guy, who is standing on the porch, taking vicious cuts at the air with an axe because he doesn’t feel fresh. But the Derns forgive this behavior because Bib got brain damage from a mine cave-in, and now they love him like their own huge, dangerous, axe-abusing son. (Bib has a father of his own -- Bruce's groundskeeper -- but since Dad looks like the week-old corpse of Percy Kilbride after it’s been picked clean by turkey vultures, he’s probably not going to make it to the end credits.)
But despite all the love, there’s a spiritual sickness afflicting the Dern Estate, and its inhabitants are breaking the Tenth Commandment right and left: Bib covets Marilyn’s booty, while Max covets Bib’s body. Only Bruce is pure in purpose, dedicating himself to the quest for knowledge. When his taped-together mass monkey dies, he performs an autopsy, and thoughtfully concludes, “If this little fellow were healthy, he’d still be alive.”
The Dern’s marriage is hanging by a thread. Marilyn takes a bath with so much thick, concealing foam she looks like Mr. Bubble, then wraps herself in a towel the size of the tarp they stretch over baseball infields during rain delays, and puts on a drab housedress, and yet nothing seems to entice him! Finally she demands satisfaction, and Bruce promises that if she'll just let him go on duct-taping primates together, he’ll take her away from all this.
Marilyn is unconvinced. "You said that before," she pouts.
“But you know what happened before,” Bruce smoothly explains. “I didn’t mean it…And now I mean it.”
Oh, well that changes everything.
Cut to Porn Stache in the mental institution, choking an orderly to death for wearing the same facial hair. He escapes, while Casey -- a World Famous Surgeon, remember -- picks up some extra scratch reading the news and weather on the local radio station, and reports the escape as it's happening, even though nobody saw it but us, and we weren't paying attention.
Porn Stache shows up at the Dern estate while Bib is out frolicking in the meadow again, and kills Bib’s cadaverous Dad with the old hoe-to-the-head gambit. Then he knocks out Bruce with one punch and elaborately hogties him while Marilyn just sort of stands there like she’s waiting for a bus. Or her check. Eventually her bored, lifeless stare gives the psycho killer the willies, and he abducts her just to have something to do with his hands. They drive off to the accompaniment of a weirdly staccato flute solo that sounds like Ian Anderson suffering a coughing spasm in the middle of “Bungle in the Jungle.”
Bruce and Max give chase, helped along by Casey’s barely disguised voice on the radio, which basically says, “Boy if I were looking for a serial killer who just kidnapped my wife, I’d go to that cabin where he covered people in ketchup two years ago.” Meanwhile, at Catsup Cabin, Porn Stache wants to menace Marilyn but he doesn’t have a knife, so he breaks a gallon milk bottle and threatens her with that, which I’ve never seen before, but I suppose he probably read about it on some serial killer lifehack site.
Fortunately, Marilyn is able to get to her can of spinach. "The Sailor's Hornpipe" starts playing and she catapults Porn Stache off her, then sprints out to the road, where she flags down her husband who just happens to be driving by. Bruce and Max hop out; Bruce hugs Marilyn and utters some unintelligible, Olive Oyl-like endearments while Max shoots Porn Stache in the kidney. Then everyone piles back into the family car (including the hemorrhaging, morally wounded serial killer) and drives home, where they find Bib weeping over his dead Dad. Bruce puts Marilyn to bed and tenderly shoots her up with her a sedative, and as she slips into unconsciousness she implores Bruce to “help” Bib, which he interprets to mean, “chloroform,” then “sew a maniac’s head to his shoulder.”
Six days go by. Bib and Porn Stache, now fused into the hybrid being Bib-Stache, wake up in the middle of the night, none the worse for sharing a neck, although curiously, neither one needs a shave. (Which is a shame, because I hoped they’d balance out their look with matching Tom Selleck-style lip topiaries.)
Cut to Marilyn, who sneaks into the lab to see what all the transplanting is about, and is immediately menaced by Bib-Stache. Max comes to her aid and is instantly coldcocked, then Bruce arrives to throw what we assume is acid in his creation’s faces, but which turns out to be barely astringent. Bib-Stache staggers out into the night and Bruce awakens Marilyn from her swoon (the filmmakers couldn’t figure out how to fake ammonia capsules, but that’s okay, because apparently you can revive fainting victims by making them smell a wadded up Kleenex).
Bib-Stache splashes a little water in his faces, and feels good enough to visit the local Lover’s Lane, where he yanks a young couple through their convertible top and strangles them as Stache laughs hysterically and Bib weeps pitifully, so it’s kind of like watching Jimmy Swaggart masturbate. (I feel a little bad about the girl dying, but her boyfriend had it coming, if only for his odd decision to mix Hitler’s haircut with Elvis’s sideburns from the 1968 Comeback Special.)
Max ties up and gags Marilyn while Bruce lies to the Sheriff about all the people who’ve suddenly gone missing. Unfortunately, the instant the cops leave, Casey arrives; he's on vacation from the hospital, and apparently got someone to cover his shift at the radio station. So Bruce shoots up Marilyn again, then goes and lies to Casey about how he’s got no time to visit because he’s in the middle of a very important duct-taped ape experiment, and he certainly isn’t keeping his wife bound, gagged, and in a medically induced coma.
The next day, a ravenous Bib-Stache goes out in search of food (since he’s eating for 1 and 1/16th now), but he gets distracted and kills three skeezy bikers. Casey is on his way out of town when he hears about the two-headed monstrosity that killed a couple in Lovers Lane, and immediately goes to the Sheriff to rat out his best friend for building two-headed monstrosities. But the Sheriff doesn’t have time for all that now, because a two-headed monstrosity just killed some skeezy bikers, and he selects Casey to act as today’s medical examiner, in much the same way contestants are chosen on The Price Is Right. After Casey sees the brutal way Bruce’s creation slaughtered three people, he decides against exposing him, because despite it all Bruce is his friend, and Casey might need help moving some day.
Casey races back to the Dern Estate, just as Marilyn wakes from her nod (considering how often she’s been shot up lately, she’s probably going through heroin withdrawal by now). Casey unties her, just in time for a gun-toting Bruce to return and lock her in a rabbit hutch. But when Bruce finds out his creation has been on a killing spree, he agrees to go with Casey to the Sheriff. Curiously, neither of them thinks to let Marilyn out of the hutch.
As soon as they leave the lab, Bib-Stache staggers into it (just in case you ever wondered what a door-slamming Feydeau farce would look like if it starred Junior Samples as a two-headed tampon spokesmodel). Marilyn immediately faints and Bib-Stache kidnaps her, because go with your strength, but with only her wits to rely on, the plucky, if unconscious Marilyn strikes back by dropping a trail of shoes behind her like breadcrumbs.
Marilyn wakes up in the mine where Bib got his brain damage. This is the fifth or sixth time she’s regained consciousness in this movie, and by this point she can snap it on or off like a Clapper. Bruce, Casey, and Max surprise Bib-Stache, then politely queue up to shoot him with a rifle, throw a net over him, and stab him in the neck with a hypodermic. But it’s the end of the movie, so our monster and monster-makers have to die; Casey drags Marilyn out of the mine while Max dies ignominiously and Bruce dies semi-heroically, blasting away at his creation with a shotgun as an off-camera stagehand drizzles sawdust on his head to simulate a cave-in.
Casey and Marilyn decide they can best honor Bruce's memory by lying to the cops and blaming all the deaths on the grieving, mentally challenged man Bruce mutilated in his lab. And as for that two-headed monstrosity? “You know,” Casey tells a deputy, “Sometimes too much imagination can…can destroy a man.” An admonition the screenwriters obviously took to heart (at press time they’re both still alive).
We now close with the tender love theme from The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant (“Too many times the thunder caused the raiiiiiiin…!”) Go home, honey, you're drunk. Karaoke's over.
Oh, and there’s a lingering, superimposed shot of a toy robot, but if that’s supposed to mean something, I missed it.
Oh, and there’s a lingering, superimposed shot of a toy robot, but if that’s supposed to mean something, I missed it.
Please join me in wishing M. Bouffant a very -- as the song says -- Happy Birthday! And as the other song says, It's incredible that we can simply open wide. And while you're thinking about that:
Sexy Birthday Lizards doin' their sexy, sexy thang.
(Today's SBL is an original, courtesy of Theresa DiMenno Photography, h/t to Preznit.)