Monday, May 25, 2015

Happy Birthday, Hank! I Got You The Thing With Two Heads!

Okay, the title kind of spoiled the surprise, but today is the birthday of Wo'C contributor Hank Parmer, the artist formerly known as grouchmarxist.  Hank joined the gang here in 2013 -- I believe the gateway drug which seduced him into a life of bad movies and cat-blogging, and inspired his first comment, was this post about the 1961 Maciste film, Mole Men Against the Son of Hercules -- and within a year he was a World O' Crap Special Correspondent, bringing an encyclopedic knowledge of film, ninjas, and ninjas-on-film, as well as an eye for a wry quip to his studies of horrible movies, both low budget (Night FeedersCurse of the VoodooBrides of Blood) and high (The Haunting remake), not to mention his take on the holiday classic, A Country Christmas, starring half of the country music duo Brooks & Dunn (the back half, I think).

Of course, he's also known around these parts as an eloquent memoirist, writing poetic, evocative tales of youthful adventure that always seem to involve boating and the involuntary immersion of a domestic animal (The Unexpected Bass Meets the Cat with No Name, and A Doofus Dog's Amazing Adventure); but when I went shopping this year I decided only a movie-related gift would do. But which one?

Well, since Hank wrote what I consider to be the definitive takedown of 1972's Frogs, in which Ray Milland plays a loathsome, wheelchair-bound millionaire, I decided to complete the set and review the other movie Ray Milland made in 1972 in which he played a loathsome, wheelchair-bound millionaire, The Thing With Two Heads.

The Thing With Two Heads (1972)
Directed by Lee Frost
Written by Lee Frost & Wes Bishop and James Gordon White

Meet Ray Milland, a cranky millionaire. He’s confined to a wheelchair, and is presumably cranky because he lives in the single most handicapped-inaccessible mansion on the planet. Just to get in the front door he's got to be manhandled up the stoop by his chauffeur and his wizened houseboy; the foyer offers a wide array of staircases going up or down, and his hideous experiments are rather inconveniently located at the bottom of a rickety flight of basement steps. I don’t like to tell people their business, but if I were a mad scientist with limited mobility I’d buy a rambler in the suburbs and pursue my evil plans while puttering around on a Rascal.

Anyway, like a lot of geezers with too much time on their hands, Ray has a hobby, and down in the basement, next to the foosball table, he’s got one of those Black and Decker workbenches with the special monkey head-grafting attachment. And as unsanctioned transplant experiments go, he's pretty good, since he’s managed to sew a Don Post ape mask onto the shoulder of a Rick Baker gorilla suit, while Rick Baker is still inside it. (As a haunting, horrific image, it’s kind of weak, but as far as pranks go, it’s funnier than anything they ever pulled on TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes.)

By day Ray runs a transplant clinic on Sunset Boulevard where the wealthy come for kidney upgrades. But since he’s confined to a wheelchair, the operations are actually performed by that guy. You know who I mean – he was in that one episode of Star Trek where they accidentally go back in time to 1967? No, not the one with Terri Garr and the guy with the cat, the other one; he played the Air Force pilot. That guy. Except here he’s sporting a poufy, yet contour bouffant which makes me suspect that before California passed a motorcycle helmet law in the 80s, they passed a hair helmet law in the 70s. Anyway: That Guy.

Back in Ray’s basement, the Houseboy attempts to jab a hypodermic needle in the two-headed gorilla’s ass, presumably so Ray can graft two or three more butt cheeks onto him. But the ape escapes, runs outside, and promptly goes on the Parade of Homes! Then he takes a break to lope around the aisles of a corner market and shop for Foster Grants and Screaming Yellow Zonkers.

Now things take a wacky turn as Houseboy bursts into the market with a tranquilizer rifle, but doesn't shoot because the gorilla’s dual heads are performing synchronized banana eating and it’s just so cute.

Now things take a socially relevant turn as Ray greets his new surgeon at the transplant clinic, but discovers that the producers have secretly switched his regular white doctor with the black guy from Land of the Giants. Let’s watch…

Well, in addition to his skills as an ape head multiplier, it turns out that Ray is also no slouch in the racist dickhead department. Dr. That Guy doesn’t stand up to Milland, but you can tell he’s disappointed because his pneumatic hair helmet loses an alarming amount of p.s.i.

Later, before he even gets a chance to pump it back up again, he gets called out to Ray’s M.C. Escher mansion of endless staircases and shown the hydra ape. Ray explains that he’s got three weeks to live, but he’s such an accomplished surgeon, such a brilliant researcher, and such a tireless racist, that his brain must live. Dr. That Guy agrees to find a donor body, and we cut to the Transplant Clinic, where a phone bank of sexy nurses are cold-calling cadavers.

Sadly, there are no takers (hopefully the nurses get a base salary and aren’t just working on commission). Cut to Death Row, where Rosie Greer is about to die in the electric chair. The executioner, a groovy black dude with a Super Fly mustache, murmurs to Rosie, “More power to you,” as he saunters over to the switch, while Rosie gazes off with an look that seems to say, “What an incredibly insensitive thing to say to someone who’s about to be electrocuted.”

But Rosie claims he’s innocent, and his girlfriend is close to proving it, so he tells the warden (who eerily resembles a live action version of that mascot from Monopoly) that he’d like to donate his body to science. Cut to Ray’s non-OSHA compliant mansion, where Dr. That Guy takes delivery of the huge Negro that will serve as his bigot boss’s host body, and tries really super hard not to laugh.

They scrub the basement with germicidal solution and shave Rosie’s back, and we’re off to make fake medical history! The surgery scene is surprisingly good, with articulated prop heads that look quite realistic – the mouths move faintly, the eyes flutter – including the hair, which looks considerably more real than Ray’s toupee.

Ray wakes up and is displeased to find himself sharing a body with a soul brother (“Is this some kind of a joke?”), while Rosie is unhappy to find himself sharing a liver with the guy from Lost Weekend. They get in a argument, and naturally the authorities chloroform the black guy.

The movie tries to come up with authentic medical dilemmas to overcome (the immunosuppressive drugs given to the patients to combat tissue rejection allow for opportunistic viral infections like pneumonia) and it all sounds quite genuine, except when it leads Dr. That Guy to say things like, “Cut down the sedative dosage to the black head,” which makes it seem like the worst post-operative problem they’re dealing with is acne.

Disaster strikes when Rosie is awakened by Ray’s snoring head, and foils the nurse’s efforts to sedate him, jabbing her with the needle instead, because the masterminds who successfully transplanted a human head couldn’t figure out how restraints worked. Anyway, Rosie staggers to his feet, while Ray’s head continues snoring. (You know what? Forget everything I’ve said up till now. Unlike it’s sister film, The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant, this movie is actually funny on purpose.)

Rosie gets dressed (his clothes, including his dress shirt and sport coat, still fit sharply, even though he’s got an extra neck, so here’s a tip: shop at the Big & Tall Store if you suspect you might ever be the victim of a non-consensual head transplant), knocks out a cop and steals his gun. He flees, taking the Black Doctor from Land of the Giants along to serve as his hostage/chauffeur.

Hey, remember, back around a paragraph or so, when I said I kind of liked this film? Well, then there was a 20-minute chase scene, including stock footage of some motocross event somewhere, so now I hate it again.

Wait…No…A biker sees two black guys in suits running in his general direction and panics, abandoning his motorcycle and sprinting away on foot, which isn’t how the Hells Angels I knew as a kid would have reacted (I had rather a picaresque upbringing). Then Rosie Greer, Black Doctor, and Wigstand Milland climb onto the abandoned dirt bike and start competing in the race, so now I sort of love it again. God, I’m fickle.

Despite the fact that their motorcycle is being ridden by two and a half men, the fugitives win the race, but due to the police cars in hot pursuit, they don’t stop to pick up their loving cup and giant check.

Our gang putters over the crest of a hill, followed by ten police cars. Things look bad, but fortunately, police cars are like lemmings, and are compelled by their mysterious nature to run over the edge of cliffs. So that thins the first responders a bit. By the end of this sequence, the overloaded motorcycle with the two recovering surgery patients is fine, but the entire Bakersfield police force looks like those Smash Up Derby cars by Kenner.

The fugitives reach the house of Rosie’s girlfriend, who’s astonished but philosophical, gazing at the old white head stitched to his shoulder and marveling, “You get into more shit…”

Rosie takes a nap, and Wigstand takes the opportunity to seize control of their body by slowly and excruciatingly doing that “here’s the church, here’s the steeple” thing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last, and he can’t even summon the power to prevent Rosie from feeding them collard greens. (“What’s for dessert?” the racist carbuncle sneers, “Watermelon?” Unsurprisingly, everybody agrees they should cut Ray off and pretend he was just a melanoma, or an oddly placed foreskin.

Rosie and Black Doctor break into a medical supply warehouse to steal drugs for the surgery, but Wigstand seizes control again. He coldcocks the Land of the Giants guy, then punches Rosie in the face and knocks him out too, then decides to go home and amputate Rosie’s head himself.

Black Doctor and Girlfriend arrive at Milland Manor just in time to stop Ray from cutting off one of his two available heads, then Black Doctor calls Dr. That Guy and tells him to hurry over to Ray’s house if he wants to catch the Night Gallery-style twist ending. That Guy arrives to find Ray’s severed head lying on a tray, feebly demanding someone go out and get him another body just in case anybody’s interested in a sequel. Meanwhile, the black people drive away, accompanied by the toe-tappin’ gospel hymn, “Oh Happy Day.”

The end.

Well...!  Race relations have certainly changed a lot since 1972, but in some ways they’ve remained eerily the same. For instance, while I doubt today’s racists would appreciate the black characters getting a happy ending, I suspect they identify with their plight; except in this case, Rush Limbaugh is the Rosie Greer character, while Obama is the parasitic black head on his shoulder, trying to take control of white America, or at least moderate its intake of oxycontin, because unlike Rush, Obama has shit to do and can’t spend all day amped up and babbling nonsense.

So there’s your choice, America: black head or crack head.

Anyway, please join me in wishing a very happy birthday to Hank, and many happy returns (to the front page of Wo'C, with whatever he choses to write about next). And just to put the official stamp on it...
Sexy Birthday Lizard!


maryclev said...

That's not just any sexy birthday lizard! That's a TWO HEADED Sexy Birthday Lizard (if you count the butterfly's head, which I do.)

Happy Happy Birthday Birthday, Hank Hank!

Bill S said...

Have a Super-Spectacular birthday, Hank!

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

but if I were a mad scientist with limited mobility I’d buy a rambler in the suburbs and pursue my evil plans while puttering around on a Rascal.


Happy B-Day, Hank!

Doc Logan said...

Happy birthday, Hank!

grouchomarxist said...

Thanks, everybody. Especially our host, for this fine tribute but most of all for giving me the opportunity to work out some angst on such nice slow-moving targets, big and small, and share a couple of my favorite stories. You guys are the best!

I guess it must have been too much birthday cheer -- or yet another sign of incipient senility -- but that two-headed angle on my SBL went completely over my head. Hee. Now that's a Sexy (Birthday Lizard) double entendre.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday, grouch/hank.
Thanks for the neato nostalgic-type stories and the excellent takedowns of movies I will never see. Invaluable advice !
Live long and prosper ! (I know that is no longer What The Kewl Kidz Say but I am grown old in the service of movies).
Groovy Birthday to you.

Li'l Innocent said...

Well, I've never seen this movie (the 70s - there was nothing like 'em) but that was one fine narration, Scott, and worthy birthday present for grouchomarxist indeed! At the time I remember thinking, "Oh,Ray,how sad - are you THAT hard up??" But now I can envision him reading the script, giving a mordant Millandish chuckle, and calling his agent right away.

Birthday Lizard and Pal are charming. Srsly, I wonder if the lizard is a chameleon and changing its color scheme to match the butterfly. Wouldn't that be cool!
Happy Birthday, Hank! and many of them.

Scott said...

Thanks, Li'l. And according to the metadata on the lizard photo, it is indeed a chameleon, and I like to imagine there's a whole flock of various butterfly species -- Monarchs and Tiger Moths, Painted Ladys and American Snouts -- hovering just off camera and taking turns landing on the lizard's head just to fuck with him.