M: The Man With Two Heads (1972)

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the-man-with-two-heads-movie-poster-1972-1020688733In the annals of exploitation film rarely has there ever been such an obvious, and hence delightful, cheat. It is now widely known that, despite the cartoon in the corner of the poster, there is actually no man with two heads in this movie. It is instead an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde directed by Andy Milligan, and producer William Mishkin (perhaps the great villain in Milligan’s career) re-titled it to piggyback on a movie that had an actual advertising budget, AIP’s The Thing With Two Heads.

The movie is going to establish its dubious bona fides right off the top when it misspells the author’s name as Stephenson. You know the story by now; Dr. Jekyll is a kind, decent man who is seeking to isolate the source of evil in man and purge it from the world. He has managed to develop a formula that makes the evil section of the brain glow green, but he has run out of animals to experiment upon, so he injects himself with the essence of evil, not realizing his assistant bungled the formula for the antidote.

These are Milligan’s major changes in the story: Jekyll’s version of Ygor, the addition of Jekyll’s medical students to abuse as the formula starts kicking in at inopportune times, and the fact that Mr. Hyde has been rechristened Danny Blood (probably for what Milligan thought would be a very commercial title, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Blood, not reckoning on the unvarnished hucksterism that would devise The Man With Two Heads). The rest of the story is too simple and well-told to change significantly.

This is one of three movies Milligan actually shot in England in ’71 (The Body Beneath and Bloodthirsty Butchers being the other two), and he had some unusually good luck with actors in these. Denis DeMarne is actually pretty damned good as Jekyll/Blood, Julia Stratton as the doomed prostitute April and Jacqueline Lawrence as Carla Jekyll are much better than they need to be, and Berwick Kaler as Ygor Jack is also a standout (He was in all three of the Brit Milligans, for obvious reasons). DeMarne and Kaler survived this and went on healthy careers.

"My makeup - I didn't go too heavy, did I?"

“My makeup – I didn’t go too heavy, did I?”

And therein lies a confusing thing for me: I can usually only make it through one Milligan movie a year – I need the detox time. But God help me if I didn’t find myself sort of liking this plucky off-model Jekyll and Hyde. There is actually a growing sense of competence in Milligan’s filmmaking. This is not a great movie in any sense of that word, But getting through it was not the endurance contest I usually feel with Milligan. The scenes between Blood and April are grueling, for the right reasons for once: the lines seem lifted from a particularly intense dominance & submission scene, and I would actually bet money that they were.

It’s still a Milligan movie, though. Lengthy, talky scenes that would be fine on a stage are done in one take, camera and actors apparently nailed to the floor. No boom mike, so dialogue in many scenes has all the reverb bouncing off the walls and ceiling (I can hear Mishkin saying “ADR? What’s that? Some new drug?”). When he does a close shot on a dialogue scene, you can hear the whirr of the camera motor bouncing off the actor’s faces. Milligan also likes to repeat himself a lot; too much padding is derived from one character telling another what happened in another scene.

"Argh! Those two caterpillars - they're back on my forehead!"

“Argh! Those two caterpillars – they’re back on my forehead!”

It is a fun game to play when looking at Milligan’s period costumes: “Tablecloth or Upholstery?” Carla Jekyll appears to be wearing Carol Burnett’s dress from her Gone With the Wind sketch, and April appears at one point in a bizarrely medieval gown that must have been left over from Torture Dungeon. Whenever we have one of Milligan’s trademark gore scenes, you can count on the scene ending by having the camera spin around in a circle.

Still. This is a damned period piece shot on a budget of $20,000. Milligan’s theatrical background allowed him to cut corners on things like costuming (he reportedly made a lot of the costumes himself). It’s those same hidebound theatrical sensibilities that often sabotage him, though.

The scariest thing about this is now I’m actually looking forward to watching another Milligan movie. What the hell.

I watched the CodeRed blu-ray which was quite good; though I can’t find a trailer on YouTube, here is a crap quality clip of DeMarne, some unfortunate eyebrow makeup, and, for some reason, a fog machine:

1 Comment

  1. […] Checkpoint Telstar — Macabre Micro-Brewed Reviews — The Mysterious Monsters The Terrible Claw Reviews — The Monster of Piedras Blancas Yes I Know —The Man With Two Heads […]

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