Movie Reviews 376 – The Head (1959)

Let me start by declaring that when it comes to disembodied noggin films The Brain That Wouldn’t Die stands head over heels (pun intended) above all the rest. That said, the German production of The Head (Der Kopf?) comes in at pretty close second. But with a number of similarities between the two I have an inkling that those were not mere coincidences and that those who made the so called undying brain probably pilfered a few ideas from this Deutsch predecessor.

This is your standard Mad Scientist tale, in this case said scientist being Doctor Ood (Horst Frank) who arrives at a medical facility late one night at the request of Professor Abel (Michel Simon) who has developed Serum Z, a formula that he has used to keep animal tissue alive. Abel has summoned Ood to help him perform a transplant operation on his own weak heart, and when a sickly vagrant with a terminal diagnosis is obtained from the local hospital Ood begins the operation. The procedure is a failure but Ood takes advantage to simply salvage Abel’s head, keeping it alive on a rolling cart using serum Z. Much to Abel’s horror when he wakes up and sees his bodiless head in a mirror, Ood scoffs at Abel’s pleas to kill him.

But Ood does not stop there. When he meets a hunchbacked nurse who was hoping to undergo an operation at Abel’s facilities to ease her affliction, Ood woos lures an old Fräulein acquaintance now working as a burlesque dancer and achieves his ultimate goal: a full head transplant! But Irene is suspicious of the miraculous changes to her body and when a particular beauty mark is noticed by one of the dancer’s former suitors they begin to ‘piece’ together the true nature of her operation.

The burlesque showgirl body donor, the fact that she is modeling for artist on the side, the dive jazz joint, the mad scientist, the senior moral doctor rejecting any notion of unethical transplants and a finale that culminates with a fire that conveniently reduces the evidence (not to mention the head) to ashes are all shared between Die Nackte und der Satan (the catchy original German title of The Head) and The Brain That Wouldn’t Die released three years later. Similarities too numerous to ignore. But unlike its superior copycat, The Head was not as widely distributed and something of a treasure to enjoy despite the sense of déjà vu.

My Alpha Video DVD specifically proclaimed that it contained a ‘remastered’ version but ‘remastered’ must mean something else in German since my video was grainy, had plenty of vertical line abrasions, was splotchy at some points and clearly missing some footage as scenes end abruptly mid-action. But that is not to say that it made this unwatchable. It would take a lot more than that for me to pass up a movie like this.

Auf wiedersehen!


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