(1959) Horst Frank, Michel Simon, Paul Dahlke. A must-see film! A serum that keeps severed portions of the human body alive is used by a mand doctor on its own inventors decapitated head. This guy is really loony tunes (his girl friend's a knockout!). Chilling and atmospheric. A very gothic sci-fi horror film. 35mm.
Before the 1962 movie, "The Brain That Wouldn't Die" was a gem from 1959 that contains similarities with the later movie. Perhaps the biggest difference is that "The Head" takes itself very seriously and contains an atmosphere that is strongly reminiscent of "Frankenstein." In addition, "The Brain That Wouldn't Die" contained a number of scenes that were sleazy, and this movie has some sexuality, but that is only peripherally an aspect of this movie.
Irene Sanders, played by Karin Kernke in the first of her 25 roles, has a serious hunchback problem. She goes to Dr. Abel (the late Michael Simon, who had a lengthy acting career extending from the 1930's to the 1970's), who is quite nice and wants to be helpful. Dr. Walter Burke is Dr. Abel's assistant and Sanders' cousin. Dr. Ood (sinister name alert, played by the late Horst Frank) spies upon Sanders. Ood apparently loves Sanders' face, but is not so crazy about her hunched body.
Dr. Abel has one small problem; his heart is failing and he needs a transplant. Dr. Abel and his assistants have a donor, and the operation proceeds, but the donor, as we learn later, died. Quick-thinking Dr. Ood uses Dr. Abel's Serum Z and saves Dr. Abel's head, alive. Dr. Abel does not want to be a head and begs for death from Dr. Ood, but Dr. Ood insists that Dr. Abel's head remain alive, mostly because Dr. Ood is unable to find the formula for Serum Z.
All these shenanigans are too much for Dr. Walter Burke, Dr. Abel's first assistant, and Dr. Ood removes Dr. Burke from the picture, permanently. Dr. Ood reports Dr. Burke missing to the police, who coincidentally found Dr. Abel's headless body in a lake, where Dr. Ood placed it.
Irene Sanders returns to Dr. Abel's office where Dr. Ood says that Dr. Abel has received a letter from her cousin (liar!). Ood also says that Dr. Abel wants the operation performed right away. When Sanders asks to speak to Abel, Ood calls him on an intercom. Dr. Abel tells Sanders he wants the operation performed right away.
We next focus on dancer Stella, aka Lilly (the late Christiane Maybach), who Ood knows from her former life, where she poisoned her husband. Ood loves her body, but not her. What is a mad scientist going to do? Ood plays mix and match with bodies and connects Stella's body with Sanders' head. When Sanders' wakes up, Ood tries to convince her that he operated on her and repaired many things with her body, but strange things suggest to Sanders that she is in a different body. Dr. Ood also does a fair amount of leering at Irene with her new body.
Irene's suspicions continue to grow as she asks questions and finds issues with her body. Of course, anyone hearing her story would think she is crazy. Dr. Abel is a head, but misses his body. There are bodies showing up all over the place. Irene is stunned that she is a mix and match of head and body. Just how is this story going to come to a resolution?
The only issue I have with this film is that the original dialogue was in German, so the film was dubbed, and, of course, the dubbing shows. However, there came a point where I was more interested in the story than watching mouths move, and synchronization issues no longer bothered me.
This movie provides a good combination of elements and resists the temptation to fall too far into either camp or sleaze, both failings of "The Brain That Wouldn't Die." Dr. Ood is wonderfully sinister in a psychopathic way. The special effects are kept to a minimum and effectively used, so the laboratory and Dr. Abel's head look quite realistic and appropriate for the era. The black and white picture is slightly degraded, but somehow the slight fuzziness of the picture and the small damage to the film adds to the atmosphere of the film. This movie is a marvelous science fiction film that some might consider a classic, if it was better known.