Horst Frank gets a rare starring role in this unoriginal but enjoyable German surgical horror. US Alpha R0 DVD.
mysterious Dr. Ood (Horst Frank) arrives at the laboratory of
Prof. Abel and Dr. Burke and volunteers to help him with his
experiments. The Professor is working on some dramatic experiments,
including keeping the detached head of a dog alive on an operating
table for several days, however he has a weak heart, and manages to
find a suitable donor who is on the point of death - but when the donor
dies before the operation can be completed, Dr. Burke wants to give up
- but Ood insists on continuing and kills Burke, however when the
operation goes awry, Prof. Abel finds himself on the same machine as
the dog's head. Wanting to continue his experiments further, Dr. Ood
contacts Irene Sanders - a hunchbacked woman who had been a patient of
Dr. Burke's - he plans to replace her body, with that of an attractive
The Head is part of a long heritage of surgical horror fiction, stemming originally from the classic Frankenstein
by Mary Shelley. Like many similar films during the 1950s, the
storyline here takes many of the main themes, with a mad scientist
aiming to push the boundaries of science and not beyond employing a few
unwilling volunteers to help him, but updates the story to the modern
day, with the emphasis here not on making life, but retaining it via
transplants (at the time, organ transplants were a major research
field, and the first sucessful heart transplant was 8 years away).
Rather slow paced throughout, the film does drag at times, but builds
to a good, if rather unsurprising climax.
Visually, the film
is much more akin to the 1930s poverty row horror and sci-fi films,
than its own contemporaries - it lacks a polished feel, and many key
scenes play out without a soundtrack backing. The soundtrack there is,
is a very interesting electrical score that adds a genuinely creepy
atmosphere to the whole film. Fortunately the special effects do look
good, the head-on-a-desk effect in particular is very impressive, while
the strikingly modern set design contrasts with the generally gothic
feel of the film, and brings to mind the classic Universal Horror The Black Cat
(1934) - the look of the film being one of the final projects of art
director Hermann Warm, best known for his work on the iconic silent
horror The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).
character actor Horst Frank gets one of his very few cinematic lead
roles here and sports a rather distinctive set of eye-brows, rather
limited by the script he still gives a strong performance and avoids
pushing his mad scientist routine into simple over-acting, making the
role almost believeable. The Head himself, Dr. Abel, is played by
French character actor Michel Simon (Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932))
who was more frequently a star of the arthouse, but after suffering
from partial paralysis in the 1950s, apparently took this role because
of its limited acting requirements. Although
obviously not endowed with a large budget, and hardly the most original
or well paced script, The Head remains enjoyable thanks to great
looking sets and soundtrack, and a superb lead performance from Horst
Frank. Fans of the lower budget 1950s sci-fi, and anyone looking for a
Horst Frank lead performance should enjoy this.
Anyone famous in it?
Horst Frank - a German character actor, best known for his Spaghetti Western villain roles.
Directed by anyone interesting?
Trivas - a rather mysterious character of unknown origins, who is best
known for his Oscar nominated screenplay for Orson Welles's The Stranger (1946).
Some deaths but nothing very violent.
Is it scary?
Who is it for?
Fans of 1950s B-movies should enjoy this, and recommended to anyone looking for a Horst Frank lead role.
Original Aspect Ratio - 1.33:1. Black and White. The
picture quality is relatively poor - looks like a VHS transfer and
there is also some light print damage, dropped frames and noticable
grain. Generally watchable though, and looks better than many public
English - acceptable if rather soft.
Region 0 - ALL, NTSC.
Cut status is unconfirmed. There are some moments where there appear to be cuts but this might just be print damage.
A great performance from Horst
Frank and some impressive set designs make this otherwise rather
unoriginal sci-fi production, enjoyable to watch. Partly recommended to
fans of 1950s sci-fi.
An acceptable looking print of the film for a budget DVD - the film is unlikely to ever receive a special edition treatment.