The Head (1959)

a.k.a Die Nackte und der Satan
Horst Frank gets a rare starring role in this unoriginal but enjoyable German surgical horror. US Alpha R0 DVD.

The Film

The 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 nightclub stripper...

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).

German 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.

In brief:

Anyone famous in it? Horst Frank - a German character actor, best known for his Spaghetti Western villain roles.
Directed by anyone interesting? Victor Trivas - a rather mysterious character of unknown origins, who is best known for his Oscar nominated screenplay for Orson Welles's The Stranger (1946).
Any violence? Some deaths but nothing very violent.
Any sex? None.
Is it scary? Not really.
Who is it for?
Fans of 1950s B-movies should enjoy this, and recommended to anyone looking for a Horst Frank lead role.


Visuals 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 domain discs.
Audio English - acceptable if rather soft.
Subtitles None.
Region Region 0 - ALL, NTSC.
Other regions? None known.
Cuts? Cut status is unconfirmed. There are some moments where there appear to be cuts but this might just be print damage.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 4th August 2007.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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