Most underground movie mavens know what a head film is. Late-'60s, artsy, laced with psychedelia.

Wrong, in this case. A favorite sub- sub-genre of fright-film fans is a different type of head film. Human heads. Disembodied, transplanted or just plain brainless. Bargain-basement filmmakers have been lopping off noggins for years in hopes that the gruesome spectacle of one man's (or women's) head studiously stitched onto the body of another would prove to be an irresistible box office lure.

The Man Without a Body was a 1957 release, lensed in England by the prolific skinflint, W. Lee Wilder. As Wilder's brother, Billy, churned out mainstream Oscar coppers like Some Like it Hot and The Apartment, W. Lee targeted the drive-in crowd. Titles, like Killers From Space and Snow Creature, delighted 1950s monster lovers. Maybe these flicks weren't as intrinsically valuable as brother Billy's, but who's to say which brother's films delivered more enjoyment to their respective audiences.

The film in question chronicles millionaire George (Citizen Kane) Coulouris, here about as far removed from the Mercury Theater as surely he had ever imagined, and his attempts to graft the revived head of Nostradamus onto his own ailing frame.

The tomb of the French prognosticator proves surprisingly easy to rifle, and in no time at all, the head is giving Coulouris invaluable advice concerning his stock portfolio. Fortunately, scientist Robert (Slime People) Hutton is on hand to staunch the tide of terror that predictably ensues.

In the unimpeachable opinion of the B Monster, one film stands headless and shoulders above the many others populating this gory field; The Thing That Couldn't Die is among the finest head film offerings of the 50s. Robin Hughes stars as the cretinous cranium, back after a 400-year snooze to reclaim his separately interred carcass. As colonial-era Satanist Gideon Drew, he was put to death by no less than famed explorer Sir Francis Drake.

The chest containing his cabeza is unearthed on the site of a 20th century ranch. Soon after a slow-witted ranch hand pops open the trunk, against orders, Gideon sets about putting every hombre in the bunk house under his spell.

All-purpose "B" lead William Reynolds is on hand as the nominal hero of the piece. Reynolds had appeared the previous year in producer William Alland's The Land Unknown alongside Jock Mahoney and a herd of rubber lizards.

Undone in part by an unnecessarily soapy subplot and cheap sets that undermine the sense of omnipresent evil the script would have us buy into, Thing does contain at least two memorable images that help account for the fact that many long-ago viewers can recall the film, if not its title.

The spectacle of Gideon's severed head appearing suddenly at an open window, accompanied by shock music left over from Creature From The Black Lagoon, is certainly good for a chill or two, as is the slow-motion witch trial that appears to our clairvoyant heroine as she wanders the woods. These sequences stand out amid Will Cowan's otherwise workmanlike direction.

The severed-head sub-genre is not exactly crowded with unheralded filmic gems, but any accounting of the topic would be invalid without mentioning the following, decidedly lurid drive-in shockers:

The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1959)
Cold fish Herb Evers stars as a maverick scientist bent on head transplantation. Surviving an auto crash that decapitates his girlfriend, he reanimates her head in his spook house laboratory, and sets about stalking the strip clubs in search of a fine frame to paste it on. Barely coherent enough to qualify as lurid.

Acting: D
Atmosphere: D-
Fun: B-

They Saved Hitler's Brain (1963)
Big chunks of a previously-filmed potboiler called Madmen of Mandoras comprise much of this patchwork schlocker. Der Fuhrer's noggin is lugged around in a bell jar by zealous Nazis (are there any other kind?) hoping to resuscitate the Reich.

Acting: D
Atmosphere: C-
Fun: C+

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The Horrible Dr. Hichcock

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