Monday, February 14, 2022

“There’s No Way We Can Get Some Vicious Animals to Work On?” - The Man with Two Heads (1972) - Film #223

What would classic cinema be without Mr. Andy Milligan? The question is rhetorical, of course, because the only answer is there would be no cinema without Mr. Andy Milligan. We have already discussed several of Mr. Milligan's films: Torture Dungeon (1970), The Body Beneath (1970),  Blood (1973), and Monstrosity (1987). Now it is time to consider one of Mr. Milligan's treatments of the literary classic The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Released in 1972, Mr. Milligan's version of the strange tale about Henry (here William) Jekyll and his counterpart Edward (here Danny) Hyde was renamed The Man with 2 Heads in order to cash in on the big-budget Hollywood film The Thing with Two Heads (also 1972), starring Ray Milland and Rosey Grier.

Of course, as with any film by Mr. Milligan, your universe's critics are quick to show their lack of understanding and appreciation. For example, reviewer jrd_73 criticizes Mr. Milligan's entire body of work when they write, "Most of Andy Milligan's films are nearly unwatchable for anyone who demands a minimal level of quality. Static shots that run on forever, unconvincing (to say the least) period designs, and bad acting, that is what one gets with Andy Milligan." Reviewer leofwine_draca writes, "It's not a long film but the pacing drags out endlessly nonetheless." And reviewer Michael_Elliott also complains about the pacing (of an Andy Milligan film) when they write, "even at just 80 minutes the film drags and feels twice as long, which is what keeps it from being more entertaining."

Read on for the truth about The Man with Two Heads (1972)...(the truth being, in part, that there are no two-headed men in the film)...

The story begins with a prostitute walking down an alley behind a stuccoed apartment complex in 19th-century London. She finds a willing client, who pushes her against a wall. “Here, here, hold on. I don’t go for this rough stuff. Stop it, you hear?”

He pulls out a knife, stabs her, then runs away with her severed blonde head.

The next day, Dr. William Jekyll and his assistant Jack Smithers visit the local constabulary. As soon as they are introduced to Inspector Wolfe, he gushes about the eminent doctor: “I have for many years read your books on the criminal mind. I find your theories most exciting and revolutionary, especially the theory of separating that part of a man’s brain which deals with the evil in a man’s soul.”

Dr. Jekyll corrects the man, telling him he doesn’t believe in souls. “This thing called ‘soul,’ as you call it, is a figment of man’s imagination.” He adds that his disbelief in souls and an afterlife are shocking and offends many people. Then he explains that he wants to take the body of a murderer to his laboratory, having obtained a signed release from the killer’s wife.

The film cuts to Dr. Jekyll’s classroom, where he prepares to dissect the murderer’s brain in front of a class of middle-aged medical students. Before cutting into the brain, he tells his students, “I have found a way to isolate and therefore treat the evil in a living animal’s brain. I have been experimenting with everything from guinea pigs to larger animals such as horses and gorillas, and in every animal I gave my formula to the same results were evident: They all reacted in the very same way.” Of course, he hasn’t yet tried his formula on a human.

Before the operation can start, Dr. Jekyll is interrupted by his fiancée Mary Ann, who tries to get him to go to lunch with her and her parents. He refuses, and she reminds him their engagement party is tonight, which somehow leads to Jekyll complaining at length about Mary Ann’s father, who is the kind of doctor who blocks the research of young doctors who want to make medical advances such as developing formulas to treat evil in the human brain. Then a medical student interrupts the couple making out in the hallway.

The gruesome experiment ensues as the (gloveless and maskless, of course, accurate to the period) medical students saw off the top of the cadaver’s head.

Dr. Jekyll jams a hypodermic needle into a random part of the cadaver’s cortex while telling his students the formula works in a very short amount of time. “At any moment, the area of evil should begin to show up in a shade of green.” Immediately, a large swath of green appears on the outer surface of the brain. “Now, the darker the shade, the more the evil; the lighter the shade, the lesser. This man has an abnormal amount of evil in his brain.”

Fortunately for practical effects, the formula soon affects the patient’s skin as well, turning the evil person green.

A student named Murphy, in true Andy Milligan fashion, confronts Dr. Jekyll angrily, accusing him of learning nothing because he hasn’t tried the formula on living humans and also calling him insane. The student runs out, but only after telling the doctor eloquently, “You’re playing with things that are no concern of yours. They belong to one supreme being: God. And you’ve no right to tamper with nature as he gave it to us. God will punish you. You’ll see. I’m warning you!”

They continue the investigation of the cadaver through dissection, and due to their running out of time, Dr. Jekyll instructs them to amputate as quickly as they can, leading to five medical students chopping the body apart with hatchets and cleavers.

Later, Jekyll and his assistant Jack finally discover the secret chemical that removes evil from the human brain. Unfortunately, Jack immediately drops the vial of the only existing fluid. Angry, Dr. Jekyll tries to clean up the mess, but he cuts himself on broken glass, and then he is forced to dress for dinner with Mary Ann and her family. Then, perhaps predictably, the clumsy Jack spills water on Dr. Jekyll’s notes for reproducing the formula. He copies the notes to a new sheet of paper—but he gets the formula wrong, something Dr. Jekyll never notices. When Jekyll returns to his lab, he starts synthesizing the formula, but he is interrupted again and forced to go to dinner, leaving the formula in his lab.

The engagement dinner consists mainly of an argument between Jekyll and his brother-in-law-to-be Oliver against Mary Ann’s father, the dowdy traditionalist. Andy Milligan, in what must be a comedic touch, films this confrontation at a dinner table dominated by a massive jungle of a flower arrangement, which forces the filmmakers to move the camera back and forth simply to see the actors’ faces. In the end, Dr. Jekyll is forced to stand up (partly due to anger and partly due to the obstructive flower arrangement) and confront his future father-in-law.

The next day, Jekyll and Jack sit in the lab pouring chemicals from one test tube to another. Jekyll complains about the lateness of a shipment of test subjects. “Are you positive that there’s no way we can get some vicious animals to work on?”

Jekyll dismisses Jack, who nearly tells him about his troubles transcribing the formula but who decides to say nothing. Alone and frustrated about the lack of vicious animals, Jekyll makes up a beaker of the formula and, instead of injecting it for some reason, drinks it down. There follows one of the classic transformation sequences in horror cinema as Jekyll mutates in a series of cuts (not to mention a fog bank inside the laboratory) into Mr. Hyde.

Hyde finds a cape and top hat and leaves to go to a tavern that is hosting a sing-along led by a blonde prostitute. Before she can go off with a patron, Hyde grabs her and tempts her with cash (in another touch of historical accuracy, the bills are folded into triangle shapes). Hyde tells her to call him Danny, and then lectures her about de Sade. “He likes to do things to people sexually,” he growls. “There you go talking dirty,” the prostitute replies.

After the prostitute’s original client interrupts them, Hyde beats the man gleefully with his cane and then takes the prostitute to her flat. In an extremely long and disturbing scene, he beats her and insults her, calling her a slut and scum who should not be allowed to walk the earth. “You’re the defecation of the slums of London,” he adds in another eloquent Andy Milligan touch. Then he treats her like a dog and tortures her with a cigar.

Finally, Hyde leaves, only to murder another prostitute on the street before Jekyll wakes up at home, where his sister Carla berates him about his ripped clothing and his anger before telling Jekyll that she and Mary Ann’s brother Oliver are to be married.

In his class, Jekyll lectures his students about the necessity of eliminating evil because a prostitute was killed last night by someone with medical knowledge and her intestines were strung around her body “like ornaments.” During the lecture, Jekyll’s Hyde persona interjects, “What makes you think you’re a lady?” Jekyll runs out of class and splashes water onto his face. Finally, Jack admits he transcribed the formula incorrectly, and Jekyll tells Jack everything about his situation. “I became a different being. A being possessed with evil. I don’t remember anything until I woke up this morning in the laboratory.”

Jekyll returns to class and starts berating both Jack and his students as the Hyde personality comes to the forefront again. Then he collapses and blacks out.

Later, Jack tells Carla everything that happened, and Carla confronts Jekyll to try to get him to see Mary Ann’s father for help. He promises not to take more of the formula, but then immediately goes to his lab and drinks a bottle of liquid. As Hyde, he visits Jack (who sleeps completely nude) and strangles him, forcing Jack to drop a lamp and setting his flat on fire.

Hyde finds the prostitute he terrorized previously and proceeds to terrorize her again. He whips her and then strangles her, and then the scene transitions to an S&M club where various people partake in torture and laughter.

The next day, Jekyll forgets about his time as Hyde. After class, the only female medical student, Victoria, kisses Dr. Jekyll, which forces Hyde to take over again for a time, though the end result is Victoria leaving and Jekyll going to his room for a rest (incidentally, like Jack, the doctor sleeps completely nude).

Events come to a head (perhaps even two heads) when Hyde’s prostitute comes to Dr. Jekyll’s house for help because she found one of Dr. Jekyll’s old calling cards dropped by Hyde. The doctor finds her familiar, but he doesn’t put two and two together (or even one and one), even when he looks at her back, which is covered by Hyde’s whip marks.

Meanwhile, Mary Ann, Oliver, and Carla go to the police with the intention of committing Jekyll, something that apparently takes only a signature on a few papers. 

Just before the climax, Mr. Milligan ramps up the film’s tension by including a scene where the prostitute and her friend discuss gin and Welsh sailors at length. When her friend goes to buy a new bottle of gin, Hyde pushes his way into the prostitute’s flat. Gruesomely, he chops off her head with one slice of a meat cleaver.

Hyde runs back to his house, though his manservant turns him away. Then Mary Ann and the manservant go to Jekyll’s laboratory, where confusingly Dr. Jekyll is lying on the floor (and even more confusingly the house is full of fog). Mary Ann tries to warn her fiancée to run away because everyone wants to commit him, but he confusingly turns into Hyde again and she faints. In the climax, set in a foggy stairwell inside the Jekyll house, the police shoot Hyde. He transforms back into Jekyll and dies as Mary Ann cries over his body. In the final shot, the manservant holds Jekyll’s lifeless corpse on the stairwell.

The End

 With its moments of intensity, its general faithfulness to the source material, and an outstanding performance by British actor Denis DeMarne as (shockingly) both Jekyll and Hyde, The Man with Two Heads is one of Andy Milligan's finest achievements. The occasional appearance of electric lights and modern apartment complexes does nothing to detract from the film's atmospheric depiction of late-Victorian London, where the fog appears as much inside buildings as outside, and where all the men sleep in the nude. Mr. Milligan's erudition is shown when he has Hyde cite favorably the philosophy of the Marquis de Sade--he even puts that philosophy into practice in his drawn-out (and entirely uncomfortable) interaction with his prostitute friend/victim. Another triumph for Andy Milligan, The Man with Two Heads is a marvelous addition to the long list of cinematic adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic piece of horror literature--perhaps it should even be placed at the top of that long, distinguished list.