The Thing That Couldn’t Die (1958)

As “disembodied head movies” go, this one’s right at the top. The movie is workmanlike, the cast doesn’t have famous actors although they are recognizable, and production values are decent. The silly story—a very old head searching for its body—is the only thing that may turn people off.

The scene is an isolated guest ranch in California, where various beautiful people are spending a relaxing holiday, accompanied by the ranch’s matronly owner, her slimy ranch foreman, and a dim-witted hired hand. One of the guests is a beautiful young woman who is clairvoyant—she finds hidden and buried things through some sort of mind power. See where we’re going here?

Eventually, the clairvoyant woman identifies a spot to dig for treasure, and a small, old chest is dug up. Naturally, the dopey hired hand opens the box, and there’s a 400-year-old disembodied head of an evil sorcerer (Robin Hughes) inside. After being underground for so long, The Head needs to catch up on unfinished business in a hurry, so it hypnotizes most of the ranch’s guests. To do this, The Head appears in unusual places (window ledges, closet shelves, hat boxes) and whispers inaudible, mystical instructions to its victims. Pretty slick, eh?

After the convenient deaths of the foreman and hired hand (they had served their purposes in the story, after all), The Head—using the clairvoyant one—identifies a location to dig up its decapitated body. Sure enough, a coffin is produced and is promptly carried back to the main ranch house.

The opening of the coffin is the highlight of the movie, and it’s quite entertaining. The headless body stands up, whereupon one of the hypnotized women gently reattaches The Head…hmmm, pretty snug fit. The reunited sorcerer now decides to kill everyone, resulting in a “Whoa, this is bad” moment. Bullets don’t work, so the movie’s hero (William Reynolds) produces a magical anti-sorcerer amulet that was discovered at the beginning of the film. The bad guy jumps back in his coffin, whereupon he is transformed into a skeleton, marking the film’s ending. After 400 years in a box, The Head only gets reunited with its body for about 60 seconds. Such a pity.

I used to laugh at this silly film, but in the past few years it has grown on me a bit. The acting is really quite good, particularly by the dumb hired hand (Charles Horvath) and The Head himself (Robin Hughes). The hypnosis scenes, which I used to consider just hokey, are very fun to watch. If you can forget the ridiculous story line, this movie is worth viewing.

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