In this episode of Pop Culture Beast’s Halloween Horror Picks, I talk about a creepy and atmospheric mad scientist movie from Germany – The Head (1959)!
Written and directed by Victor Trivas, The Head (aka Die Nackte und der Satan, aka Des Satan’s Nackte Sklavin) stars Horst Frank, Karin Kernke, Michel Simon, Helmut Schmid, Dieter Eppler, and Christiane Maybach.
Trivas is best known as the Academy Award nominated screenwriter behind the 1946 Orson Welles thriller The Stranger. His debut film No Man’s Land, aka Hell on Earth (1931) was banned by the Nazis and he was forced to flee Germany. I can’t help but wonder if a bit of anti-Nazi sentiment informs some of the screenplay for The Head, as there are obvious parallels to be made between the atrocities depicted in the film and real life experiments by Nazi doctors.
The plot concerns a mad scientist (Frank) who decapitates his employer (Simon) but keeps the head alive with an experimental serum. Now he turns his scalpel on a new victim: a beautiful, alcoholic stripper, whose body he wishes to graft to the lovely head of a crippled nurse.
The Head is an unnerving creepshow, and an atmospheric throwback to German Expressionism, in large part due to the set design by Hermann Warm. This was one of his last films, but his previous art direction and production design work includes the early horror classics The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Vampyr (1932).
Fans of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962), Eyes Without a Face, aka Les yeux sans visage (1960), and Frankenstein (1931) will find much to appreciate here, as will fans of that genre precursor to Italian Giallo – the German crime genre krimi. The Head is a trashy delight, simmering with menace and sexual violence.
If you’re looking to watch something truly eerie and unsettling this Halloween, with an emphasis on atmosphere and style, my recommendation is The Head! It’s a disturbing little skincrawler that I rate 5/10!
Look for new episodes of Pop Culture Beast’s Halloween Horror Picks every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in October! You can watch past episodes HERE.
Ryan Stockstad is a Los Angeles filmmaker with a passion for horror, documentary and experimental cinema. He has written articles for HC Magazine, Mostly Harmless Magazine and various blogs and websites. He has lectured on topics as diverse as low budget filmmaking, short story structure, and the influence of the Spanish Civil War on surrealist cinema. He hosts new episodes of Pop Culture Beast's Halloween Horror Picks every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in October.