The American Herbert J. Leder scripted the wonderfully demented Fiend Without a Face, then had a minor career as a writer-director of exploitation pictures from Pretty Boy Floyd to The Candy Man. In 1966, he made a brace of back-to-back oddities in the UK, top-lining weirdly-cast Americans temporarily down on their luck — Roddy McDowall in the golem-themed It! and Dana Andrews in this combination Nazis-on-ice/head-on-a-table mad scientist movie. For some reason, it was one of the rarer British horror films: I missed a UK telecast in the 1970s but finally caught up with it in 2008 after decades of seeing tantalisingly-intriguing stills in books and magazines. Naturally, it’s no great discovery and is even more housebound and staid than It!, though Leder’s habitual tendency to play the most ridiculous situations heroically straight gives it a certain stodgy camp appeal which is rather less fun than the maniacal glee of comparable efforts like The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, The Head or They Saved Hitler’s Brain.
Dr Norberg (Dana Andrews), a mildly mad Nazi scientist, is ensconced in an English country house where he has been working for twenty years on a cryogenics project. Here, the problem is not freezing Nazis (Norberg has a freezer full of uniformed deep-sleep goons, and we’re told there are caves full of icebound ubermenschen throughout Europe) but bringing them back to life without reducing them to ragged-clothed imbeciles. A gaggle of such zombies, including Norberg’s own brother (a young Edward Fox, without dialogue), are whipped into work parties by the regulation snivelling, sadistic minion Karl Essen (Alan Tilvern – presumably Kenneth Griffith was busy). The professor, who seems surprisingly sensitive about ethics for someone of his political persuasion in his line of work, has to be told that the limbs, hearts and the like he needs for his experiments have come from the morgue not Karl’s murder victims.
Karl is also in cahoots with an old girlfriend ‘Mrs Schmidt’ (Anne Tirard), scarfaced since mistreatment at the hands of ‘those liberated swine’ at the end of the war. As in many a West End play, the country house is besieged by visitors: high-ranking war criminals eager for Norberg to get on with his job (Karel Stepanek, Basil Henson); Norberg’s innocent niece Jean (Anna Palk), who thinks the family were inmates rather than administrators in a concentration camp; nice guy scientist/love interest Dr Ted Roberts (Philip Gilbert), an odd hero who doesn’t seem to mind all the unethical experiments; and Jean’s best friend Elsa (Kathleen Tenney), who is strangled by Karl (who blames the mad brother). Elsa is delivered to the professor as an ideal subject for the head-in-a-box experiment he has been eager to perform as an adjunct to his wall-of-living-severed-arms achievement.
Elsa’s head, bald and blue-faced, is revived and given her own fold-out box to be put on top of a table which, in a few well-staged long shots, doesn’t obviously conceal the actress’s body underneath. Like many living heads (or disembodied brains), Elsa develops telepathic powers and, in the finale, compels the dangling arms to strangle the professor and his Nazi boss (by now, Karl actually has been frozen to death, as a disciplinary measure) and then, in the absurd but affecting fade-out, repeatedly croaks ‘bury me bury me’ to the young lovers. Leder directs flatly, the performers (Tilvern aside) underplay even the most insane material (Andrews trys a gruff German accent, though) and the few scenes of horror-action are clumsily staged (watch the victims stand close enough to the wall to be within strangling reach of those Cocteau-ish arms). Still, it’s hard not to enjoy on some level. The heroines of Leder’s double bill, Jill Haworth and Anna Palk, went on to co-star in Tower of Evil, where they were given more interesting things to do.