... aka: Завещанието на професор Доуел
... aka: Head of Professor Dowell, The
... aka: Il testamento del dottor Dowell (The Will of Doctor Dowell)
... aka: Professor Dowell's Testament
... aka: Professor Dowell's Will
... aka: Testament of Professor Dowell, The
Renowned scientist Professor Dowell (Olgert Kroders) has passed away. He was getting so into his work, and staying up so many consecutive days and nights, that when he went out driving (an activity that relaxed him) he was in no state to control his car when it skidded during a rainstorm and then went into a canyon. At least that's the official story. Now his work has been left in the hands of his two assistants, Dr. Robert Korn (Igor Vasilev), who started out as a surgeon in a provincial clinic before impressing the esteemed professor, and loyal Dr. Marie Laurent (Valentina Titova), who's been by the professor's side for a long time and seems to have been in love with him.
Dowell was so obsessed with his work that he left behind some collateral damage though, most notably a wife who was driven to an early grave and a bitter, estranged adult son named Arthur (Aleksey Bobrov), who doesn't have many nice things to say about him. Though Dowell was trying to find ways to help humanity, his work was appropriated by the military in the development of atomic weapons which actually have done the opposite. That's steered Arthur into a career as a documentary filmmaker whose latest film highlights war atrocities. It's a way for him to come to terms with the damage his father inadvertently caused.
A gathering is held at the professor's seaside home / lab where a group of scientists and potential investors are shown just some of the results of Dowell and Korn's experiments with animals. Thus far they've created a cat with webbed feet, a still-living dog head hooked up to a machine and a chimpanzee named Lilly who has had her head grafted onto another chimp's body and has thus far survived for a solid month, though judging by the droopy mouth and drool, none-too-well. They've managed to accomplish all of this by combining electronics, surgery a special blue serum. Ingredients top secret, of course. Professor Richardson (Ernst Romanov) and Dr. Gould (Aleksandr Porokhovshchikov) from the chemical corporation Mercury Inc. are interested in an exchange of data. Dr. Korn is interested in their money to further fund these experiments.
After screening black-and-white home movies of the late professor, they head outside onto the terrace where a statue to the late professor is revealed. It's his head atop a large stone pillar with the inscription, "Both my life and my death belong to science." Arthur plans on leaving after the ceremony but is pulled aside by groundskeeper Willie (Boris Tsymba), who informs him that he suspects foul play. Arthur decides to look into the accusations, starting with an examination of the accident site which reveals that Dr. Korn was likely with the professor on the night of this death. Arthur is able to enlist some help from childhood friend Baxter (Nikolay Lavrov), who's now a policeman.
As you can probably tell from the various posters, Dr. Korn is actually keeping Dowell's still-living head hooked up to some electronic contraption. As per the professor's last will, he's given Korn the right to actually do this so he could continue his experiments into death but he's now having a change of heart. For starters, he has deep regrets about the life he'd lived prior to "dying." Second, now that he's incapacitated, he's basically the captive of Korn, who won't allow him to see his son or even speak to Marie. He can only be audible as long as a special wire is plugged in, which Marie doesn't even know about.
Time is quickly running out for Korn. The Mercury Inc. reps are blackmailing him. After he rejects their initial offer of unlimited credit and state-of-the-art equipment in exchange for his data to use for their own nefarious purposes, they're quick to inform him that they own his debt and will simply shut him down and take whatever they want, anyway. And these guys are such terrible corporate scum they take great pride in the fact their chemicals have polluted six out of the seven continents on Earth. Getting more desperate, Dr. Korn and Marie start acquiring fresh corpses for their experiments, with the ultimate goal being to give Dowell a healthy human body to place his head upon.
Meanwhile, Arthur gets reacquainted with Angelika Guy (Natalya Sayko), an old flame of his who's now a famous actress and is back in town to visit and hiding under the alias "Anne Smith" so the press doesn't bother her. The two happen to be at a sleazy nightclub when a shoot-out occurs between police and smugglers over drugs hidden inside a nude sex doll (!) Many are killed, including Angelika, whose skull is crushed, and a singer / burlesque performer named Monica Brown (also Sayko). Dr. Korn and Marie end up with both bodies and construct a new being out of her, with Monica's head on top of Angelika's body. They rename their Frankenstein creation Eve, fit her with a metal collar to cover her scars and then study how well she does doing physical activities. However, she's conflicted about who she is and has shuffled memories from both of her components. Further complications arise once Arthur starts snooping around the lab.
It's pretty easy to see why this has received a lukewarm response from so many horror and sci-fi fans online but I honestly think much of this boils down to expectations. For starters, you have fans of the source novel objecting to all of the changes made for this adaptation. And then you have viewers seeing the living head on the cover, probably expecting a film similar to THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE (1962) and then sitting down to watch this only to be disappointed that the effects are minimal, the action is virtually nonexistent, the pacing is slow, there's lots of dialogue and this never really strives to be overtly horrific or shocking. It's far too competently-made and serious to be good camp, yet not violent or exploitative enough to be good trash. Then what is it exactly? Well, to me, it's a mature and sometimes thoughtful rumination exploring medical ethics and the pitfalls of scientific discovery, most especially its abuse at the hands of the wealthy, greedy and / or powerful, with an aside about not letting one's own personal ambition destroy or harm others, including animals.
These same topics are tackled in countless other "mad scientist" films and, while the moral of the story is rather blatantly hammered out at the very end, I can't say I was horribly disappointed in how they handled this otherwise. On the contrary, I rather enjoyed how the genre tropes were placed front-and-center yet still utilized in a subtler and less obvious fashion than what is the norm. The fantastic is treated in such a sober, matter-of-fact way that this manages to take completely outlandish things and ground them firmly in reality.
On another note, the setting is rather unexpected for a Soviet film, as this is clearly shooting for a tropical atmosphere. There are lots of palm trees, beaches, monkeys, talks of the humidity and heat, men walking around with their shirts open like they're somewhere in the jungles of South America and a bunch of black actors cast in small roles and as background extras. This is all compromised by the fact much of the outdoor footage is overcast and looks gloomy. Signs are all written in English. I'm not even sure where this is supposed to be set.
This was (supposedly very loosely) based on Aleksandr Belyaev's popular 1925 novel Golova profesora Dovelja. An English version of that book was released in 1980 by Macmillan, uses the title Professor Dowell's Head and features an introduction by Theodore Sturgeon. A 2001 DVD release from Image Entertainment (under the title Professor Dowell's Testament) comes with English subtitles. An English dubbed version was also released.