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'Crimson' Tests Even Those Most Committed to Eurotrash Film

The best thing about the Crimson DVD is the commentary by historian Richard Harland Smith.


Director: Juan Fortuny
Cast: Paul Naschy, Silvia Solar
Distributor: Redemption
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Year: 1973
US DVD release date: 2016-06-14

Crimson, also called The Man with the Severed Head, and whose Spanish title means "The Rats Don't Sleep at Night", is a Spanish-French crime drama masquerading as a horror film via a left-field plot twist about a partial brain transplant. It stars Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy, billed as Paul Nash, and hails from a golden era of horror cinema. Don't get excited yet.

Gangster Jack Surnett (Naschy) is about to open a jewelry store's safe when the greed of one of his henchmen accidentally triggers the alarm. Surnett is promptly shot in the head by police, and a drunken doctor (ubiquitous character actor Carlos Otero) suggests -- wait for it -- taking him to an old friend who's working on brain transplants. That surgeon and his equally surgical wife (Silvia Solar, radiating warmth and intelligence) need a freshly decapitated head, so the gang picks a rival gangster (Roberto Mauri) known as The Sadist -- the decisions just keep getting smarter -- whose tendencies will naturally start taking over the patient.

Clearly, this sounds like something with potential. Unfortunately, the movie fritters away its time on the criminal cross-purposes of the rival gangs. Quentin Tarantino might have made something out of the human comedy of mixed motives, perhaps even a post-Franco political allegory, but the script by director Juan Fortuny and producer Marius Lesoeur just features a lot of laboriously constructed running about while putative star Naschy remains mostly offstage until the final reel, when he finally starts lumbering around without doing much of anything.

The disc contains two versions of the film, a straightforward English dub and a French dub with several minutes of nudity and sex shoehorned in with poor continuity. Gratuitous is one thing, senseless is quite another. Apparently, somebody figured that something was necessary to liven the picture and justify the viewer's money, and so these rushed segments are characterized by pretty women, unattractive men, and the shadows of cameras and microphones. The only advantage of the nude version is a single shot where a corpse drops out of a closet; the nude corpse is a more striking image than the clothed one.

The most amazing and stylish segment is a gaudy and crazy bit of interpretive dance between a vanishing temptress and twin Mongol barbarians, supposedly staged in a strip bar. Judging by its vibrant colors and blissful irrelevance, we're pretty sure it's spliced in from another movie entirely. Composer Daniel White's lounge-exotica score really kicks in nicely during the scene -- assuming it's still his music, of course. The sequence is so wild that the film temporarily comes alive in a campy way. If they were going to pad the picture, it's too bad they didn't throw in more where that came from.

The bad news is that despite that dance and some flashes of style here and there, neither version is worth watching to anyone but the most committed addicts of Eurotrash. The good news is that the only extra -- the commentary by historian Richard Harland Smith -- is so entertaining and informative that viewers might go directly to that without wasting time on the movie first. Smith provides a genial avalanche of facts about the actors, the production background, and the connections between story elements and various classic movies, and then he apologizes for not having more information!

Smith, who quips that the dance interlude belongs in an episode of Star Trek, makes the film more fun to sit through than any quality it boasts by itself, with the possible exception of that groovy score. He proves that this movie is best appreciated by those who recognize the familiar gang of actors from their many other movies of the '60s and '70s, as opposed to those who thought they were in for a transplant rampage, a horror movie, or even a spicy bit of sleaze.


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