DVD Review: Crimson (1976)

Ah, Paul Naschy. It’s entirely possible that I’m speaking for myself here, but the ratio of ‘how well I know his films’: ‘how well I feel I should know his films’ needs a little revision. His name certainly precedes him, and he’s instantly recognisable, but there only seems to be a handful of decent UK releases of Naschy films, even now. A cursory glance over at Amazon shows you still need to rely on imports; I’ve seen lots of Naschy stills, but haven’t stumped up the extra for many of his movies. Well, step forward Black House Films, who – in their recent release rota – have included Crimson (A.K.A. The Man with the Severed Head) and it’s an entertaining way to right this wrong. Is it wall-to-wall with false advertising, from the title right down to the plot and beyond? Yes, it damn well is, and you’ll sit there and bloody well enjoy it anyway.

The film starts with a jewel heist gone wrong; a criminal gang numbering a Monsieur Surnett (Naschy) and The Most Seventies Man Who Ever Lived, amongst others, try to nick off with an expensive necklace, but they’re pursued. The police open fire on them (a little harsh for a bloody necklace!) and in the melee, Surnett gets shot in the side of the head. His cronies try to save him, enlisting a sympathetic doctor (Carlos Otero) but sadly (as we discover, after a slightly confusing and anatomically-impossible sex scene which made me shout things at the screen) the doc says there’s no hope – not if Surnett isn’t taken to a hospital, and pronto.

This could be curtains. But then, Dr Ritter has an idea – and strap yourselves in, it’s a doozy. It seems he has an erstwhile colleague called Professor Teets (!) who has a nice line in experimental brain transplant surgery. Oh, sure, he hasn’t tried it on humans yet; that would just be silly. But Ritter and the criminal gang he’s sadly become embroiled with decide that Teets should be persuaded to experiment on Surnett.

There is, of course, the small matter of a fresh brain to transplant, but the gang has a plan. They decide that the best possible option is to transplant the brain of the man who’s right at the top of Surnett’s List of Enemies – a nice chap, who goes by the name of The Sadist. A comedy of errors ensues as the gang first ensnare and then, some time later, try to separate the Sadist’s head from his body – think Weekend at Bernie’s, for a while at least – but soon, things are ready, and we get to see the inside of a fabulous! laboratory before the deed is finally done.

You may laugh if I say ‘here’s where it becomes a little confusing’, but honestly, what gets transplanted where, how and in what quantities isn’t made massively clear. All we see of the matter is Naschy wearing a fetching wrap-under head bandage which reminds me of when characters get toothache in Bugs Bunny cartoons; in fact, things are a little slow outside of the laboratory sequences, and there’s an awful lot of inter-gang wrangling as Team Sadist and Team Naschy each try to suss out what’s going on, but then again there are a number of, shall we call them, ‘interludes’ which more than make up for the reels of wandering 70s gangsters. For instance, if I said to you that there’s a club sequence during the film, bearing in mind that ‘club’ seems to allow director John Fortuny free rein to put anything on screen, would you expect dancing girls? Yes? Howsabout if there’s one dancing girl, albeit doing some free form work with a pair of guys dressed as Mongols? This sort of thing definitely ‘catches the eye’, even if it contributes absolutely nothing to the plot, and even if a bit more of the sci-fi would have been good in this film, this kind of caper is a lot of mindless fun anyway. And then, there are lots of other 70s exploitation elements here, all present and correct: the bottle of J&B, sudden nudity, inappropriately jolly music, sordid people, fallen women, zany interiors…

Sadly, the biggest disappointment in this film is that I still don’t feel as though I’ve seen Naschy doing very much on screen. He’s hardly around, as he’s either recuperating, or much later, running through the trees (for reasons which are, sort of, explained). There’s barely a rollneck to be had. This is definitely a shame. And then, the more I think of it, the release title is a puzzler, still. The original mention of a ‘severed head’ clearly may have led audiences to expect something which ultimately doesn’t happen, so maybe ‘Crimson’ is a safer bet – but Crimson is actually an incredibly bloodless film, even whilst re-using the ‘severed head’ artwork all the same. Ah, well. I’m splitting hairs here. If you want to get hit around the head with a time capsule, then this film is a lot of fun; even where it lags, it’s daft enough to keep you watching.

Crimson will be released by Black House Films on 17th April 2017.