Also known, somewhat more appropriately, as The Man with The Severed Head, this 1973 French/Spanish co-production directed by Juan Fortuny (Les Délinquants) stars Paul Naschy, Spain’s answer to Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price all rolled into one (he was flexible). Naschy plays Jack Surnett, a gang leader out to rip off a jewellery store. Not being the smartest cookie in the jar, he botches the job and gets a police bullet in the head. His only hope for survival is that most impossible of medical procedures: a brain transplant.
Luckily for him, his crew know of a doctor who, in turn, connects them to a mad professor called Teets (you read that right). Teets has the skill to perform the operation but can’t use his hands anymore so suggests his wife does it with him shouting directions. And who better to donate a brain than Surnett’s demented arch rival known only as ‘The Sadist’? The transplant goes ahead (pun intended) and Surnett gets a brain even more vile than his own. Can you guess what happens next? We suspect you can.
Crimson comes from a prolific era of Euro horror production many genre fans celebrate for its sensuous atmosphere, inventive plotting and elegant use of locations to disguise a general lack of budget. You’d guess none of that from this utterly pedestrian and predictable effort that shoots at softcore exploitation, Frankenstein-esque horror and tense gangland drama but misses on all counts. When he’s given the chance here, Paul Naschy has some fun as a bandaged-up transplant terrorist, conducting a leeringly violent rampage with admirable gusto. But considering the top-billing, he spends an uncomfortable amount of screen time horizontal on an operating table or in bed. It’s almost as though he’s worked out the film is so lousy he’s best off waiting out the running time and collecting the cheque.
There are a few bright spots amid the often interminable running around and in-fighting among gang members; the nightclub where we meet The Sadist has possibly the most bizarre cabaret act of the 1970s, the ensuring decapitation sequence is unintentionally very funny indeed, the transplant operation itself is rather well shot and the jazzy soundtrack livens things up. But it’s small change.
As we’re now used to expecting from even the most risible of 1970s Euro schlock remasters, the quality of the picture on this Black House release is excellent and the version here delivers enough gratuitous nudity and bloodletting to distract from the frequent periods where the plot grinds to near standstill. If you want to check out Naschy’s work, there are so many better places to start - Vengeance of the Zombies, Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll or Night of the Werewolf to name but three. He may not have been in the same league as Cushing, Lee or Price (far from it), but – given a decent script - he knew how to sell a monster.
CRIMSON / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JUAN FORTUNY / SCREENPLAY: JUAN FORTUNY, MARIUS LESEOUR, H.L. ROSTAINE / STARRING: PAUL NASCHY, ROBERTO MAURI, RICARDO PALMEROLA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW