I’m not sure why but I always thought of this film as being helmed under the directorship of Paul Naschy and it’s not really surprising due to his prolific stamp over Spanish cinema as both actor and director and indeed he does play a central role in this. However it is attributed to Juan Fortuny who made just 11 features in a time period spanning from the 40’s to the 70’s. I am guessing that Crimson is the Spaniard’s most well-known. The somewhat hulking figure of Naschy aka Jacinto Molina Álvarez is a horror film staple having borne to life the creation of werewolf Waldemar Daninsky who went to feature in no less than 12 films including one of the daftest titles to hit the video nasty lists ‘The Werewolf And The Yeti (1975). He made and starred in plenty of horror films but was not a stranger in experimenting with other genres both behind and in front of the screen. I haven’t really explored his oeuvre in any sense but just tipped the iceberg, that’s partly due to availability of his films which apart from a handful have not seen a huge amount of releases in the UK. I guess if I was asked to pick a few that are particularly of note I would plump for the one that’s the subject of this review as well as the somewhat infamous Hunchback Of The Morgue (1973 Javier Aguirre) and well respected giallo The Blue Eyes Of The Broken Doll (1974 Carlos Aured).
I kind of hoped that Crimson was not going to blow me away and set me off on a path of needing to watch everything he has been involved in as it would be no mean feat. So settling in for an early Sunday evening viewing experience I got a rather bonkers film which although not achieving that thankless task, did entertain and amuse far more than I actually expected it to.

Crimson which is also widely known as ‘The Man With The Severed Head’ is set in France where gangs are tough and brutal and crime is a serious business. Naschy plays Jack the leader of a bunch of feckless malcontents who bodge up a jewellery heist in the opening scenes. His acting skills are not particularly brought into a huge amount of scrutiny for a large amount of the running time as on escaping from da pigs he is shot in the head and spends most of the first half in a catatonic state (as some critics could harshly say do the audience). His gang members including his girlfriend have a lot of love for their boss though and set out to save him enlisting the help of an out of his depth drunken doctor. The gang I should point out is only a handful of people and they do include the familiar acting face of Olivier Mathot who fans of dodgy films of this period are bound to recognise. Once woken from drunken stupor our doc remembers a former colleague who was involved in radical experimentation and who might be able to save the day with a head transplant! Unfortunately his hands are damaged from an accident but with daughter taken hostage by the gang he along with the help of his wife might be able to pull this crazy stunt off.

Next question is whose head to use, luckily it would seem that rival gang leader The Sadist (his moustache is certainly sadistic) is the right blood group and off they trot to ask him to donate his bonce. Of course it takes a bit of persuasion and a train running over his neck to do so and the experiment actually involving brain rather than whole head is able to be performed. Amidst all this there are baffling scenes in a club with strange song and dance routines as well as some perfunctory bonking just to pad things out. The other gang are not too happy and poor Jack isn’t feeling too good either having woken displaying streaks of sadism courtesy of his brain donator. You all know things are not likely to end well here.

The quackers science behind this is as ludicrous as you will have seen since suffering Rene Cardona’s Night of the Bloody Apes (1969) and provide some dialogue that’s an absolute hoot. The lashings of codswallop and claptrap make this almost as camp as Carry On Screaming and you just can’t help but giggle along at it all. The sex scenes don’t help especially not with Daniel White’s comedic (no doubt unintentional score) one particularly moving part has what sounds like popping champagne corks gushing along to the action. Obviously under General Franco’s reign this would never have been allowed in Spain hence the French Eurocine co production. Still the film got a bit of a slapped bum on early releases here and was cut by 3:10 by the BBFC for “uncontextualised scenes of sexual assault on women.” These scenes are reinserted here. Not a stranger in the UK due to previous releases and an American blu-ray it’s another odd choice for release by Screenbound imprint Black House but I guess I am living proof of the fact that there are people out there who haven’t ever (bothered) seeing it before. I’m still not completely sure why the film got called Crimson to be honest, the other titles make much more sense. Having said that I’m not going to lose my head thinking about that too much, I had enough problems keeping it on my shoulders laughing at the absurdity of the film itself.

(Pete Woods)