Cast: Paul Naschy (Jack Surnett), Silvia Solar (Ana), Gilda Anderson [Arancio] (Ingrid), Pierre Biet (André), Yul Sanders [Claude Boisson] (Paul), Monique Gérard (le bouqetiere), Alain Hardy (Villageois), Victor Israel (Karl), Richard Kolin (Willy), Antonia Lotito (Emmy), Oliver [Olivier] Mathot (Henry), Roberto Mauri (the sadist), Carlos Otero (Doc Ritter), Richard Palmer [Ricardo Palmerola] (Professor Teets), Jaume Picas (Criado), Muriel Renaud (Natalia), Jean Roville (la maire), Evelyn Scott (Barbara), Guy Verda (Marcel)
One of the most prominent names in the world of French exploitation cinema isn’t actually that of a director or an actor, but a producer. Mario Lesoeur was the owner of Eurocine, the notorious production house best known, perhaps, for the fifteen or so films that cult director Jesus Franco made for them over a near thirty year span between 1962’s The Awful Dr Orloff and Dark Mission (88). Lesoeur, however, was also involved in a large number of other productions, most of which show similar poverty row production values, sleaze heavy plots and a gleeful willingness to push the boundaries of taste. To be perfectly honest, it’s not actually all that easy to distinguish between the assorted Eurocine films, whether they be made by Franco or others, be it ‘house’ directors like Alain Payet and Pierre Chevalier or imported ‘experts’ (such as Paolo Solvay and Andrea Bianchi); a fact not helped by the fact that most Eurocine films repeatedly feature the same actors and crew and have similarly rudimentary screenplays.
For Crimson, Lesoeur hooked up with Spanish producer Antonio Liza, who had a similar pedigree South of the border. Having started out as a production manager on a handful of spaghetti westerns and spy films, Liza stepped up to fully-fledged producer status with a number of z-grade releases, many of which were directed by Manuel Esteba (Espectro (78), El E.T.E. Y el Oto (82) etc). Director Juan Fortuny, meanwhile, already had an association with Eurocine, having worked as cinematographer on the 1971 film The Invisible Dead, directed by Pierre Chevalier. But he was also a filmmaker in his own right prior to that, having made a good half dozen obscure features – none of which seem to have had any kind of international release – since making his debut with the 1942 film Legión de héroes. Curiously, his connection with Chevalier went even further back than that, with Chevalier apparently being credited on French prints of his 1953 film Huyendo de sí mismo, although this may well be either down to misreporting or some kind of tax issue.
The plot of Crimson follows a botched robbery attempt at a jewellery store, which goes wrong when one of the gang members, Karl (Victor Israel), surreptitiousy tries to nab a pearl necklace from an alarmed display case. During the frantic escape, another of the robbers, Jack Surnett (Paul Naschy), is shot in the head, leaving their leader, Henry (Oliver Mathot), with a bit of a tricky situation, as there’s no way they can take him to a hospital without questions being asked. So, after taking refuge in an isolated villa, he sends for a sympathetic, alcoholic doctor, Ritter (Carlos Otero). Ritter is unable to do anything himself, as Surnett is too badly wounded for conventional help, but he is able to suggest that they should go and see an old colleague of his, Professor Teets (Ricardo Palmerola), who is something of an expert on the human brain.
Despite his initial doubts, Teets agrees to help, proposing that the only way they can save Surnett’s brain is to transplant his head onto another man’s body (!). However, to do so requires having a fresh body, and nobody seems particularly happy about volunteering their own for such a purpose. Henry, however, has a brainwave: the perfect donor would be his arch enemy, a fellow gangster known as ‘The Sadist’ (allegedly Roberto Mauri, but I doubt this). Once this course is decided upon, it doesn’t prove all that difficult to dispose of him and – apart from a few bit of tomfoolery revolving around the gangsters’ unwillingness to decapitate his corpse – the operation seems to go well.
Unfortunately, it soon becomes clear that not everything is right. Despite being apparently well and full of life, Surnett complains of having extreme headaches and shows developing signs of paranoia, both of which combine to send him into the occasional homicidal rage. Meanwhile, several associates of ‘the sadist’ have discovered what has happened to their old boss and, on the lookout for revenge, are intent upon tracking down and killing Henry and his men.
Crimson is hardly what could be described as a great film and, what’s perhaps more surprising given its crazy premise, it’s also rather dull. Fortuny and Lesoeur, both of whom were also responsible for the script, seem unable to decide exactly what they’re trying to do – are they making a science fiction film or a crime movie? – and you have to suspect that their intentions were somewhat tempered by budgetary considerations. As a result, the pacing often slows down to a virtual halt while the running time is padded out by some kitsch nightclub routine or other, and there’s far too much focus on ‘The Sadist’ and his associates, who spend most of their time hanging around in nightclubs and playing cards. Strangely, the whole thing actually becomes more boring as the running time progresses, and so when everything ends in an unsurprisingly anti-climactic fashion it’s hard to give too much of a damn.
Beyond that, you get some terrible dialogue, variable acting and limited production values. Fortuny’s direction is basic at best, and it would have been interesting to see how this would have turned out if it had been made by someone with a more idiosyncratic vision. As such, it stands as a rather minor entry in the ‘surgical horror’ genre, which also included the aforementioned The Invisible Dead and another French / Spanish eurocine production, The Devil’s Kiss, both of which were kind of unofficial partner pieces to this.
Of course, nowadays this is best known because of the participation of Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy. To be honest, Naschy doesn’t have that big a part, and is mostly called upon to lie in bed until the last twenty minutes or so, when he starts running around with a bandage on his head and looking confused. He’s rather overshadowed here by the likes of Victor Israel and Carlos Otero, both of whom have more interesting roles and actually know how to act a little bit, so fans of the star would probably be better off turning to Horror Rises from the Tomb, a far more entertaining ‘severed head’ film he made film at around the same time.