Cast: Eduardo Fajardo (Clifton Reynolds), Frank Wolff (Dr. Chambers), Simón Andreu (Ginetto Lamberti), Silvia Dionisio (Mariela), Malisa Longo (Clifton’s wife), Ángel del Pozo (Peter, Clifton’s brother), José Guardiola (Vittorio Lamberti), Andrés Mejuto (the police inspector), Nuria Torray (Vittorio’s girlfriend), Calisto Calisti (Commissioner Giuliano), Giovanni Sabbatini (Paolo, a fisherman), Mario Della Vigna, Sergio Mendizábal
Trasplante de un cerebro is a very obscure science fiction film from 1970, which merges the then popular ‘surgical horror’ subgenre with elements of both the crime and giallo traditions, not to mention a huge chunk of The Hands of Orlac. A Spanish / Italian co-production, this had a limited theatrical showing, remained hard to find on video and is unavailable on DVD. All of which is a bit of a surprise: it’s not a bad film at all, has a high profile cast of eurocult favourites. It’s certainly miles more worthy of attention than Crimson, a not entirely disimilar Spanish film which seems to have been released on just about every format in every country going.
Eduardo Fajardo stars as Clifton Reynolds, a much-respected judge with a loving wife (Malisa Longo) and a group of supportive friends. Unfortunately, when he starts suffering from extremely severe migraines, his life changes for the worse. It’s discovered that he’s suffering from an extremely severe medical condition, and renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Chalmers (Frank Wolff) explains to him that his only chance of survival is to undergo a highly experimental procedure: a complete brain transplant. Despite his considerable doubts, he agrees to go ahead.
After a bit of psychological reprogramming to ‘implant’ his old memories into his new brain, all seems to have gone well, to the extent that he feels fresher and fitter than he ever did prior to the surgery. But then he begins suffering from assorted dreams and nightmares, mostly involving a young woman called Mariela (Silvia Dionisio). It becomes apparent that he’s recalling the memories of the young man, Ginetto Lamberti (Simon Andreu), whose brain was used in the transplant. Furthermore, be begins to lose sense of his own identity, becoming convinced that he is the former owner – rather than the recipient – of his new organ.
Unfortunately, matters are further complicated by the fact that Lamberti, a minor figure in the Italian underworld, had been murdered, something that Chalmers had neglected to mention prior to the operation. And, as Reynolds’ schizophrenia develops apace, he becomes increasingly obsessed with the idea of avenging the dead man. A desire which takes him to Sicily, where he sets about both tracking down the mysterious Mariela and finding out the identity of the people responsible for Lamberti’s death.
This is a rather odd film, difficult to get a grasp on. The science fiction elements are actually played down as much as possible, and the many opportunities for sleazy exploitation are generally ignored. Although the protagonist becomes a revenge crazed maniac, he never actually does much, beyond staring bug eyed at everyone around him and causing his dodgy brother (Jose Guardiola) to suffer an untimely heart attack in a graveyard. Believe it or not, Trasplante de un cerebro does actually appear to have been a vaguely serious attempt to examine the psychological consequences of a brain transplant, albeit within the context of an early 70s b-movie format.
As a result of which, it’s perhaps not quite as entertaining as the synopsis would imply, a fact which isn’t helped at all by some rather lackadaisical pacing. The idea of having parallel narratives – one involving Reynolds’ unsuccessful recuperation, the other documenting the events that led to Lamberti’s death – is interesting, but it doesn’t entirely work, mainly due to some heavy handed editing. Furthermore, lots of sequences just feature actors walking around and looking intense; which is pretty cool, but also slows things down considerably. It also comes across a little strangely when combined with the overheated melodrama of some of the other scenes, making for a distinctly inconsistent viewing experience.
However, if you’re willing to forgive its deficiencies, it’s an interesting film, definitely a little different to the norm. As well as Crimson, it could also be lumped in with The Boogeyman and the French Murders – strange films that mix the mundane with the outlandish – although technically it’s far better than either of them. Director Juan Logar throws everything he can into the mix, with flashbacks, hallucinations and dream sequences aplenty, all of which reflect the confusion of poor Reynold’s mind (as well as fleshing out the running time, of course). He manages to invest the whole thing with a dramatic sense that, perhaps, the material doesn’t really deserve, and it certainly wouldn’t have survived the attentions of some filmmakers, especially given the low budget. Logar, whose real name was apparently Juan López García, made a handful of curious films in the early seventies, most particularly Two Masks for Alexa (Fieras sin jaula, 71) and the utterly weird Autopsy (Autopsia, 73). He also worked as a storyboard writer, a composer and a producer, and after the end of his film career he moved into making documentaries and adverts, as well as managing a recording studio with his son, Juanon (who also appeared in some of his films).
As well as the decent cast – most particularly Eduardo Fajardo, who gets to play the protagonist for once – there’s also some entertainment to be had from the location work. A number of exteriors were shot in London, and it’s nice to see Andreu, Guardiola and a wigging-out Fajardo wandering around Piccadilly Circus and Soho (while bystanders look on in very visible bemusement!)