Crimson – Review *

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Being a Eurotrash film enthusiast must be hard work, comparable to the tribulations of the men and women who travelled west during the gold rush in America. Sifting through miles and miles of defiant, tough terrain, hoping to find that nugget of the good stuff, that miniscule but significant chunk of something special that can change your entire outlook on life. Occasionally you may discover gory glory in Lamberto Bava’s Demons (1985), genuine eroticism in Borowczyk’s Behind Convent Walls (1978) or genre-changing cornerstones such as Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and when Eurotrash hits, it can be an otherworldly experience. However, when it misses, it can be a wasted journey, a pilgrimage ending in disaster; CultFilms new high definition release of Juan Fortuny’s 1976 film Crimson very much falls into this category.

A co-production between those titans of Eurotrash cinema, Italy and France, Crimson does everything it can to convince the audience that excitement, viscera and tension are lurking around the corner without ever actually delivering on these promises. Beginning in media res with a jewellery heist gone wrong, we witness the near-fatal shooting of Jack, one of the gangsters, during their clumsy escape from the clutches of the police. Desperate to keep him alive, the group bribe a doctor to rejuvenate him, who in turn takes them to a husband and wife surgical team, blackmailing them in order to utilise a pseudo-scientific surgical procedure that will allow Jack to live on. In order for this to work, however, they will need the brain of somebody with the same blood type as their compatriot and the doctor has an idea of who this could be; a rival gangster known only as ‘The Sadist’.

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Shot with a grey, ugly, washed out palette, this version of Spain is a grimy bore, void of sunshine or culture where even the sex and violence is fleeting and sleep inducing. Crimson, known in other countries as The Man With the Severed Head, “stars” Jack Naschy, billed across the world as Spain’s greatest horror icon, yet his screen time is extremely limited, the narrative instead choosing to focus on the various underworld machinations and the surgeon’s moral dilemmas. To call this film horror would certainly be a stretch as there is very little crimson to be found and the severed head of the European title exists for a mere fraction of the screen time. Instead we are privy to short pseudo-erotic vignettes and long, drawn out scenes of travel and serious consternation between the poorly constructed characters.

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Granted, not everything in Crimson is exactly a bore. There are a couple of scenes that leave you aghast at their visual or tonal incredulity, not least a night club dance scene that feels out of place but nevertheless provides a welcome distraction from the tragic apathy that permeates through most of the film. Yet as the trio of dancers in some sort of prehistoric setting gyrate smoothly through their well-choreographed dance number, you can’t help but feel that when this, and the slightly repulsive soft-core scenes, are the most visually arresting part of the film, you know you might have fallen a bit too deeply into the trash heap.

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As the film continues and the search for that elusive nugget becomes more and more desperate, certain scenes stand out as slicker than others and you start to believe there is some value to be found. But don’t be fooled. Seeing two of the gangsters deciding to lay a dead body on the tracks and wait for a train to arrive in order to decapitate it most efficiently may sound fun but really just blends into the ever-dreary scenery of discontent. There are a ton of Eurotrash films that contain style, ideas, verve, sincerity and, most importantly, great decapitation scenes. This is not one of them.

Crimson has been released on the CultFilms label and can be purchased here.

Steven Ryder is a Film and TV graduate and a quintessentially British lover of film in that he never really watches British films. Moderator of one of the internet's largest film discussion forums, TrueFilm, Steven is dedicated to lurching between trash and high art, often resulting in a cinematic whiplash of sorts.