Crimson, the Color of Blood: Brain trust

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Crimson, the Color of Blood directed by Juan FortunyCrimson, the Color of Blood directed by Juan Fortuny

Crimson, the Color of Blood directed by Juan FortunyFans of actor/screenwriter/director Paul Naschy who rent out the 1973 film Crimson, the Color of Blood hoping to get a good solid dose of “the Boris Karloff of Spain” may be a tad disappointed at how things turn out. By necessity, Naschy’s role in this picture is severely limited, he doesn’t make much of an appearance until the film is 2/3 done, and even in the final 1/3, his thesping abilities are only minimally utilized.

In this French/Spanish coproduction, Naschy plays a jewel thief named Surnett, who flees from the police, along with his gang, after a botched robbery attempt near the French city of Nancy. Surnett is shot in the head two minutes after the film begins, and spends the next hour of the picture in a virtual coma, while his gang scrambles to find a doctor to help him. Ultimately, it is decided that Surnett needs nothing less than a brain transplant (!); any volunteers to be the donor? Fortunately, the (literal) head of the rival gang, a very disagreeable sort who sports the nickname Sadist, has the same blood type as Surnett, so he is killed off by Surnett’s gang, and his head lopped off by the simple expedient of placing his body on a railroad track and allowing a passing train to do the dirty work. Thus, with a team of doctors forced into compliance and a matching brain for their leader at hand, Surnett’s gang feels that everything is in order. But things don’t go QUITE according to plan, and escalating violence leads to a rapidly rising rate of attrition, in this wacky yet highly entertaining fun house of a movie…

Basically a gangster picture tricked out with Frankensteinian elements, Crimson, the Color of Blood presented two outstanding problems for this viewer; one of the problems crops up before Surnett’s operation and the other after. The first is that, despite the doctors’ claim that the dying gangster needs a brain transplant, once that operation begins, it is discovered that the bullet did NOT, after all, pierce Surnett’s gray matter. So why proceed with the transplant?!?! But my larger problem has to do with the fact that everyone seems stunned and amazed that Surnett seems different after his procedure. Well, what would they expect? The man has just had a different brain — the brain of a criminal madman — inserted in his noggin! How could he NOT be any different?!?!

Perhaps I should add here that I am also a bit mystified as to this film’s title. If Crimson, the Color of Blood refers to the color of blood … well, the film is not that gory at all, and the many killings highlighted are virtually bloodless affairs. Indeed, the only blood we ever see is some smeared red stuff on the face of a beat-up doctor; hardly enough to justify such a sanguine title.

Still, quibbles aside, Crimson, the Color of Blood, cheaply made and shlockily cobbled together as it is, remains a fun, fast-moving experience. The Image DVD that I recently watched features, as an “extra,” some soft-core sex scenes that were only included in the French version of the film. I for one am happy to have NOT seen the film with these many extra scenes, as they would only have served to slow things down; the film’s brisk pace is one of its chief assets (despite a few instances of padding, via musical numbers and dancing girls in a cabaret). The film is decently acted by its game cast, features a score by Daniel White (IF that is his real name; all the principals’ names seem to have been Anglicized in the credits, for reasons that I will never understand; Naschy’s name, for example, appears as “Paul Nash”) that will skip around in YOUR brain for days, and showcases some interesting directorial choices by Juan Fortuny (here listed, of course, as “John Fortuny”).

Crimson, the Color of Blood grows wilder and loopier as it proceeds, to the point where hardly any of the characters remain standing by the film’s conclusion; a truly flabbergasting experience, although surely more of a gangster film, as I mentioned earlier, than a horror outing. Still, it is a shame that the opportunity to explore the emotional and philosophical ramifications of having a new brain put in one’s body has been squandered here. In addition to seeing Surnett turn into a raving sex fiend, it might have been interesting to allow Naschy’s character to tell us what’s going on inside that new head of his. What’s going on inside his old body is pretty obvious!


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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