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The Man With The Severed Head (1976)
Director: Juan Fortuny

review by Jim Steel

Wow. Remember the bit in Young Frankenstein when Gene Wilder sends Marty Feldman off to get a brain for the creature, only for Feldman to return with the brain of a madman? "But the label on the jar said it was normal. AB Normal..." Well, that's the plotline for this film. The major difference is that this isn't a comedy. It is not, in fact, very good - but that certainly doesn't stop it from being entertaining.

It's got all of the horrors one would expect from a film made in the mid-1970s. Kipper ties, trouser suits, bizarre facial fungi, shirt collars that you could hang-glide with - they're all here. You will also probably not be surprised to learn that the only large checks in evidence in this low-budget shocker are on the jackets. The French reputation for style may take a hammering but their fame as cheese-makers remains intact.

Four men are attempting some safecracking in a jewellery shop when one of them gets greedy and inadvertently sets off the alarm. They flee, but one, Surnett (Paul Naschy), is shot in the head by the police. He is desperately unluckily; the policeman managed to hit him without breaking any of the car windows. Henry (Oliver Matot), the head gangster, sends one of the others to collect their regular doctor (Carlos Otero), an alcoholic wreck who has obviously seen better days. The doctor says that the only hope for Surnett is to get him to an old friend who is researching brain surgery, so they pile Surnett into a camper van and set off for the country.

The professor, delightfully, has had his hands rendered useless by an accident and his wife now has to operate for him in their basement laboratory. You will no doubt be pleased to note that all your favourite clich�s are present. The professor needs a donor so that he can harvest brain tissue in order to save Surnett. The doctor gets out his little black book of criminal clients and they decide that Henry's arch-enemy, the man nick-named 'the Sadist' (Roberto Mauri), would be the ideal client. You're way ahead of me now, aren't you?

We then cut back to Paris and a sleazy red-light district where the Sadist is in a nightclub watching an act performing what looks like a modern dance interpretation of the Mongol horde. It's probably the most professional thing in the film which probably explains Fortuny's decision to show it in its entirety. The performance resembles nothing quite as much as one of those studio-bound planetary fights that they were so fond of in the original series of Star Trek, right down to the crazy bongo-driven music. All dancers, it should be noted, remain fully clothed.

After that bizarre interlude, we then have the two henchmen and the van playing cat-and-mouse with the Sadist around Paris with some very creative editing. Sometimes there's bright sunshine, sometimes it's evening, sometimes it's overcast, and occasionally it even appears to be night-time. Needless to say, they eventually obtain their head and the whole horrible tragedy starts to unfold. The Sadist's girlfriend, a hard-faced, bad-tempered blonde called Barbara (Evelyn Scott), leads a revenge attack on the original gang at the professor's mansion and pretty soon it is only a question of who will survive. It is one of those plots that only progresses because most of the characters are idiots.

Curiously, there are two versions of this film. There is the regular, and one might almost say, family edition, and there is a soft porn edition. The porn edition has several scenes that were cut for the regular edition (using some uncommon skill - well, uncommon for this film - nary a nipple is sighted in the regular version). Other scenes were shot twice; once with the actresses clothed and again with them in a state of undress. The regular version, for what it's worth, is the more appealing of the two. And slightly more convincing; you can't achieve penetration from that angle, young man!

The Man With The Severed Head (aka: Las ratas no duermen de noche) has also been released as Crimson, and many of the cast seem to be operating under assumed names here. Paul Nacshy, for example is credited as Paul Nash. This particular edition has been transferred from a somewhat scratchy print but to be honest it doesn't really matter. This isn't Godard and never pretends otherwise.

The Man With The Severed Head

Man With The Severed Head

copyright © 2001 - Pigasus Press