Saturday 4 May 2013

The Man With The Severed Head

Giving Head

The Man With The Severed Head
1973 Spain/France
Directed by Juan Fortuny
Arrow Films DVD Region 0

So, before I tell you about this film, let me tell you of my personal Mystery Of The Man With The Severed Head.

A couple of years ago I was on my lonesome, browsing through the horror section of Fopp records, when I noticed this Paul Naschy movie on their shelves. I made a mental note to buy the thing when I next had some spare cash but, as luck would have it, by the time I’d gotten home I’d completely forgotten the title of the movie (one of many I’ve forgotten under similar circumstances). I’d told nobody I wanted to see this and I wouldn’t have been able to recall the title to order a copy for myself if I’d wanted to anyway. The film soon passed from memory.

Imagine my surprise then when, a number of weeks ago, a non-franked, plain white padded envelope arrived for me with my name and address ink jet printed onto a label, containing this particular film, The Man With The Severed Head. No note, no compliments slip, no kind of traceable details. Just the movie, brand new, still in shrink-wrap.

Can you, in fact, imagine the full, horrifying implication of my surprise?

Frankly, since only a handful of people had my address and almost none of them even knows who Paul Naschy is, my only logical conclusion was to perceive this inflammatory cinematic epistle as a death threat. I tried to trace who would send me this sinister package in the post but to no avail. If it had been called The Fluffy Bunnies Meet The Easter Beagle then I probably wouldn’t have worried about is so much and for so long. But The Man With The Severed Head? I thought about notifying the police but, fortunately, held off for a couple of weeks and, luckily the mystery was finally solved. If you want to know the end of this story, and why some of you who I know read this blog might have received a similar package in the post, I’ll clear that all up at the end of this review.

So onto the film itself...

The Man With The Severed Head is a terrible movie.

There’s no two ways about it. It would have been nice if it had been so terrible it was also really enjoyable but, alas, while there are moments of unintentional laughs to be found in it, it’s mostly just really dull and frankly, unwatchable, for a lot of its running time. And that’s a shame because I do quite like Paul Naschy.

To further rub salt in the wounds, the film starts off really well and I was really getting into it for the first ten minutes. It begins with a store robbery that goes wrong when one of a safecracker’s gang accidentally sets off an alarm and they are being chased by the police in a low budget car chase. During this time the boss/safecracker, played by Paul Naschy, gets shot and the gang get their resident “patcher-upper” of a doctor to try to operate on the bullet that has penetrated Naschy’s head but it’s no use. Then, rather than take their boss to a hospital, the “patcher-upper” takes the gang to the only real and obvious choice left to them. He takes them all to his ex-student scientist friend who says he is able to help Naschy by grafting extra brain from a freshly severed head.

Because, yeah! That’s always the correct solution, right?

The film gets convoluted and details the rivalry between two criminal gangs as our “heroes” kill and behead the rival gang’s leader’s head to help out Naschy and everyone is trying to kill each other while Naschy starts taking on certain sadistic and animalistic traits of the other gang’s former boss. And of course, the only way they could think to cut off the rival gang leaders head was to position him in the path of an oncoming train.

Yes, I’m not making this up.

This film is filled with incompetent characters and bizarre moments of badly simulated sex (um... there’s no way you’re even anywhere near target with your naughty parts in rough proximity to hers mister actor), most of which are from another, alternate cut by the looks of it but which have been added as deleted scenes on the DVD extras. There’s also a bizarre song and dance number which is so badly edited into the actual body of the film, that I’m pretty sure that it originally came from a completely different film altogether and is just spliced into this one without any real thought about matching up the sets, style or colours etc.

Yeah, I know. It sounds ludicrous and like it should be one of the most entertaining bad movies going... trust me, it’s not. It’s just bad.

The opening sequences are really good but Naschy drops out as a character and only comes back for brief scenes in the last third of the movie, which is a shame because I’m thinking if he had been given more of a role in this the movie might have at least survived the passage of time as something even remotely watchable. Alas, it didn’t. And that’s all I’ve really got to say about it.

I tried watching it with the English audio dub at first (because I thought that was the original soundtrack) but soon switched to the French with English subtitles option. Why? Well lets just say that the phrase translated from the French as “don’t be playing the fool” turned up on the English dub in a grotty British accent which had decided to dub the line as “Don’t be a c*nt!” This level of profanity is pretty out-of-place to the kind of film it is and the time period it was made (although I have no problems believing it actually went out like this on original UK release prints, if it indeed was ever released theatrically in the UK) that I guessed pretty early on that the film had not been shot in English. Although, maybe I should have left the English dub on for comical effect?

The Arrow DVD comes with an additional but, I’m sorry, badly knocked up “documentary” on Paul Naschy... but I use the term documentary lightly because it really is not at all informative about the man’s career or life and the various people talking about him (between bizarrely unrelated clips which don’t match what most of them are talking about, presumably due to licensing restrictions) merely serve as a study of the man’s good character and don’t really tell you too much. The only saving grace of this DVD that I could see, asides from the handsomely morbid cover art and the reversible sleeve with one of the foreign posters for the movie, is the roughly two minutes of footage in the extra feature where we see “the first lady of fantasy” Caroline Munro being interviewed about Naschy... now that was a welcome touch.

All in all, though, I’d have to say it’s well worth giving this movie a wide berth. I can’t imagine sitting through this one again and I am just grateful I didn’t actually buy it myself a couple of years ago when I saw it in Fopp.

But at least I know who sent it, now.

A friend, Jason, who has a stall at some of the Film Fairs I occasionally go to, told me that it was Arrow Films themselves who had sent this particular package out to a load of people. Remember in my Zombie Flesh Eaters review (read it here) I’d warned that the first pressing of that was short a few seconds after the opening credits and that you had to send the first disc back to Arrow to get a corrected one (which they did and it arrived very promptly)... well this is a follow up for everybody who paid the postage to send that disc back to them, apparently. Everybody on that list gets sent a free copy of The Man With The Severed Head as compensation. It’s a really nice after thought and good customer service, although I’m sure they probably picked their slowest seller to give out for free. It really is a bad movie. Still, it’s really good of them to do that and they should be applauded... even if they didn’t tell people about it and probably loads of people also now believe they have had a death threat... honestly, just a compliment slip would have been nice.

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