CRIMSON (1973) Blu-ray
Director: Juan Fortuny
Kino Lorber/Redemption Films

By 1973, Spanish horror great Paul Naschy (aka Jacinto Molina) had played Dracula, a mummy, and of course half a dozen or so appearances as werewolf Waldemar Daninsky. During this prosperous career period, Naschy also found time to star in less-demanding roles such as in this awkward mix of sci-fi, horror and crime thriller themes. Best known internationally under the title that translates to "The Rats Come Out at Night," the film was released here on home video in the 1980s as CRIMSON, the rather bland moniker that's stuck ever since. Redemption Films and Kino Lorber now present CRIMSON on Blu-ray featuring two different cuts of the film: the tame English-language version and the "adult" French version.

Naschy stars as Jack Surnett, the leader of a gang of thugs who attempt to break into the safe of a jewelry store at night. When one of his members (Spanish character great Victor Israel, THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED, HORROR EXPRESS) botches the heist, the police chase after them and Jack gets a shot in the head while riding in the getaway car. The gang goes to a washed-up, alcoholic doctor (Carlos Otero, THE KILLER WORE GLOVES) who suggests taking Jack to a brilliant surgeon who is adept at performing advanced experiments. When they arrive, the surgeon (Spanish voice over artist Ricardo Palmerola) tells them they need to find a brain donor in order for him to perform a life-saving operation. It also happens that he can no longer perform surgery, so his wife Ana (Silvia Solar, NIGHT OF THE HOWLING BEAST, EYEBALL) will have to take on the demanding procedure. The unwilling donor is a rival gangster known as "The Sadist" (director Roberto Mauri, who helmed SLAUGHTER OF THE VAMPIRES, the incredible KING OF KONG ISLAND and a number of other Italian exploitation flicks). The Sadist gets caught with his pants down (literally) and is shot to death. In one of the film's most memorable scenes, two of the thugs remove his head by laying his body on the railroad track, allowing the train to sever it and roll down a hill. The operation is performed, Jack lives, but as these types of movies dictate, everything goes wrong and he becomes a lunatic, taking on the deranged traits of said Sadist.

This French/Spanish effort was largely produced by Eurociné (with other interested financial parties in the mix), the company that churned out many Jess Franco films in the 1970s and 1980s. Known in France as L' Homme à la tête coupée and in the UK as both CRIMSON, THE COLOR OF TERROR and THE MAN WITH THE SEVERED HEAD (which is carried over on the disc’s packaging for the “alternate” cut) CRIMSON is a watchable film that tries to throw in lots of different ingredients, but doesn't have enough of them to be fully satisfying. Lots of Frankenstein motifs run through the picture, and Naschy spends most of the time in bed or on the operating table with white bandages wrapped around his head. It's still more entertaining than most Eurociné films of the period and the plot can be interesting if you let yourself get involved in it. When Image Entertainment released the film on DVD back in 2002, they included as an extra over ten minutes of erotic alternative footage and outtakes from the saucier French version. These scenes are included here, but in the alternate French version which ones 98 minutes (the English version runs 89 minutes). The sequences in question have a number of the cast members in simulated sex scenes that can more or less can be considered softcore. Even Naschy gets into the action, but he has a pasty double in some rear view shots and later claimed that he never knew that the extra sexual fluff was shot (although the actor—as usual—can be seen cupping and kissing female breasts, it’s obvious from the inferior physique that a stand-in is doing the aggressive bumping and grinding).

CRIMSON was executive produced by the late Marius Lesoeur (who also makes an appearance in the film as a trigger-happy police officer), the founder of Eurociné and father of Daniel Lesoeur who served as assistant director and is still active in the film business. Director Juan Fortuny also worked on the screenplay, as well as the screenplay for the better-known (at least among Eurocult fans) ORLOFF AND THE INVISIBLE MONSTER (1970). Fortuny doesn’t show much style here, and the film’s mix of gangsters, sex and sci-fi is decidedly clumsy (as is the hollow English post-syncing), not to mention a musical number with two Genghis Khan-attired male dancers and a gold bikini-attired gal that was lifted from earlier, unidentifiable movie. Also in the cast is family gray-haired French sleaze regular Olivier Mathot (CANNIBAL TERROR) and chrome-domed Claude Boisson (aka Yul Sanders, DEVIL HUNTER) as members of Jack’s gang, and blondes Evelyne Scott (MIDNIGHT PARTY) and Gilda Arancio (ZOMBIE LAKE) adding the sex appeal (and carrying it a bit further in the included French version). The jazzy and rather goofy score is by Daniel White, who did numerous scores for Eurociné films and was frequently used by Franco.

The Redemption/Kino Lorber Blu-ray for CRIMSON has been mastered in HD from the original 35mm film elements in 1080p, carrying a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The opening English language titles (same as the French version) are over video art that some will remember from renting it on VHS when it was released here by Wizard Video in the 1980s (the 1973 film is given a 1985 copyright and Paul Naschy is credited as “Paul Nash” while Olivier Mathot is billed as “Oliver Matthews”). The original elements show some scattered dirt and debris, and the occasional hazy “day for night” scenes don’t do the transfer any favors, but the image looks quite nice overall. Interior studio scenes especially stand out in crisp detail and vivid colors, and grain structure—even when heavier—is nicely reproduced, with black levels being strong throughout (the English and French versions are identical in quality, with the French version of course running longer). The English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is serviceable, as is the French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track (with includes optional English subtitles).

Horror film historian Richard Harland Smith is on hand for an audio commentary, and he’s really in his element here. He starts things off with the usual information about Naschy (his weightlifting career and his first starring horror movie role), but thankfully his enlightening talk mostly centers around CRIMSON which not a lot is known about when compared to other films of its ilk (Naschy is centered on towards the end of the commentary, but it’s actually nothing too repetitive). Harland Smith reveals a lot about the production (that it was shot on location in Paris and in the studio in Barcelona), its international cast (and how many of them are connected to THE DEVIL’S KISS) and crew and even shares some tidbits from his conversation with assistant director Daniel Lesoeur (who says the film was mostly influenced by THE HANDS OF ORLAC). (George R. Reis)