Review: The Man With The Severed Head DVD

Spanish/French horror oddity is a head-scratcher

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Certificate: 15
Running Time: 87 mins
Year Made: 1976
Director: Juan Fortuny Screenwriter: Juan Fortuny, Marius Lesoeur
Cast: Paul Naschy, Silvia Solar, Olivier Mathot

Released: 12 September 2011 Price: £6.99 Number Of Discs: 1
Distributor: Arrow Video

In the late Seventies/Eighties era of classic Euro-horror-schlock Spain was always hard to make clunky generalisations about. Italy, for example, is a godsend to cliché, allowing all manner of lazy hypothesis about that the impact of Catholicism, political instability and the legacy of the Second World War. Spain on the other hand was forced by the fascist dictates of General Franco to set its horror output outside of the country, resulting in widely varied styles and tones, from the creeping gothic style explosion of Amando de Ossorio to the bloody and over-sexualist exploitation cinema of Jess Franco.

Set largely in France and co-written by Marius Lesoeur, the executive producer and chief of notorious pan-European (although based in France) exploitation studio Eurociné, The Man With The Severed Head can’t help but take on a bit of a Gallic tint, its slightly surreal and invasive score (you keep expecting to see people being chased by trumpets like a Emir Kusturica comedy) and the eerie lighting of its cinematography (not to mention the Cossack dance number, not exactly conducive to the plot or the atmosphere), being the stand-out feature of a typically convoluted and hokey storyline in which a bank robber (Paul Naschy, of the brilliant Horror Rises From The Tomb) is gunned in the noggin by the Gendamerie and to be saved, must have his grey matter transplanted into the head of his most hated of enemies, The Sadist, by a backstreet surgeon whose daughter is kidnapped by the robbers as insurance. Oh, and The Sadist’s underworld cronies want to find out what happened to their buddy and our transplant starts getting headaches as desires bubble up that explain just why The Sadist deserved that name, obviously nonsense but the perfect set up for a hyper-violent horror/thriller, yes?

Absolutely, but apparently Juan Fortuny had other ideas. There’s weird outbreaks of slapstick as gangsters get all Chuckle Brothers about disposing of a body, but after the Cossack dance number (!?) seeing them all roll down a hill in a bath tub like the cast of Last Of The Summer Wine would seem perfectly appropriate to the tone. The gunfire sounds like it’s being produced by a Theremin, it’s not until 33 minutes in that someone gets their boobs out (which by Eurociné standards is fiercely puritanical) and amazingly, given how odd the plot sounds when you get it down in a couple of sentences, surprisingly little actually happens, what with all the drawn out establishing shots of people playing cards or monologues explaining who they are in terms as organic and graceful as swallowing Lego bricks.

It’s a budget release, so there’s little in the way of bonus features – but both the lovely 20-odd minute Paul Naschy featurette, which details the late icon’s incredible career, and the “Additional Erotic Scenes” in radically different ways remind you of better things you could be watching.