Whether you will enjoy The Red Headed Corpse (aka The Sensuous Doll, dir. Renzo Russo, 1972) will depend on the results of your own personal cost-benefit analysis. Are you willing to spend a great deal of your movie-watching time staring straight into the haggard, leathery, alcohol-ravaged face of Farley Granger--his watery, bloodshot eyes filled with self-loathing, his lips foam-flecked with the hateful venom they spew whenever they're not wrapped around the neck of a liquor bottle--if every now and then, as your reward, you get to see Erika Blanc naked?
Don't answer right away. This one bears serious thought.
Granger plays artist John Ward, the kind of misanthropic, irredeemable, apocalyptically assholic character that could only be the protagonist in an Italian exploitation flick from the 70s. In the opening scenes he all but spits on an art dealer who offers him 300 lira for a few slapdash drawings, then blows the whole wad on booze before going back to his studio to get catatonic. We see he's being followed by a mystery man on a motorcycle, who even goes so far as to break into Ward's house and steal a photo for later use--but after a couple of minutes the movie seems to forget all about him, and so should all of us.
Since he's clearly not rolling in dough from his paintings, we can only assume Ward comes from money--his studio is actually a decrepit gothic mansion, with acres of unkempt grounds. Walking off his hangover the next day, Ward runs into a gaggle of hippies who have crashed on his land, playing folk music, dropping acid, and having random hairy sex in the name of Peace. (God bless 'em!) Eventually one of the bearded brethren sees him and offers him spiritual freedom in handy, smokable form:
"Hey man, want to turn on?""Huh-uh.""Why? You like the world as it is?"[venomously] "I DON'T GIVE A DAMN!"
|"Seriously, man, try it--it intensifies your personality!"|
"No thanks--I'm an asshole."
Seeing that their petal-pushing is unwelcome here, the hippies summarily split, but not before Ward's dialogue partner bequeaths a parting gift--a battered junk-shop mannequin with a flowing red wig! "You want a girl?" the Hippie asks."Well here's one you can make your very own. She's better than the real thing! She won't talk back, and she'll always be waiting..." How the hippies came by the figure or why they carry it with them remains unclear, but I'm sure it seemed like a good idea after four tabs.
Back in the studio, Ward sets up his plaster playmate and then proceeds to get plastered himself. A few drinks in he hatches the unsurprising plan to fix the doll's face into the most beautiful he can imagine, which of course he can do, being a painter and all.
|"Relax--you're not the first girl I've spackled."|
Later at a bar--where I can only assume he fled because he drank everything in the mansion, including cough syrup and drain cleaner--Ward runs into a gorgeous red-haired lady of the evening who proposes a for-profit body-fluid transaction. Dripping condescension and condemnation, Ward shoots her down and leaves--with the natural result that she follows him out of the bar, stops him in the street, and offers to forego her fee if this drunken, wrinkled, hateful little man will just bed her already! Because really, 70s Italian whores weren't in it for the money--all they really wanted was LOVE.
The more hateful and alcoholic the better, apparently.
His hardball haggling having paid off to a ridiculous degree, he accompanies the Gold-Hearted Hooker to her friend's apartment to seal the deal. Once there she gets needy and clingy, saying she'd like to wake up next to him and begging to be allowed to model for his paintings. "Aren't I beautiful enough?" she asks, displaying a gorgeously voluptuous Eurobod and Duke-Approved Free-Range Bush™. "Don't you think I can do it?"
|You don't have to be a dummy to love him, but it helps.|
Apparently the answer is no, because next we find him back at Chez Whiskey, working on his doll while unpacking some serious psychological baggage. "I'll make you lovely--a dream! You'll be lovely...pure...and FAITHFUL...Everything a woman SHOULD be!" If you guessed he's been burned before, and as a result now hates all women and sees them as soul-draining vampires bent on control and destruction of all men--well hey, you get a cookie! John finishes the touch-up, and before you can say "Pygmalion!" the doll has come to life!
Not one to look a gift mannequin in the mouth, Ward instead focuses on his new girl's bodacious ta-tas, as she silently sweeps through the house, miming childlike discovery at every piece of furniture. The love of a good woman-shaped object really works wonders, as soon he's happy and sober and selling lots of art. "You're an angel," he says to his artificial love, whom he's christened Christine (Erika Blanc). "You never ask for anything!"
|Good work, John.|
Pay attention, kids: that's a clue.
Soon his work catches the eye of the world's slimiest art collector, Omar Bey, who offers Ward thousands for each new painting. Meanwhile, bored at the mansion, Christine starts an affair with a greasy hunter who just happens to turn up, played by Venantino Venantini (Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye). When Omar conspires to come by while Ward is out of the house, he gets what he came for, but leaves behind a distinctive cigar butt, which Ward recognizes immediately.
|"I don't know about you, but post-Impressionism gives me SERIOUS WOOD."|
His jealousy reawakened, Ward confronts his cheating lover; however, he hasn't figured on her backbone of reinforced, aluminum-plated steel! "I'm free to take love if I want to--that's how it was when I found you! You feel like killing me? Then do it! Go ahead, big man! You're just like all the others...a pig, a disgusting pig!" I thought she was modeling macrame for hippies when he found her, but never mind. Cowed and emasculated, Ward drowns his sorrows while Christine becomes more and more brazen, flaunting her affairs--including a beachside tryst with a college kid in the highest-waisted swim trunks EVAR--right under his swollen red nose.
This can't go on forever, though--soon a reckoning must be made, leading to a final confrontation that teases at some unearned and wholly un-set-up supernaturalism, then dissolves into a fever dream of unburied corpses and meant-to-be-shocking plot twists that are in practice much less interesting than they sound. Oh, and the motorcycle guy's identity is revealed, and he narrates about five minutes of plot-hole filler before a sardonic cop gives us the head-scratching ending "twist." Fin.
|No strings attached.|
So all this doesn't sound too terrible, and maybe it's not, as long as you're the patient sort. Because let me tell you, it takes a lot less time to read a synopsis than to actually watch the movie. It starts off pretty strong, with all the weirdness of Ward's psychosis and the "mannequin inexplicably comes to life" stuff, but by the 40-minute mark all that's in the past. The next 40 mins are mostly Ward being drunk and hateful, Christine being nude and hateful, and Omar and the hunter being slimy. Not much else.
It wouldn't be half as tedious if you had an interesting character to latch onto, but unfortunately Russo strikes out there as well. Granger's John Ward is so hateful, drunk, and pathetic, he actively repels audience sympathy. Erika Blanc is aptly named--sure, she's gorgeous and often naked, but her acting skills are almost nil; she's a blank space where someone meant to draw in an interesting character, but forgot. (On the other hand, she *is* playing a mannequin, so maybe it was method.) The only other characters of note, the hunter and Omar, are likewise slimy and unappealing. The easily infatuated hooker is the only half-way sympathetic character, and she's in it for less than five minutes.
|"Do that thing again where you hate everybody and call me a slut. That's HAWT."|
This was Russo's last feature film, at it looks like that was no mistake. The editing is choppy, and despite periodic flashes of style in composition, the direction as a whole mostly comes across as merely adequate. Combine that with a plot that doesn't make sense half the time (and the other half is just plain stupid), and I'm afraid there's not much left in the "plus" column.
But there *is* Erika Blanc naked. A lot. The question is--is that enough?
Maybe for you. For me, it's enough for 1.5 thumbs, and not much more.
|"SAY NO MOOAH!"|
A few more images from The Red Headed Corpse (1972):
|"God, how I hate this window treatment!"|
|"I just want to put a new coat of shellack on it, I swear!"|
|"Ooh, look at THIS attachment I could get! That could be fun, no?"|
|Little known fact: at one time, Erika Blanc was the leading European James Brown impersonator.|
|One for the ladies.|
|Farley Granger's Dylan phase|
|"Excuse me, have you seen the point of all this? We're looking for it."|