Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Red Headed Corpse (1972): or, Love and Sex for Dummies

It's a truth we learn early: sometimes in order to get what you really want, you have to put up with something you really, really don't. You can have the ice cream, but only if you eat your Brussels Sprouts. You can buy those comic books, but only if you mow the yard. You might be able to get to third base, but only if you go antiquing for three hours and then sit through Love, Actually. So what's it gonna be? Is the cost worth the benefit? How bad do you want it?

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.

...for this?

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?"
"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.
All good things must come to an end, however, as she proves to be a quick study for a dummy. After Ward screws the power of speech into her (don't ask), there's no shutting her up! First, first she only professes her love, but soon moves on to requesting flowers and candy, and later to demanding expensive dresses and nonstop attention. In the face of her constant nagging, Ward hits the bottle again, and Christine suggests he resort to painting lurid nudes in order to finance her newfound expensive tastes--with her as the model, naturally. At first he refuses, but she bullies him into it: "Aren't I beautiful enough? Don't you think I can do it?"

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.


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."


Giovanni Susina said...

Great review Vicar! Completely agree with you here. This is probably one of Blanc’s worst films, but I felt that she at least wasn't wasted and is probably at her hottest. So paralleling what you were saying, I definitely felt that watching this took a bit of suffering in order to behold the good stuff I signed on for... Happy to see you reviewing again.

The Duke of DVD said...

A brilliant review, as usual, dearest Vicar! I guffawed much. The question you pose is indeed one that I've suffered with in the past when watching various movies staring various forms Euro-flesh. On the one hand, I have this smoking hot female, and on the other I have a sweaty, hairy Italian horn-dog attempting to mount her...

I do take exception with your reference to a "gaggle" of hippies. The correct usage is a "stench" of hippies, or the more conversational "smoke" of hippies. I forgive the oversight, though, as stenches of hippies aren't normally seen outside of San Francisco and parts of Toronto.

At least Ward didn't run into a "cunt" of gypsies...

Samuel Wilson said...

The weird thing, Vicar, is that I wouldn't be surprised if you'd told me that Granger had produced or even written the film. Something about it smacks of a vanity project -- a deeply misguided one, but such is vanity, after all.

dfordoom said...

It sounds like the sort of thing I might well be masochistic enough to enjoy.

JamiSings said...

Okay, shades of Pygmalion meets World's Biggest Fake Sluts. If remade they could recast the female lead with Paris Hilton. She already knows how to play wooden and slutty.

And as for Love Actually - you'd probably get to more than 3rd base. After all, it has Alan Rickman and that man oozes sex. Females of all ages get extremely hot and bothered just mentioning his name.


I never realized that reverse psychology worked on hookers back in the day but then again I always learn something new when reading the Vicar's work.

I only know Erica Blanc from THE DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE but I might be willing to sit through this movie to see more of her. After viewing ROBOT NINJA I think I can take anything.

Fine work as always Vicar. Good to see you back in the saddle again. (Or under the saddle depending on the nature of your relationship...)

The Vicar of VHS said...

Thanks for the comments, everybody!

@Giovanni--I have only seen a few Erika Blanc vehicles, but she's never really impressed me as an actress. Maybe I just haven't found the right flick. She's definitely easy on the eyes, though! And thanks--it's good to be back. :)

@The Duke--I knew you would understand, my friend! And thanks for the correction on the collective nouns. I plan on working them into daily conversation toot suite; perhaps next time I see a murder of Crow cosplayers. :P

@Samuel Wilson--That would make a lot of sense! But director Renzo Russo gets the writing credit here. According to imdb Granger was 47 when he starred in this, but you can see he looks much, much older. He's been living hard since Hitchcock, that's for sure!

@dfordoom--You can't say you weren't warned! ;)

@Jami--yes, Hilton would be perfect for the role, no doubt! Only I'm not sure she could pull off the red wig...

@Al Bruno III--I need to take a trip to Rome to verify the movie's hooker-related psychological findings. A sacrifice, but I'd gladly do it--for SCIENCE!

deadlydolls said...

Now THAT sounds like one happy--or just really needy--hooker. I'm sold, more for the mannequins and general sleaziness that I can already smell from your lovingly pungent review.

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