a.k.a. LAS CRUELES
Directed by Vicente Aranda
Review by Chris Poggiali
A beautiful young woman emerges from a corn field.
As a train approaches...
...she rests her head on the railroad track...
...and with eyes closed, awaits certain death.
"It was horror -- tense, visceral horror." We are now in the office of a book editor...
...as he listens to an author read an early chapter of his latest horror novel.
"Past nightmares molded her face into a mask of sheer panic. Ghastly looking hands and arms suddenly emerged from the darkness, slowly coming toward her. The arms were covered with hair, colorless, glacial. The elbows resembled regal parchment coming to a point in the darkness."
The author finishes reading the chapter. "Do you like it?" he asks, as the editor's secretary enters carrying a package.
"I'll tell you when I read the rest," the editor replies...
...and he begins to unwrap the package.
"I thought I'd leave the description of the hands until the next chapter, when she tears one to pieces," the author tells the editor.
"I see you believe in the school of 'impact writing.'"
"Yes, sir. For me, writing a book is an act of violence."
"An ingenious approach."
"Imagination is everything."
"I certainly enjoy hearing talk like that instead of narrative technique like all the others. However..."
The editor sees the contents of the package.
For a moment, he is struck speechless.
Then, he glares at the author. "Is this your idea of 'imagination'?!"
The author has no idea what he's talking about.
"In the future, do me the favor of submitting your 'impact novels' to some other publisher!"
It is only after the author is dismissed that we learn there is a human hand inside the box.
The editor tells his secretary that it's just a wax hand, but he's a lousy liar.
Not only is it real...
...he obviously knows this hand.
Instead of going to the police, the editor takes the package to a nearby park...
...and buries it, presumably so his wife will not find out.
When he gets home, his wife informs him that he's received a telegram from someone named Parker. "It's rather odd," she says. "It asks if you're interested in a forearm."
THE EXQUISITE CADAVER is based on the short story "Bailando Para Parker" ("Dancing for Parker") by Gonzalo Suarez, which appears in his collection Trece Veces Trece (Thirteen Times Thirteen), published in 1964.
The film's title is a direct reference to the Cadavre Exquis collaborative technique of creating art, poetry and prose. Originally a parlor game with multiple players building on a poem, short story, or drawing -- with each player having little or no knowledge of what precedes their own contribution -- it was popularized by André Breton and other French Surrealists in the 1920s. Aranda's adaptation of Suarez's story features three main participants:
The mysterious Parker is played by French actress Capucine, best known for her roles in THE PINK PANTHER, WALK ON THE WILD SIDE and THE 7TH DAWN.
Argentinian actor Carlos Estrada plays the book editor, a.k.a. "The Husband."
"The Wife" is Teresa Gimpera, a Spanish actress familiar to Euro horror fans from such shockers as FEAST OF SATAN, NIGHT OF THE DEVILS, LOVE BRIDES OF THE BLOOD MUMMY, THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK, NIGHT OF THE SCORPION, REFUGE OF FEAR, and CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD.
Each of these three players reveals in their own way the sad story of Esther Casino, the young woman who attempts suicide in the opening scene. Shown only in flashbacks, Esther is played by British beauty Judy Matheson, later seen in LUST FOR A VAMPIRE, TWINS OF EVIL, CRUCIBLE OF TERROR, THE HOUSE THAT VANISHED and THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW.
And yes, Esther becomes a different type of "Exquisite Cadaver" before the end of the movie.
As for the book editor and his comment about narrative technique...
...THE EXQUISITE CADAVER is so neatly plotted that every one of its most striking images is included in the trailer and it still doesn't spoil the story.
However, one is advised to avoid reading too much about the movie beforehand, since even a one-sentence description will give away plot details. I've yet to read a synopsis anywhere that gets the film's timeline correct, and although the actors are all speaking English, the particulars of Esther's relationship with the charlatan Dr. Barrés are presented in French with no subtitles.
THE EXQUISITE CADAVER was acquired for U.S. distribution by Nick “NW” Russo, producer of the popular syndicated TV series GADABOUT GADDIS (“The Flying Fisherman”) and president of Gadabout-Gaddis Productions (GGP). The film was submitted to the MPAA in 1970 and released by GGP in early 1971 with an R rating.
GGP also released A HATCHET FOR A HONEYMOON, the spaghetti westerns FIND A PLACE TO DIE and THE MAN FROM NOWHERE, and sexy European thrillers like MARTA and Lucio Fulci’s ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER.
GGP later became G.G. Communications when Russo hit the kiddie matinee circuit with G-rated imports like ONCE UPON A TIME, THE LITTLE MERMAID, DUNDER KLUMPEN, and the live-action Pippi Longstocking adventures from Sweden.
Incredibly, THE EXQUISITE CADAVER was still in circulation as late as July 1983, when it turned up in Iola, Kansas as the co-feature to TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE!
The IMDb lists the original running time as 108 minutes, with 95 minutes noted as the "cut" version. According to the GGP-issued pressbook, U.S. prints run 94 minutes. Something Weird's edition, sourced from an attractive GGP print, begins with the MPAA rating tag but has no opening or closing credits and clocks in at 91 minutes, 27 seconds. The U.S. trailer, two minutes long and more grindhouse than arthouse in its marketing approach, is included after the feature.