Weird Movie Corner: The Exquisite Cadaver (1969)
Based on the short story Bailando Para Parker, written by Gonzalo Suarez.
The plot follows a well-to-do publisher of pulp horror novels and family man, who begins to receive severed body parts in the mail two years after his mistress committed suicide. Along with one of these bloody parcels is a letter of blackmail from the dead woman's former lesbian lover, who seeks vengeance.
The Exquisite Cadaver was the original title of the film, but the producers rejected it, thinking that it had little commercial appeal. Director Vicente Aranda then proposed to call the film Les Crueles, a title that fitted the plot, and was chosen when it was released. Years later when the film was to be broadcast on television, Aranda handed down a video transfer that still bore the original title and that was used when it was released on VHS.
The film's title is a direct reference to the Cadavre Exquis collaborative technique of creating art, poetry and prose. Originally a parlorgame 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 Andre Breton and other French Surrealists in the 1920s.
Aranda's adaptation of Suarez's story features three main participants:
The mysterious Parker, the lesbian lover of the deceased woman, 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 publisher aka ''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 and Love Brides of the Blood Mummy
Each of these three players reveal 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 Judy Matheson, later seen in Lust for A Vampire, The House That Vanished and The Flesh and Blood Show.
The film was plagued by a series of problems: it was long in the making; Director Aranda had an accident during the shooting, which forced him lying down on a stretcher, and he had a legal battle with the producers. It would take Aranda many years to recover ownership of the film. The experience led him to found his own production company.
There were at least five different scripts and the film's ending varies from it's original source: Bailando Para Parker ends in a trial that is not in The Exquisite Cadaver. Aranda found inspiration for the script in the letters of Mariana Alcoforado, including the theme of her famous letters: To die for love, which is used in the sequence when the publisher discovers the body of his former lover.
The Exquisite Cadaver is a weird, Spanish art-house Euro-Horror that might also be considered a giallo by some, simply because of it's ingredients. Or a soap-opera with a decidedly feminist agenda. Some unusual directorial touches, lyrical cinematography, uneasy narrative flow and a somber jazz score by Marco Rossi give the film an art-house air that blends easily with the glossy grisliness of a few grindhouse elements. Capucine is coolly elegant as the enigmatic avenging angel and the secret bond all woman share can turn the tables on a ''common ordinary Romeo not worth the pain he caused.''