... aka: La peau qui brûle (The Burning Skin)
... aka: Red Headed Corpse, The
... aka: Redhead with Hot Skin, The
... aka: Sensuous Doll, The
... aka: Sexy Spirits, The
... aka: Sweet Spirits
Someone on a motorcycle is lurking around the home of John Ward (Farley Granger); a lonely, mentally unstable, alcoholic American artist currently living in Istanbul. That same person later breaks into John's house, steals a photo and goes to a bar, where he inquires about the beautiful redhead in the picture. A woman merely tells him she's "the bosses girlfriend" but doesn't seem to want to elaborate beyond that. While walking through the woods the following day, John stumbles across a bunch of hippies lying around in a field. After refusing their offer to "turn on," one of the men drags a mannequin over to him and leaves it lying by his feet. He says he can have it if he promises to take care of it. "She's better than the real thing," he adds, "She never talks back and she's always waiting." John takes the raggedy, faceless mannequin home, talks to it and then promises it he'll fix it up.
After having an unsuccessful encounter with a very persistent but insecure prostitute (Ivana Novak), John returns home to continue repairing the mannequin. After scraping something off its back, the mannequin starts bleeding and next thing he knows it has transformed into an actual woman (Krista Nell). And the woman, whom he refers to as Patty ("Lady of the House" in Turkish), is just how the hippie described. She doesn't talk back (because she's mute), never asks for anything, is always eagerly waiting at home for him to return with a big smile on her face and endures his mood swings because she's completely subservient. When John decides to make love to his "doll," all of that changes. The mannequin morphs yet again into another beautiful woman (Erika Blanc), only this new incarnation isn't anything like the last. Patty 2.0 is an intelligent, seductive, manipulative woman who has needs and wants, her own voice and opinion (that she doesn't hesitate to make known) and something of a cruel streak when she doesn't get her way. She's also not going to be controlled nor just allow the insecure John to lock her away in his home.
John has been struggling to get by and has only been able to sell his paintings for a few hundred lira apiece. The art dealers all want nude women because that's what sells, but John wants to paint what he wants when he wants. The problem is, examples of what he wants are still hanging up in galleries all over town, unsold. Sick of living in poverty, Patty offers to pose nude for him so they can make a little money and stop living like paupers. Though resistant at first, John finally relents. He takes the painting into the gallery and is offered 1000 lira. More paintings soon follow. Art collector Omar Bay (Aydin Terzel) starts commissioning specific paintings of Patty and becomes infatuated with her in the process. And he's not the only one.
John soon discovers he's got some real competition and must start catering to the increasingly needy Patty's every wish or risk losing her. She takes on macho local hunter Steve (Venantino Venantini) as a lover, as well as the wealthy Omar, who promises to shower her with gifts if she'll leave John to be with him. John starts finding clues around the home (a shotgun shell, a cigarette in the ashtray) that other men have been sneaking over while he's away and the already mentally-unsound artist finds himself growing more and more paranoid. Pretty soon, Patty is all but rubbing his face in her various infidelities, including seducing a 16-year-old boy on a beach. She eventually decides to run off with Steve to Barcelona, but first offers John one more night... in exchange for his soul. Just what is she? A ghost? A demon? Some other kind of supernatural being? Just a figment of John's imagination?
Even though this has been written off as lesser than by some giallo devotees who've specifically sought it out and then been disappointed there's not a gloved killer running amok, this is actually a pretty interesting little psycho-drama / eerie mystery with supernatural overtones that has some interesting things to say about love, insecurity and the power play that occurs in most romantic relationships. Helping to carry this oddity along are very good performances from its two stars, with Granger effective as the intense, controlling, imbalanced artist and a perfectly cast Blanc sinking her teeth into the role of an enigmatic, scheming seductress.
First released to U.S. theaters as The Sensuous Doll in 1976, this made its way to video under the title Sweet Spirits in 1988, courtesy of Private Screenings. The box for that video (falsely) claims it runs 87 minutes but most other prints run anywhere from 70 to 78. I'm not even sure how long the uncut version is supposed to be but I've seen it listed as anywhere from 82 to 90 minutes, which means the 78 minute Retromedia DVD release that I viewed is missing some footage. Another DVD being sold by Asian Cult Cinema (under the title The Sexy Spirits) claims to run 84 minutes and shows stills not seen in the version I viewed.
Certain releases have reels out of order and others have re-edited the film or even reassembled certain scenes in a different order. Some cuts have removed most of the nudity while, on the other end of the spectrum, there's a French-language version with added XXX sex inserts. Would be nice if we could at least get a regular uncut version of this one.