Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962)

Jess Franco, what is there to say about Franco and his incredibly long list of films? Well, I am about to go on a cinematic journey through some of Franco’s work, so I am sure I will not be at a loss for words.  I first discovered Franco many, many years ago while perusing the horror section of my local mom and pop video store. I believe my first Franco viewing was either Jack the Ripper (1976) or Count Dracula (1970). My memory is pretty sketchy on this matter but I do remember being intrigued by what I saw. Later in life I discovered more of his films such as Oasis of the Zombies (1982), Demoniac (1975) and A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1971). I always walked away from his work feeling let down and just not sure where I stood on his films. Last year I borrowed the Mondo Macabro DVD release of Lorna the Exorcist (1974) and was completely blown away by its weirdness and eroticism. So finally I decided that I needed to rediscover Jess Franco’s work and I decided to start with what many consider one of his best films; The Awful Dr. Orloff.

"There's a sale at Penny's!"
The Awful Dr. Orloff is set in France during the early 1900s. Orloff  (Howard Vernon and Franco regular) is a brilliant surgeon whose mental faculties have taken a turn for the worse after his daughter’s face has been horribly scarred. Orloff’s plan is to lure handpicked beautiful young women to his castle where he can then use their skin to try and repair his daughters damaged face. Orloff is assisted by Morpho( Riccardo Valle), a blind brute who seems to enjoy biting his victims. 

One of the many great atmospheric moments
 As more girls disappear, detective Tanner ( Conrado San Martin) is assigned to the case. Tanner’s fiancĂ© , Wanda (Diana Lorys) is a dancer at the local theater, where Orloff has been kidnapping young women. Orloff becomes a suspect and Wanda decides to set a trap for him. Orloff is completely taken by Wanda because she is the exact visage of his daughter Melissa. She fakes being drugged in order to be taken to Orloff’s lair but not before she writes a note and has it delivered to Tanner. Can her fiancĂ© rescue her from the clutches of the demented Dr. Orloff? Watch it and find out because this is one top notch piece of Spanish horror!

Howard Vernon = Creepy
According to Franco, this film was written after seeing The Brides of Dracula (1960) at a local theater with Franco’s producers. No one wanted to make a horror film but once the producers saw the now Hammer classic, they gave a green light to Franco. The story was also set in France to distance itself from any negativity that it might bring to the country of Spain (something the Spanish government would have frowned upon).

Franco’s direction is solid in this film. There are no erratic zooms, something that Franco is notorious for in some of his films. There are plenty of atmospheric shots especially in the streets of France and in the abode of Dr. Orloff himself. And what would a Franco film be if there was no violence and nudity involved? For 1962 the amount in this film was really pushing cinematic limits. The violence isn’t gory it’s more sexual in nature. There are two scenes in which Franco mixes these elements. The scene where Dr. Orloff performs a surgical procedure on one of his victims is excellently filmed. 
"Do my eyes bother you my dear?"

A uninterrupted one take of Orloff fondling the breats of his subject, admiring her beautiful skin and then cutting into the skin with a scalpel while she is awake. Howard Vernon here excels in creepiness, as he always seems to do whenever on camera. The other scene is when Wanda is recaptured by Morpho. He savagely grabs her, pulling down the top of her dress to expose her breasts. As she struggles in his grasp he proceeds to grope her, almost losing control of the situation before containing himself and hauling Wanda back into the lab of Orloff. I’m not really sure if Diana Lorys used a body double in this scene or not but her face is out of frame during the nudity. When we see her again, her dress is righted which leaves me to believe she may not have done the topless scene. In addition the actress portraying the dancer whom we see operated on has her face obscured by surgical bandages. It is possible neither actress bared their flesh for Franco’s camera. Either way both scenes do push the limits of early 1960’s cinema.
My favorite creepy shot

The movie does seem to play out much like a Hammer production in which it was somewhat modeled. This could be why I really enjoyed it. The only problem I had with this film was the editing at the end. It almost seemed like Franco got lazy for some reason and the last few minutes are rushed. Maybe there is some footage missing in the version I saw, which happened to be aired on Turner Classic Movies in French language and English subtitles. I’m not sure what Franco film to view next but I can only hope it is an entertaining as this one. The Awful Dr. Orloff is highly recommended to anyone who is a fan of the more gothic and Victorian horror settings.

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