Image Entertainment presents
The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962)
"You're the best detective in the whole world, and you're my right-hand womanfrom now on."- Inspector Tanner (Conrado San Martin)
Stars: Howard Vernon, Conrado San Martin
Other Stars: Diana Lorys, Ricardo Valle
Director: Jess Franco
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some nudity, mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:23m:00s
Release Date: 2000-07-04
DVD ReviewIn discussions with friends who have never seen The Awful Dr. Orloff, Ioften compare it to Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space. I do this, notbecause Dr. Orloff is a terribly inept film in the same way as Plan9 is, but because both films are laughable examples of directors who have adistinct, outlandish style often thought stupid by uninformed viewers. Most film historians seem to agree though, that Dr. Orloff (originallycalled Screams in the Night) was the launching point of director JessFranco's lengthy career. Franco has since been involved in countless projects, often credited under one of many pseudonyms. Ranging from comedies to X-rated sex, Franco has touched on just about everything subject one can. Similarly,actor Howard Vernon has become something of an icon in European horror because of his 60's and 70's work with Franco.
The Awful Dr. Orloff tells the story of a series of dissapearances in anunnamed French city. Burlesque show performers are vanishing, and the pressure mountson the shoulders of Inspector Tanner (Conrado SanMartin) to solve the crimes. The audience however, already knows the fate of these girls. Themysterious Dr. Orloff (Howard Vernon) is kidnapping them in order to take theirskin! He wants to graft this skin onto his sister who has been disfigured in an accident. Aiding him in this "project" is Morpho, a blind, caped servant whofollows Orloff's every command. Tanner eventually pieces together the many sorted stories he hears, coming up with a good idea of the kidnappers' identity.
Despite a certain level of prowess and charm found within the movie, it is difficult to take most of the film too seriously, as it mixes together an uncomfortablecombination of calculated style disrupted by laughable situations. For example, theopening sequence features a drunken female coming home where she is murdered by Morpho. The scene is effective, but the effect is compromised by theoverpowering musical score which consists of various instruments being randomlyassaulted to produce sound. Similarly, Inspector Tanner is portrayed as a driveninvestigator one minute, then the next we see him cooing his fiancee' or completelyignoring some tidbit of information that might help him solve the case. Towards theend, I couldn't help but laugh at the inept manner with which Tanner handles thecase. Morpho, to me, seems more funny than scary, as he lumbers about withthat wide-eyed look (accomplished with make-up). The mediocre dubbing with flaweddialogue doesn't help much, either. This all makes Dr. Orloff a jerkyexperience where you're impressed by the directing and the cinematography, butthen suddenly sucked out of that mood by something really funny like the out-of-nowhere breast fondling sequences. I will say this though, Howard Vernon'sperformance as the creepy Dr. Orloff really holds the film together.
I now know what to expect from Franco's mind, and understand alittle about his approach to filmmaking. Despite his devotion to the craft though, Ican't really seem to think of Orloff as anything that goes beyond similar era horror films. I appreciate the unflinching sickness applied to the Dr. Orloffcharacter and his motives, but when I compare it to the films that inspired this (likethe stunning Eyes Without a Face), I can't see Franco's style as anythingmore than derivative. I don't think Francoever really wanted to be taken too seriously, so in that sense Dr. Orloff works.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C-
|Aspect Ratio||1.66:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The black-and-white, 1:66:1 image here is extremely impressive. Even though thefilm itself is slightly washed out (so there are rarely solid, sharp blacks), there is acomplete lack of negative problems—the print used must have been inpristine condition. On top of this, there are no compression artifacts or pixelization. Every scene is rendered to the best quality possible for a film thisage. The best example of such quality that comes to mind is therecent full digital restoration of The Third Man, which Criterion releasedabout a year back. All films of this age and genre should have this gorgeous of a transfer.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The mono soundtrack is well mastered and sports surprising frequency range,resulting in effective dialogue and clear background sound. The expected pops or hisses for a film this age are not present, pointing again to an extremely good source. Unfortunately, I did not care for the musical score. The strange randomorgan notes and filtered electronic white noise just seems to drown out the action,especially in a 1-channel mix. The keepcase liner notes refer to this as "avant-garde", but frankly that's kind of silly. I appreciate this kind of experimentalism (GyorgiLigeti or Edgar Varese are other good examples), but there is a difference betweensomething like the weird electronic soundtrack to Forbidden Planetand laughable cacophony.
There is also a French audio track, but unfortunately no Spanish track.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Extras Review: The disc lacks any extra features. The presentation is top notch, with a reproducedoriginal poster and gatefold liner notes by Video Watchdog editor, TimLucas. I couldn't think of anyone more qualified to write thenotes than Lucas or perhaps Michael Weldon (of Psychotronic Video). Otherwise,there are no features, not even a trailer. The 12 chapter division of the film is a bitthin—I think it should have been more like 15-20.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsSomeone once described a "really bad" movie to me as something so awful, they felt it had no redeeming values and would never watch it again. Onthe other hand, a "good" movie entertains you, even if yourenjoyment comes although the picture was unintentionally funny orawkward. I think The Awful Dr. Orloff falls into the first category, and I'd gladly watch it again. It's certainly a peek at something wonderfully strange that spawned an eraof Spanish horror movies, including 4 Orloff sequels. I doubt we wouldhave seen movies like the Spanish Blind Dead series without this one setting the mold. Themovie is enjoyable on many levels because of its funnier moments and unrelenting moody style. I don't want hardcore Jess Franco fans to think I'mbashing him or anything, I just think Dr. Orloff is a heck of a lot funnier thanit is terrifying. After having absorbed a few Franco films (likehis famous Vampyros Lesbos), I still think the comparison to Ed Wood fits. Wood was nowhere near as prolific, but his eccentricity has made his films addictive to cult movie goers. The same goes for Franco's strange, sleazy approach to these horrorfilms. On that level, this film is a sort of masterpiece from the era and it trulydeserves cult-classic status. These facts are what endear the movie to somany, and there is a dark genius behind the laughable bits. Highly reccomended foropen-minded viewers.
Dan Lopez 2000-07-10