Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Gritos en la noche (1962)

... aka: Awful Dr. Orloff, The
... aka: Cries in the Night
... aka: Demon Doctor, The
... aka: Diabolical Dr. Satan, The
... aka: Screams in the Night

Directed by:
Jesus Franco

Franco's very first foray into the horror genre gives fans of vintage Gothic horror exactly what they want to see: a mad scientist played by a charismatic, distinctive-looking actor, a murderous and disfigured killer who has both zombie and vampire tendencies, voluptuous ladies in distress, an isolated castle, beautiful shooting locations, lots of fog and plenty of atmospheric, shadowy shots of forboding sillhouettes being cast upon roadways and buildings. Most important of all is the quality of the black-and-white cinematography, which is more crucial to the success of one of these things than either the acting or the screenplay. Thankfully, this film is very successful in that regard. It's a beautifully-shot and crafted film with obvious love and care put into both the lighting and shot compositions. And hell if this thing doesn't go one extra step further by even providing a few topless shots, which needless to say wasn't a common occurrence at all in the early 60s. Naturally, the nudity (including a scene of a naked woman getting sliced with a scalpel) was censored in both the American and British theatrical prints of the film, but have since been restored for our home viewing enjoyment.

Set in 1912, the film opens as a drunk tart is strangled to death by blind, googly-eyed henchman Morpho ("Richard Valley" / Ricardo Valle) after he pops out of her closet. Morpho then wanders off with the body in the company of his master, the caped and top hat sporting Dr. Orloff (Howard Vernon). Orloff sets his sights on a not-too-bright cabaret performer named Dany ("Mary Silvers" / MarĂ­a Silva). He promises her jewelry in exchange for her romantic attention, lures her to a large home, locks her inside and lets Morpho do the dirty work for him. The two then place the body in a coffin aboard a stagecoach and take it back to his secluded castle home, which is so far out of the way that it can only be accessed by boat. At the castle, we discover that Orloff is keeping his depressed daughter Melissa (Diana Lorys) in a glass coffin until her beauty can be restored after being severely burned in a lab fire. The women he has been abducting and killing are to provide skin for his unsuccessful grafts. Orloff eventually determines the grafts aren't taking because he's been using the tissue of dead women instead of trying to strip it right off of living victims. He tries this technique out on his latest victim - busty blonde singer Irma Gold (Mara Laso) - and then chains her up in a secret room after disfiguring her.

Since five ladies of easy virtue (whom Orloff deems "utterly worthless") have disappeared in just a three month period, Inspector Tanner ("Conrad Sanmartin" / Conrado San Martin) and his trusty assistant Martin (Fernando Montes) are put on the case. Tanner is dating famed ballerina Wanda Bronsky (Diana Lorys again), who Orloff has been eyeing from afar since she looks identical to a pre-accident Melissa. Deciding to help her boyfriend out (though not informing him she's actually doing it), Wanda puts herself in harm's way by dressing provocatively and frequenting the smoky nightclub where numerous victims (including Dany) have already disappeared from in hopes she can trap the killer. It isn't long before she finds herself being drugged, rushed off to Orloff's castle and in need of saving.

Aside from the wonderful look and feel of the film, we're given interesting insights into Orloff, Morpho and Arne (Perla Cristal) - a bitter woman who lives as a virtual prisoner in the castle with them, is getting increasingly more disgusted with Orloff's activities and is the only person to give a hoot about Morpho. Orloff used to be a respected prison doctor and had all but disappeared seven years earlier. Before he'd left, he'd saved Morpho (who had murdered his own father, a little girl and numerous others) from the gallows. He'd also rescued Arne from life in prison by giving her insulin to induce a death-like state and then removing her from her casket before it was buried. Orloff threatens to kill Arne if she leaves him. Morpho's current grotesque appearance is due to the fact that Orloff has used him as a guinea pig in previous experiments.

The scenes dealing with the police drag at times, there are several instances of unsuccessful humor (an artist trying to do a police sketch from conflicting stories, a nutty man who wants to take credit for the killings...) and the plot line completely rips off the French classic EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1959), but for the most part this is a nicely-done little chiller. It was based on a novel by "David Kuhne" (an alias for Franco).

Dr. Orloff would be a recurring character in many of the director's other films, though not in any kind of connected series. Vernon is best associated with the character, though he'd only actually play him in THE ORGIES OF DR. ORLOFF (1966), THE INVISIBLE DEAD (1971), THE SINISTER DR. ORLOFF (1984) and FACELESS (1987). In the first (sort-of) sequel; DR. ORLOFF'S MONSTER (1964), the character had just two scenes (and was played by an elderly actor), and in JACK THE RIPPER (1976), Klaus Kinski's titular killer was named Dr. Dennis Orloff. Dr. Orloff was also played by Siegfried Lowitz in THE VENGEANCE OF DR. MABUSE (1972), Jean-Pierre Bouyxou in FEMALE VAMPIRE (1973), William Berger in THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF (1973), Ricardo Palacios in ALONE AGAINST TERROR (1983) and others.

The run time is usually listed as being 87 or 90 minutes, but the version I saw (distributed by Image Entertainment in 2000) seems complete and runs 83. Image also released a "Dr. Orloff Collection" box set in 2004.


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