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

El secreto del Dr. Orloff (1964)

... aka: Brides of Dr. Jekyll
... aka: Dr. Jekyll's Mistresses... aka: Dr. Orloff's Monster
... aka: Maîtresses du Docteur Jekyll, Les
... aka: Mistresses of Dr. Orloff, The
... aka: Secret of Dr. Orloff, The

Directed by:
"Jess Frank" (Jesus Franco)

An Austrian/Spanish/French co-production, this was originally released in both America (DR. ORLOFF'S MONSTER) and Spain (EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF / "The Secret of Dr. Orloff") as a sequel to Franco's earlier hit GRITOS EN LA NOCHE (1961) aka THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF (1961), though not in France, where it was titled LES MAITRESSES DU DOCTEUR JEKYLL ("The Mistresses of Dr. Jekyll"). So, is it a sequel to the original Orloff film or not? Well, yes and no. Technically-speaking, the French title is the most accurate since the film deals primarily with Professor Jekyll, though there's a brief appearance by an elderly man who's presumably Dr. Orloff. Sort of passing the torch down if you will. Sequel or not, the two films have much in common, including similar characters (though the names have been changed), bawdy musical numbers, an old castle setting, numerous scenes in jazz clubs and a disfigured killer being controlled by an evil, intelligent scientist / doctor mastermind. Most seem to think this one isn't nearly as good as the first Orloff film, but I beg to differ. It's just as good, in its own way.




Ditching the period setting of the first, this updates the story to modern times but keeps the atmospheric Gothic trappings intact. Dr. Conrad Jekyll (Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui) has just learned (from his elderly superior Dr. Orloff) the secret of how to use ultrasonic sound to activate and control a humanoid robot. So what's the first thing he does with his newfound power? Why, make the robot strangle a topless stripper, of course! Conrad is constantly haunted by memories of an affair his wife Ingrid (Luisa Sala) had with his brother, which angered him so badly he ended up killing his sibling. Actually, the robot killer, Andros (played by "Hugh White" / Hugo Blanco), is his brother. Andros (who's tall, pale, gloved, dressed in all-black, walks upright and stiff and will instantly remind viewers of Cesare in the silent classic THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI) still has vague memories of his past, but is at the mercy of Conrad, who keeps him locked up in an upright glass coffin when he's not using him to kill.








Because of an inheritance she's supposed to get on her twenty-first birthday, Jekyll's niece Melissa (Agnès Spaak) arrives over Christmas break, with a male admirer of hers named Juan Manuel (José Rubio) in tow. Melissa never got to actually meet her father, and her mother passed away after saving enough money for her to attend college. Melissa is immediately perplexed at her aunt and uncle's erratic behavior. Ingrid is a sickly, bitter and reclusive alcoholic who hates her unfaithful, neglectful husband and suffers from nightmares where she screams "Murderer!" over and over again. Uncle Conrad forbids anyone from going into either his tower laboratory or his dead brother's room and refuses to allow Melissa's beau to come inside (he's forced to stay at a hotel in town). After seeing a picture of the father she's never met and then seeing Andros walking about, Melissa decides to try to solve the mystery before heading back to school.





While not quite as atmospheric as the first Orloff opus, this is still fairly stylish (the art direction, photography and lighting are all good) and actually has the superior screenplay. There's more of an actual plot here, better-defined characters and more natural (and sometimes even humorous) dialogue. There are also some suprisingly affecting scenes of Andros going to visit his own grave and sneaking into his daughter's bedroom at night to take a gander at the now-grown daughter he never got to meet (the robot-man refuses to harm her). Franco's favorite milieus; smoky jazz clubs, seedy strip bars and even an opium den, are exploited as the mad Dr. Jekyll gets his jollies sending Andros out to murder innocent (well, sort of...) women. Perla Cristal (who played Orloff's reluctant female companion is the first film) shows up in this one, too, as a victim who performs a memorable song called 'Pepita.' Also in the cast are Pastor Serrador as the obligatory police inspector, Manuel Guitián as the Jekyll family's servant and José Truchado and Ramón Lillo as cops. Franco himself has a cameo as a blind piano player whose girlfriend is attacked after taking a bath (one of two instances of nudity in the film).




Outstanding score from Daniel White. It was based on a novel by David Khune (Franco). Image handled the DVD release and put out a nice-looking, subtitled print. Other films in Franco's Orloff series include THE ORGIES OF DR. ORLOFF (1969), THE INVISIBLE DEAD (1971), THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF (1973) and THE SINISTER DR. ORLOFF (1984).

★★★

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 then sets his sights on a not-too-bright cabaret performer named Dany ("Mary Silvers" / María 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 she can restored to her original beauty (she'd been 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 worthles") 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 plotline 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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