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 maîtresses 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.

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 much 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 and forces him 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 has the superior screenplay. There's more of an actual plot here, better-defined characters and more natural, sometimes even humorous, dialogue. There are also surprisingly 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 and now refuses to harm. 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. Daniel White contributes an outstanding score to the proceedings.

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).


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