Monday, February 6, 2012

Los ojos siniestros del doctor Orloff (1973)

... aka: Sinister Eyes of Doctor Orloff, The
... aka: Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff, The

Directed by:
Jesus Franco

Reclusive invalid Melissa Comfort (Montserrat Prous) is just twenty years old but has spent most of that time lying in bed. She's barely ever left the house, has been confined to a wheelchair since birth, is a virgin who's never had a boyfriend, has a "persecution complex" and wakes up screaming every morning from a recurring nightmare. In her nightmare, which turn out to be a childhood flashback, her father (Franco in a cameo) enters her bedroom and bleeds on her as he's dying. Needless to say, Melissa has repressed whatever it was that happened back then, but it's clearly had a terrible effect on her mental state over the years. With both her father and mother dead, Melissa and her chain-smoking stepsister Martha (Loreta Tovar) both live in a large mansion - Fisque Manor - with wealthy Uncle Henry (Jaume Picas), a duke and convicted pedophile (!), and his much-younger wife Flora (tall and exotic-looking Kali Hansa), a former cabaret dancer who's not quite been faithful to her hubby over the years and has a bad reputation around town. Eavesdropping butler Mathews (José Manuel Martín) has fallen in love with Melissa and claims he'll kill anyone who harms her in any way. Mathews also believes that Martha and Flora are up to no good and are secretly conspiring against both Melissa and Henry.

Wanting to help poor Melissa, or at least claiming such, Martha and Flora arrange for a psychiatrist named (uh-oh!) Dr. Orloff (William Berger) to come and evaluate her. Orloff tells Melissa that both her father and he fell in love with her mother years earlier. After being rejected, he went on to marry someone else and have his own daughter, who tragically passed away in an accident. Since no one had ever told Melissa how her father really died, Orloff finally spills the beans. Someone cut his throat and the crime went unsolved all these years. He prescribes Melissa some pills and goes on his way, promising to check back on her in a few days. Later that night, and despite the fact she's been paralyzed since birth, Melissa manages to rise from her bed and walk. In some kind of sleepwalking trance, she goes into her Uncle's study and stabs him through the throat with a clock pendulum. Someone removes the body from the home and dumps it elsewhere. The ineffective police - led by Inspector Crosby (Edmund Purdom) - start investigating... though none too well, seeing as how they do almost nothing to solve the original crime, or the ones that will follow, until the very end of the film.

As one can surmise from the title, Orloff turns out to be responsible for most of the bad stuff and wants revenge on the entire Comfort family, whom he labels "degenerate monsters" and "accomplices" and blame for his lost love's death. After performing the autopsy on Henry, he steals a vial of his blood and uses it to scratch each of his victims off his hit list. Using an injection of a special serum, he's able to not only temporarily cure Melissa's paralysis, but also control and hypnotize her, making her kill at his command. Both her aunt and stepsister are in on it, too, and know what the sinister doc is doing, but go along with it thinking he'll only kill the lord and the butler so they can walk away with all of the inheritance. Little do the scheming ladies realize, but they're also marked for death by the doctor. And little does Martha realize, her aunt isn't planning on splitting any of the money with her. Orloff is aided by a nameless female assistant all too eager to help him carry out his vengeance. A celebrity musician named Davey Procop Robert Eugene Hutchinson (!) aka Davey Sweet and Brown (Robert Woods), who's temporarily renting the house next door while he works on his music, sees several questionable things going on and starts snooping around. He's finally able to convince the authorities to look into things.

If his name wasn't in the credits and the movie didn't have Orloff in the title, you'd be hard pressed to guess that this was directed by Jess Franco. The film doesn't have much visual style and it's surprisingly low on sleaze. Few creative liberties are taken with the material, aside from some token zooms and one very interestingly-shot murder sequence which looks to have some haze and solarization effects added post production to give it a dream-like feel. Even more surprisingly, the film goes almost an entire hour with no nudity... which might be something of a record for a Franco movie shot in the 1970s! When some skin finally is shown, it's during a brief, unerotic and non-gratuitous scene where one of the ladies is beat to death with a shower nozzle while taking a bath. However lacking this may be to the director's die-hard fans, it's still competently put together and watchable, with acceptable acting (Berger and Hansa stand out in the cast) and a silly but workable premise. The ending certainly could have used a little more oomph, though.

Supposedly a partial remake of the same director's NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT (1970) - which I haven't seen yet - this was one of many Franco films to include the Orloff character, though none of the films are really connected. Others include THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF (1961), DR. ORLOFF'S MONSTER (1964), THE ORGIES OF DR. ORLOFF aka Only a Coffin (1966), THE INVISIBLE DEAD aka Dr. Orloff's Invisible Monster (1970), THE VENGEANCE OF DR. MABUSE (1972), THE SINISTER DR. ORLOFF (1984) and FACELESS (1987).

The DVD is from Intervision, who use a mediocre, full-screen print of the film. It runs just 76 minutes and includes the twenty-minute mini-documentary "The Sinister Origins of Dr. Orloff," which is basically just Franco sitting in a chair talking the entire time. He speaks in English and I didn't understand half of what he said, but he did mention that Berger was just a few weeks out of prison on a drug offense when he took the role and that the leading lady looks a lot like his wife Lina Romay, who also plays a small role here.


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