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.


Frightmare (1983)

... aka: Body Snatchers
... aka: Horror Star

Directed by:
Norman Thaddeus Vane

While doing a commercial, world famous horror film star Conrad Ragzoff (Ferdy Mayne) gets fed up with the obnoxious director and uses his cane to knock him over the balcony to his death. Years later, "the last of the great giants of the horror cinema" is speaking at a college before the student film society and collapses from a heart attack. He's taken home, where he regretfully tells his wife Etta (Barbara Pilavin) "I still have so much to do... I've never died before." At least he gets to do one of those things: suffocating his sniveling assistant / chauffeur Wolfgang (Leon Askin) to death with a pillow, before he croaks. After claiming his twentieth victim, Ragzoff plays the organ, climbs into a coffin and passes on. Not one to go out with a whimper, Ragzoff has already told the press that he refuses to be cremated because he plans on coming back from the dead, has purchased a huge mausoleum with a flickering neon star to house his corpse and has even pre-recorded his own sign off video so that he can be the star, even at his own funeral.

Seven members of the student film society, led by Saint (Luca Bercovici) and his reluctant girlfriend Meg (Jennifer Starrett), get wasted and go to the mausoleum late one night, where they decide it would be swell to sneak inside and steal Conrad's corpse. Stu (Jeffrey Combs, in his horror movie debut) climbs onto the roof, busts in through the skylight and lets his friends inside. Despite some security measures (Conrad appears on a video screen to warn them), they manage to get in and out with the body without being detected, then take it back to their home. They eat spaghetti wearing monster masks, dance with the corpse, kiss the corpse and then set it down inside a coffin in the attic and plan to return it to the mausoleum eventually. The next day, detectives (led by Chuck Mitchell aka Porky from the 80s comedies of the same name) are already investigating the break-in and missing body. When Conrad's widow and her friend Elizabeth (Nita Talbot) get word, they decide to hold a séance to try to contact his spirit and have it tell them where the body is. Instead, they accidentally raise Conrad from the dead.

Because Conrad had gone to hell for his Earthly deeds, he now has supernatural powers. He rips a guy's tongue out with his fingers, causes a girl to spontaneously combust, lures a guy into his mausoleum and kills him with toxic fumes, crushes a head with his coffin, decapitates someone with a sword (a crow then feasts on the head) and levitates a casket and sends someone straight into an incinerator. Strangely enough, Conrad's actual revenge on those responsible for stealing his corpse is the worst part of the movie! The murder scenes are mostly botched because the director seems to have no clue how to set up a shock scene or build suspense. It's also interesting that most are killed inside the house over a period of several days, yet no one hears the screaming at night and no one notices a charred corpse lying plain as day right in the front lawn! The fact the victims aren't given any noticeable personality traits (aside from being borderline obnoxious) doesn't help matters, nor does the fact that this movie is so darkly photographed you can't see half of what's going on. What sandwiches these scenes (the opening twenty minutes and the last ten minutes) are the highlights of the film.

Really, the best thing this has going for it is its lead actor. Mayne (best known for playing Count von Krolock in Polanski's THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS) does a wonderful job in his role; making for a pretty creepy zombie-killer once resurrected and getting to channel Christopher Lee as the pretentious, arrogant actor the rest of the time. Solidifying the Lee connection, film clips used to illustrate Conrad's early career are actually Lee movies! There are nice supporting performances from Pilavin, Talbot and Askin, as well. The rest of the cast is pretty amateurish, with just a few of them going on to bigger things. Lead actor Bercovici would later become a director and, of course, Combs would star in RE-ANIMATOR (1985) in a few years and become a beloved genre icon.

Director Vane also co-directed the underrated THE BLACK ROOM (1982) and made the rancid "comedy" MIDNIGHT (1988) starring Lynn Redgrave. Husband-and-wife producers Patrick Wright and Tallie Wright (Cochrane) were veterans of the 70s exploitation circuit and both appear here in cameos. The masks and posters were provided by Forrest J. Ackerman.

In the 80s, the company Prism released a "sequel:" Frightmare II, which turned out to be a re-titling of the 1974 British cannibal movie FRIGHTMARE. The 1981 Frightmare was filmed as Horror Star (and was also released as Body Snatchers) and released in 1983. Troma handled the DVD release.

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