Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Awful Dr. Orloff

The Awful Dr. Orloff (1961)
Dir. Jesus “Jess” Franco
Written by Jesus Franco
Starring Howard Vernon, Perla Cristal, Felix Defaue

This black-and-white Spanish ripoff of EYES WITHOUT A FACE (which had premiered just one year earlier) is apparently considered to be the first ever Spanish horror film. Not too promising a start, but hey, they’re beginners. Just like EYES, Count Orloff concerns the titular Dr. Orloff, a mad surgeon obsessed with stealing young girls’ skin to repair his daughter’s damaged face. In those unenlightened days few if any beautiful young women voluntarily donated their faces for medical purposes, so he’s left to murder pretty girls in search of fresh faces. The only significant change from EYES is that he has a crazy-looking sidekick named Morpho who wears a cape, sports giant bug-eyes, and at first seems to be a vampire because he’s always killing people by biting their necks. Turns out he’s just a guy who likes to bite necks, though. It’s just his thing, nothing supernatural. Because that would be ridiculous. To compensate for his boring non-vampirical cannibalism, though, they add the extra wrinkle that he’s blind and can only kill you if he hears you scream. Or at least, I think so. It’s also possible that the actor playing Morbo Morpho just can’t see past those big fake-looking bug eyes and only appears to be blind.

Jesus Franco is best known today for making sleazy, cheap, ugly and confusing Eurohorror trash which was mostly just a framework to put in a bunch of boobs and deviant sex. So it’s kind of a surprise to say that this one, while inarguably shoddy, is at least a little classy with its black and white look and emphasis on gothy atmosphere over gore and titties. It’s talky and derivative, but there are a few sequences which genuinely strike a classic nightmarish tone, particularly an early sequence where a woman flees through a massive abandoned mansion with lace curtains that are always eerily swirling around her. Ultimately, though, there’s just nothing striking or memorable enough about this one to really recommend it. It’s not well-made enough to coast on its classy atmosphere, nor exploitive enough to work as perverse trash, and the plot is just a retread of EYES WITHOUT A FACE, which would be ripped off much better by the DR. PHIBES movies.

The movie is set in France because Franco feared the subject matter would be rejected by Spanish censors for making Spain look bad. Well, the movie itself doesn’t embarrass Spain as much as Franco’s later work would, but the whole thing sort of suggests that Spain might have been better off just letting the French and Italians take care of cranking out these horror things. Still, gotta give Franco credit for trying. Plus, what other director has titles ranging from TWO LETTERS FROM A PORTUGUESE NUN to MONDO CANNIBALE to THE BARE-BREASTED COUNTESS?

Don't forget to Check out Dan P's alternate take in ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET A BLIND SPANISH CANNIBAL VAMPIRE.


LOVECRAFT ADAPTATION: No, although one of Franco's best-known films is called NECRONOMICON.
BOOBIES: Orloff strips one victim before removing her skin, but otherwise not much considering it's a Franco film.
> or = HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS LEVEL GORE: One lady is stored (alive?) skinned on the entire left half of her body. It's a little oblique, but pretty gory for 1961.
SEQUEL: The first of two sequels and one remake 1988, all by Franco.
OBSCURITY LEVEL: High-profile Franco, which is to say virtually unknown anywhere.
VAMPIRES: It seems like Morpho is a vampire at first, but I guess not.
SLASHERS: Stalkers, but not slashers as far as I can gather.
ALEX MADE IT THROUGH AWAKE: She did, actually. In fact, she stayed awake and alert enough to actually tell US what was going on in the plot.

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