Release Date(s)1962 (August 20, 2013)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B+
Cult movie fans know Jess Franco as the director of dozens of sexy, sometimes excessive, frequently surreal movies in a wide range of exploitation genres. But The Awful Dr. Orlof, his 1962 breakthrough film, is surprisingly old-fashioned and straight-forward by Franco standards. It’s one of the few Franco films I’ve seen that feels more like a regular horror movie than a jazz-and-opium-induced fever dream.
Howard Vernon stars as the title character, a former prison doctor obsessed with restoring the beauty of his daughter, horribly disfigured in a fire. By night, he lurks around the cabarets of Paris, searching for young women with perfect skin. Once he’s settled on a victim, his blind henchman Morpho (Ricardo Valle) attacks and the unfortunate girls are brought back to Orloff’s remote castle. Eventually, he crosses paths with Wanda (Diana Lorys), a ballet dancer who is a dead ringer for his daughter. She also happens to be the fiancée of the police inspector (Conrado San Martin) in charge of the investigation into his crimes. While the police pursue more traditional leads, Wanda goes undercover in an effort to nab the doctor.
As a story, The Awful Dr. Orlof is nothing particularly special. It pales in comparison to Georges Franju’s Eyes Without A Face, a movie it bears a distinct (and, according to Franco anyway, coincidental) resemblance to. But the moody, black-and-white cinematography and gothic atmosphere make Orlof worth watching. San Martin is a bit of a snore as our hero but Vernon is an excellent villain. We get hints of Orlof’s checkered past that make us realize that even if he wasn’t trying to help his daughter, he’d probably be kidnapping and torturing young women anyway. Best of all is Morpho, an unforgettable creation with bulging, vacant eyes. He’s menacing but strangely sympathetic and given a distinct physicality by dancer Valle. If you remember nothing else from The Awful Dr. Orlof, you’ll remember Morpho.
Kino’s Redemption Films branch presents the uncensored French version of Orlof on Blu-ray. The French release includes a couple of nude scenes but omits several minutes (mostly dialogue) from the version released elsewhere in the world. It would be nice to have both versions or, barring that, to have the alternate scenes included as an extra but alas, that’s not the case. Video quality is very good with a top-notch HD transfer of a relatively clean print. There is some print damage here and there but it’s pretty minimal, all things considered. Both French and English dubs are included and both are perfectly acceptable.
Tim Lucas contributes another thoroughly researched, completely interesting audio commentary to the disc, an absolute must-hear for anyone even remotely interested in the film. A 16-minute video interview with the late Franco provides even more insight. A 19-minute featurette on the making of the film called The Young Dr. Orlof Chronicles is a decent overview but the commentary provides the most information. Finally, the 8-minute homage to Franco reappears, along with a photo gallery and five Franco trailers.
I don’t think The Awful Dr. Orlof is Jess Franco’s best movie. I’m partial to his later, more psychedelic efforts like Venus In Furs and Vampyros Lesbos. However, I can certainly understand why some people are turned off by those movies and for them, Orlof is probably more up their alley. It’s a linear, coherent story that, despite its flaws, offers a creepily entertaining hour and a half.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke
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