Dr. Orloff’s Monster
Redemption / Kino Lorber
1964 / B&W / 1:66 widescreen / 84 min. / El secreto del Dr. Orloff, Brides of Dr. Jekyll, Les maitresses du Dr. Jekyll / Street Date February 7, 2017 / available through Kino Lorber / 29.95
Starring: Hugo Blanco, Agnès Spaak, Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui, Luisa Sala, Perla Cristal, Magda Maldonado, Pepe Rubio, Pastor Serrador, Daniel Blumer, Manuel Guitián, Mer Casas.
Cinematography: Alfonso Nieva
Film Editor: Á Serrano
Original Music: Fernando García Morcillo, Daniel White
Written by: Jesús Franco, Nicole Guettard, A. Norévo
Produced by: Marius Lesoeur
Directed by Jesús Franco
Arguing the merits of Jesús Franco seems a blind alley to me. I know academic film writers that have seen dozens of his films and who assure me that they perceive an artist amid all the exploitation and pornography. Why not? I continue to see Franco as a fringe filmmaker of little talent and less interest. Keep anything up long enough and it becomes a body of work to be analyzed, but I’ve yet to be swayed by the accolades thrown at the Spanish filmmaker. For the record, I’ve only reviewed a few of Franco’s pictures — The Awful Dr. Orloff, Eugenie… the Story of her Journey into Perversion, The Castle of Fu Manchu, The Bloody Judge, Blood of Fu Manchu, Venus in Furs, Countess Perverse.
I feel about Jesús Franco as the Martians did to Woody Allen: “We enjoy your films! Particularly the early, funny ones.” Just swap out ‘enjoy’ for ‘marginally tolerate.’
Dr. Orloff’s Monster is earlier, funny tolerable Franco, a B&W effort made on a shoestring. Judged on accomplishment versus budget, we will agree that it’s not bad, but neither does it hold up in any substantive way. Thanks to Tim Lucas’ informative commentary we find that Franco had at his disposal only enough money for film stock and the hiring of his lead actors. Everything else in the picture appears to be a favor from friends — a castle, two more professional actors that were a married couple, etc. The film’s only point of interest is its monster, and even he’s marginal. We’re told that the actor playing a robotic zombie had to do his own makeup, which consists of little more than something — rubber cement? — smeared on his face and left to dry. Frankly, it’s not bad.
Unlike his later movies that employ art-house ‘dream logic’ to eliminate the need for basic film professionalism, Franco’s Dr. Orloff’s Monster is conventional in form. The insane Doctor Conrad Fisherman (Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui) works out of his home, a big, drafty castle. Conrad receives from his mentor Dr. Orloff the final technical info to finish his experiment. He’s using ultrasound to animate a robotic zombie-man, and direct his actions by remote control. The killer zombie is actually Conrad’s own brother Andros (Hugo Blanco), whom Conrad murdered when he found him making love to his wife, Inglud (Luisa Sala). Conrad immediately puts Andros to work strangling various nightclub performers that have become Conrad’s lovers. Each is given a necklace shaped like a snake, each with an ultrasonic transmitter that allows the catatonic-yet-ambulatory Andros to find them. Conrad’s servant Cicerón (Manuel Guitián) makes the jeweled necklaces.
Into this odd situation comes student Melissa (Agnès Spaak), Conrad’s niece and Andros’ daughter. She commiserates with the sickly Inglud, and soon intuits that not all is right in the Fisherman hearth and home. Conrad won’t let her into his lab, and she thinks she sees her dead father in a mystery room in the tower. After a series of murders, a prospective victim gives her necklace to a co-worker, who is killed in her place. Just as she fingers Conrad as the probable killer, the police technicians of Inspector Diaz (Pastor Serrador) determine that the recovered necklaces are all radio transmitters. An orgy of killing has broken out at Fisherman’s castle — will the authorities get there in time?
There’s not a great deal to be said about Dr. Orloff’s Monster, a rushed production with a fumbled story and dull characters. It can nevertheless boast some good visual atmosphere, decent compositions and effective B&W lighting in and around the castle, some interesting streets, and a smoky nightclub. Jesús Franco breaks up the story with conventional musical interludes — good jazz and simply awful songs. Actress Perla Cristal does what she can to animate one particularly terrible musical number. The connection of the necklaces to the killings is at least logical. It allows Andros to find his victims with the least technical explanation… although we smile because it reminds us of the ‘diabolical’ aftershave lotion in the vintage Bela Lugosi potboiler, The Devil Bat.
I’m sympathetic to the film’s budgetary issues. One scene of the Inspector sizing up various witnesses in the nightclub is a one-take item with the camera following the detective as he walks back and forth, interacting with four or five actors. It’s not a good scene, but it is ambitious for Franco. His fallback directorial M.O. for the later Fu Manchu movies often consisted of setting up a large scene and then zooming almost at random between points of interest — people holding knives, imprisoned women, etc.. Because he worked for Orson Welles on movies filmed in Spain, some reviewers have a bad habit of placing them in the same creative universe. They way it is blocked, this one scene does remind us a bit of Welles’ Touch of Evil.
The leading actress Agnès Spaak isn’t all that skilled. Asked to communicate unease at the ‘mystery meal’ she’s served, the best she can come up with are some amusing smirks. Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui plays Conrad Fisherman as if he were told to imitate actor Fernando Ray in a Buñuel movie. He does look like a paunchy Rey, but is pretty lifeless overall. Whether being polite with Melissa, ignoring his suffering wife, or dispatching the Andros-robot to kill, Dr. Fisherman shows little emotion beyond losing his temper. The characters are far too thin to be anything more but stand-ins for a ‘real’ drama. The movie’s murders are pure commercial necessity, a chance to interrupt the proceedings with partly clad women being strangled.
The dialogue is perfunctory, although Agnè Spaak and her taxi-driver boyfriend Juan Manuel (José Rubio) do their best with their flaky meet-cute moments. Actress Luisa Sala is given terrible sub-Tennessee Williams mumblings, and then simply spills the whole can of beans about her affair with her husband’s brother.
Jesús Franco was apparently forced to race through filming, as only one of the murders is staged in an interesting way. Other potentially interesting confrontations are completely muffed, or left to take place off-screen. But at other times the movie will momentarily find its genre bearings, usually when Andros is on the prowl down a dark street or spooky corridor. Franco does begin his show with something surprisingly special, a visually accomplished impressionistic sequence (with real dissolves!) alluding to the adulterous act that spurs the drama. Later in the picture, another brief atmospheric scene shows Andros descending a flight of steps to toss a strangulation victim into a dark nighttime river. Among various clumsy or rushed events, a couple of things stand out as having unexploited potential. When Melissa is finally with her zombie father, she reaches out to him quite nicely, a poetic touch that goes nowhere because the father-daughter relationship is so woefully undeveloped.
Franco has not yet adopted the sloppy directing habits that make so many of his later pictures so unwatchable. He uses a zoom lens with restraint, and moves the camera now and then as well. I’ve studied the film’s final shot and must conclude that it was done with a real camera crane. Perhaps there are more crane shots that I missed.
Andros (think: android?) is a generic bogeyman, in this case just a staring man in a dark coat. Hugo Blanco does have a good screen presence, strange but not ‘goofy’ like the pop-eyed blind Morpho of The Awful Dr. Orloff. I agree strongly with Tim Lucas that Andros seems modeled on Christopher Lee’s Frankenstein Monster, with a more robotic feel to his motions. Views of Andros walking in the dark night streets would be ‘dreamlike’ were Franco able or inclined to look for other dreamlike effects. In the long run Franco is inconsistent with Andros as well. When cornered by the police, the robot suddenly becomes flexible and athletic, running and hopping over a fence. Andros’ eyes scream ‘trapped consciousness’ but Franco doesn’t have him do anything to suggest the personality of Melissa’s father, forced to kill against his will. The moment where Andros rebels against Conrad seems dramatically arbitrary. Although little in the show is compelling, actor Hugo Blanco does his best to give director Franco a good monster presence.
Dr. Orloff’s Monster isn’t nearly as interesting as Jesús Franco’s The Awful Dr. Orloff yet from time to time it still resembles a real movie. That’s about the most praise I can give it.
The Redemption / Kino Lorber Blu-ray of Dr. Orloff’s Monster is a good encoding of this well-known horror thriller, listed under many alternate titles. What we’re given is the French version Les maitresses du Dr. Jekyll. The show comes with two audio tracks, both of them fairly well produced. The English track uses some different names and identifies the scientist villain as Dr. Fisherman. This seems correct because one scene depicts Andros standing over his own grave, with a stone inscribed with that name. Fisherman is indeed called Dr. Jekyll in the French version, which makes nonsense of the graveyard scene. The English subtitles provided appear to translate the French track — play them with the English audio, and the dialogue is almost all rough approximations.
For extras Redemption gives us French and Italian trailers and eleven minutes of ‘alternate, more sexually explicit footage.’ It’s basically a reel of repetitive outtakes, chosen perhaps to give territorial rights holders the ability to insert bits of minimal nudity here and there.
We look forward to Tim Lucas’ audio commentaries. He’s a leading Franco aficionado and booster and has a wealth of inside information on how the film came about, and how dire were its production circumstances. I still think that once Tim goes beyond surveying the on-screen evidence of artistic effort, his analysis ranges far afield. The complex psychological theories he suggests for the relationships of these thoughtlessly written characters are not at all illuminating, even when bolstered by similar relationships in other Franco pictures. And although Lucas’ analysis of the works of other filmmakers consistently fascinates, when applied to Jesús Franco his claims for artistic cause & effect and thematic influence don’t convince. A camera angle from the back seat of a car doesn’t indicate even an unconscious connection to Joseph H. Lewis, and the film’s crude stabs at visual complexity don’t remotely evoke Orson Welles or the work of genuine artists like Alain Resnais. It’s different when Lucas sticks to more credible connections. When Andros disarms an attacker of his rifle just as did Chris Lee in the Frankenstein film, we can see for ourselves that Franco and Hugo Blanco appear to be copying Terence Fisher.
Production limitations are a much more believable cause for some of the odd cutting we see. Tim does not claim the film is a masterpiece, and points out numerous places where the storytelling suffers from lapses in logic or continuity. But he also discounts the contribution of the film’s cameraman Alfonso Nieva based on his less than impressive previous filmography. Unless Jesús Franco personally lit the movie, I’d have to credit Sr. Nieva with the handsome night shots, which often are the only thing making the movie watchable. Lucas and other reviewers note that the dying Andros’ last words are different in the two language versions. Are they making different thematic statements? I don’t think so. The words had to be different because in English ‘Why?’ is one syllable and in French it is two. No hay que complicar la vida. Tim’s commentary is at all times a rewarding listen. He gives depth to our understanding of the production circumstances, and the personalities of the actors.
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Dr. Orloff’s Monster Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Fair +
Sound: Good separate English and French Tracks
Supplements: Audio commentary by Tim Lucas, 11 minutes of outtakes, French and Italian trailers.
Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: January 25, 2017
Text © Copyright 2017 Glenn Erickson