REVIEW: DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER BLU-RAY
DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER: Here’s my capsule review of the new Blu-ray release from Redemption Films
(C) Robert Monell:
Melissa (Agnes Spaak) arrives at the family castle in Holfen for a reading of her late father’s will. She is greeted by a local suitor (Pepe Rubio) and her uneasy Uncle, the scientist Dr. Fisherman (Marcel Aroita-Jauregui), who has just perfected a radio controlled creature, Andros (Hugo Blanco) who is actually his brother and the reanimated dead father of Melissa . Fisherman hides this fact from Melissa while sending Andros out on a murderous crime spree, targeting local women, who are performers in local nightclubs, as a way of proving his experiment works and of gaining satisfaction by acting out his hatred for women, which started when he caught his wife cheating on him with his brother.
This Blu-ray release is the French version (onscreen title LES MAITRESSSES DU DR. JEKYLL) with an added erotic insert which replaces the first murder scene in the Spanish version, EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF. Which means it’s still a murder scene depicting robot Andros killing a female employee of a local pub in Holfen, but the the actress who plays the victim in EL SECRETO… is replaced by a more scantily clad actress who performs a topless strip tease at the bar for a patron before she returns to her dressing room, disrobes further and is strangled by another body double who is supposed to be Andros. Another French version, broadcast by Australian’s SBS in the 1990s, has another erotic insert, depicting a second murder, featuring Jess Franco playing a piano in a sleazy hotel room while a female with him applies make up to a stuffed bird. She exits, goes up a flight of stairs, behind which Andros is lurking, and is strangled, again by a body double, as she takes a bath. Part of this scene, a view through a doorway of the victim’s unclothed body on the floor, remains in the eleven minutes of alternate, more sexually explicit, footage in the Special Features on the Redemption Blu-ray. Franco also plays a piano player in a nightclub in all other versions, as he does in his first horror film GRITOS EN LA NOCHE/THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF (1961). It’s obvious that Franco shot these alternate scenes, but not quite with the skill of the other, less explicit murders in the original Spanish versions, suggesting they were done quickly after being requested by the French co-producers (Eurocine aka Eurocineac) for the French market. Dr. Fisherman is named Dr. Jekyll in this version, unlike the Spanish and US releases.
The original opening title sequence is omitted in favor of the French titles against a neutral backdrop. In EL SECRETO…. the opening credits play over a scene of Fisherman walking over a small pedestrian bridge at the Orloff estate, entering Orloff’s house, proceeding through several rooms and then greeting Dr. Orloff, who is lying ill in bed. This footage is not present in the US version, but is replaced by a still shot of the pedestrian bridge in front of the Orloff house, over which the English language credits roll. Franco is credited as “John Frank” on this export version, “Nick Frank” is the credited screenwriter, whereas “Nicole y Jesus Franco” are credited as the writers of the Spanish version. The French Blu-ray version runs a little over 84 minutes, the Spanish EL SECRETO DEL DOCTOR ORLOFF runs just over 89 minutes. The longer run-time of the Spanish version is due to a longer version of the scene where the police Inspector (Pastor Serrador) interrogates a witness to one of the murders committed by Andros. The Spanish version also contains an extra minute of end credits, which are omitted from the French and US export versions. Jess Frank is the credited director of the version on the Blu-ray.
EL SECRETO DEL DOCTOR ORLOFF has always been a film which impressed me a bit more than GRITOS EN LA NOCHE, simply because it has a darker outcome and a more layered depiction of the dysfunctional family history behind the science fiction theme of electronic mind control. Fisherman’s feelings of sexual betrayal, egotistical pride and the compulsion to destroy the erotic impulses he represses, replacing Eros with Thanatos, are powerfully illustrated. He destroys his wife, and attempts to destroy his niece, so he can keep them in their place and continue his mad experiment, which is in essence arranging the murders of erotic performers. The victims are all dispatched publicly, in sleazy nightclubs or dank back streets. Fisherman shows no remorse for his crimes. Andros, the zombie who is programmed to carry out the murders, is a sympathetic, or pathetic figure in contrast. Performance is a key Franco trope, nightclub performers are both killers and victims in GRITOS EN LA NOCHE, MISS MUERTE, NECRONOMICON, KISS ME, MONSTER, SADISTEROTICA, NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT, VAMPYROS LESBOS and MIL SEXOS TIENE LA NOCHE, to name just a few of Franco’s erotically charged horror thrillers. In EXORICISM (1974) Franco himself plays a demented ex-priest who conducts a murder rampage, targeting well-to-do performers who perform sadistic/sexually charged torture rituals as part of the agenda of a satanic sect based in Paris. This was further elaborated in EL SADICO DE NOTRE DAME, the 1980 reworking of EXORCISM.
EL SECRETO… is very much in the expressionist mode of GRITOS EN LA NOCHE and THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS (1962), the latter adding giallo style stalk and kill sequences and a black clad killer, anticipating the Italian thrillers of Mario Bava (BLOOD AND BLACK LACE) and Dario Argento (DEEP RED). There are numerous high and low angle shots which are very much in the style of Franco’s biggest influence, Orson Welles (CITIZEN KANE, TOUCH OF EVIL). The expertly staged musical numbers, performed with spitfire elegance by the Argentinean actress Perla Cristal (GRITOS EN LA NOCHE, LA MUERTE SILBA DES BLUES) are very entertaining and illustrate the song-writing skills of Franco collaborator Fernando Garcia Morchilla (cf LOS BLUES CALLE POP). Franco’s experience in directing the musicals RIENA DE LA TABARIN and VAMPS 1930 really paid off.
I noticed some details in this HD upgrade I hadn’t noticed over the course of many viewings, in particular the rough textured, cracked, reptilian facial skin of Andros, also mentioned by Tim Lucas in the very informative commentary. The alternate footage of the exotic-erotic dance performances in the special features folder are full strength Euro-trashy, more Eurocine than Jess Franco. If the film fails the Howard Hawks test of a good film–three good scenes, no bad scenes (there are more than three good scenes but a number of bad ones)– it’s very much worth seeing as a progress report. The main problem I have with the film itself is the beefy Spanish actor who plays Dr. Fisherman/Jekyll, he’s just a very bland performer and adds an unwelcome note of unintentional absurdity which breaks the somber mood. Too bad the budget didn’t allow for Howard Vernon to be engaged. A horror film is as good as its villain. However, the very entertaining performance of the excellent Spanish actor Pastor Serrador as the sarcastic local police Inspector makes up for the absence of a compelling male lead and rescues the film at midpoint. The print looks pretty rough at times, with noticeable scratches and marks throughout. But there is very welcome grain visible and it has a vintage “film” look, rather than a artificial DNR look. This is also the most luminous I have ever seen this film look, in contrast with some previous editions, which tend to look unattractively dark. The enhanced detail, commentary and additional scenes make this a worthwhile purchase. The Italian and French theatrical trailers, both which contain some nice surprises, are also included. The French and English audio tracks are crisp, clear and resonant, seeming to have also been remastered. Transfer/Video & Audio: B: Bonus material: B; Film: B-.
Early cheesecake, a la Jess Franco.
Robert Monell is a filmmaker, writer, critic and blogger. He is the creator and editor of I’M IN A JESS FRANCO STATE OF MIND and CINEMADROME www.cinemadrome.yuku.com. His films include the screenplays for the web series RETURN OF THE BLOODSUCKING NAZI ZOMBIES, the short feature ZOMBIE 2024