A film that offers opportunities “to strike profound emotional and existential chords not even attempted by Boris Karloff’s performances as the Frankenstein Monster in the 1930s.” Yeah, right!
Spanish director Jesus “Jess” Franco must hold the record for the number of different names under which he’s appeared in the credits of his films. The Internet Movie Data Base lists some 60 possibilities including Betty Carter, Wolfgang Frank, Marius Lasoeur, and Preston Quaid. He has directed over 170 films, but he is also a multi-threat guy with credits for writing, acting, composing, sound, cinematography, and so on. Born in 1930 in Madrid, he started his film career in the mid-1950s and directed his first film in 1959. The horror film has always been the mainstay of his work although the style and approach have varied over the years.
In the early part of Franco’s directing career, he produced some gothic horror thrillers that he liked to refer to as his “museum pieces.” One of these efforts was 1964’s Dr. Orloff’s Monster, also known under three other titles including The Brides of Dr. Jekyll, Les Maîtresses du Dr. Jekyll, and The Secret of Dr. Orloff. No matter what title you use, however, nothing can disguise the fact that the film is pretty much a stinker. Nevertheless, Image Entertainment has decided to make the film available on DVD as part of its “Euroshock Collection.” The only thing shocking is the wasted DVD authoring capacity that the film’s DVD availability represents.
Melissa is an attractive Austrian college student who travels to Holfen to stay at the home of her aunt (Ingrid) and uncle (Dr. Conrad Fisherman, also known by some of the locals as Dr. Jekyll) during the Christmas holidays. There is little of a festive spirit apparent, however. Her uncle is secretive and surly while her Aunt Ingrid is perpetually drunk, trying to forget the night when she was caught many years ago making love with her husband’s brother, Andros (Melissa’s father). Dr. Fisherman has been working with a Dr. Orloff to awaken the corpse of Andros. Orloff dies but reveals the information that Fisherman needs to finally bring the corpse to life. When Andros is activated, Dr. Fisherman uses him to kill various strippers and prostitutes he has been going with.
Meanwhile, Melissa discovers the room where her father was originally killed and one night she investigates the room, only to be confronted by Andros, whom she recognizes as her father from a picture of him. Collapsing from the shock, she is confined to her room by her uncle. At the same time, the police have begun to investigate the various murders committed by Andros and they begin to close in on Dr. Fisherman.
Actually, there was the kernel of a good idea in this film’s story. The concept of a girl’s murdered father being revived by her uncle and used as a monstrous tool to cover up the uncle’s romantic indiscretions offers some possibility for interesting physical and emotional interactions between the revived father and his daughter, but you won’t find them in Dr. Orloff’s Monster. The script lacks any such subtleties and none of the cast is skillful enough to be able to suggest any depth beyond the script’s superficial characterizations. Much of their effort, in fact, seems to be from the Plan Nine from Outer Space school of acting. Wide-eyed vacant staring is the normal look that the revived father (the monster) has. He has a face that looks as though it had been varnished but has now all cracked after it dried (maybe the wide-eyed staring caused it). Anyway, the rest of the cast seems to have taken inspiration from the monster’s facial expression and all revert to wide-eyed vacant staring when the script places them in any stressful situation.
Jess Franco’s directorial touches seem to consist of sudden cuts and some unusual camera angles, but all to little discernible avail. Rather than contributing anything positive to the film’s atmosphere or tension, they just make you aware of someone trying to draw attention to himself. Add in the fact that he wrote the script and also appears in the film briefly as a piano player and it’s easy to know where to place most of the blame for this amateurish effort.
Image’s DVD presentation is about what the film deserves. The image transfer is in anamorphic widescreen preserving the original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Actually, it starts out somewhat promisingly. Despite noticeable speckles, nicks and the odd scratch, the first reel of the film looks quite good with excellent contrast and sharp images. Things soon deteriorate from there and the rest of the film looks little better than a typical VHS-quality video. The image generally has mediocre contrast at best; dark scenes become rather murky; blacks are muted; and whites often overpower surrounding detail. Scratches and speckles continue to be apparent and there is a narrow, vertical white line in the center of the image that recurs from time to time.
The disc offers a choice between the original French language track (with or without English subtitles) and a soundtrack dubbed into English. In either case, the track is Dolby Digital 1.0 mono and is noticeably noisy with age-related hiss and crackle. Admittedly, it is mainly background noise so that the dialogue is clear enough and one soon forgets about the hiss and so on.
Supplements include about 10 minutes of alternate or deleted footage. There is no organization or explanation of the material. It consists mainly of alternate camera angles or distances for the footage of the two women (in various states of disrobe) who are the monster’s first victims. Viewing the material, it’s rather clear why none of it was used. It’s just repetitive or uninteresting in terms of what already appears in the film. French and Italian theatrical trailers round out the disc.
Bad film + mediocre transfer = no sale or rental.