• Awful Dr. Orlof, The

    Released by: Kino/Redemption
    Released on: August 20, 2013.
    Director: Jess Franco
    Cast: Howard Vernon, Diana Lorys, Conrado San Martin
    Year: 1962
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    The Movie:

    Directed by the late Jess Franco in 1962, The Awful Dr. Orlof takes place in a pre-war Paris where a rash of disappearances – each of the abductees a beautiful young woman - comes to the attention of police inspector Tanner (Conrado San Martin). The abductions also seem to have taken place late at night and near a night club or cabaret. The cops do what they can and interview people but outside of a drunk named Rousseau (Venancio Muro), no one seems to really know much. Rousseau, however, has a hunch. As he found a necklace belonging to one of the victims while fishing near a destitute part of the riverbank, he thinks that whoever is up to this may just have something to do with the creepy old abandoned castle that is situated nearby.

    Enter Dr. Orlof (Howard Vernon), he seems charming enough on the outside, perfectly capable of luring young women into his carriage for some late night champagne back at his place. He’s got a secret, however – his daughter Melissa (Diana Lorys) has a condition that requires him to replace her skin. So with the help of his blind manservant, Morpho (Ricardo Valle), he’s out to do just that! He soon learns, however, that the skin of his dead victims isn’t going to work and as such, he sets out to get a live female to donate her flesh so that Melissa may live again. When Tanner’s fiancé, Wanda Bronsky (Diana Lorys), goes undercover unbeknownst to him to help catch the fiend, she learns firsthand the horrors that await in his dungeon.

    Franco always seemed to be at his best when working on more personal projects and this doesn’t quite fall into that category but as an early effort from him, it’s quite an interesting movie and a decent, creaky old horror picture in its own right. The movie is at its best whenever Orlof or Morpho are on screen and it slows down when it shifts gears and turns into a police procedural. The more standard ‘horror movie’ elements are used here well: the creepy castle location, the dungeon underneath, the monstrous servant character and of course, the diabolical evil genius.

    As is common in horror pictures, the antagonist is committing his horrible acts for a genuinely noble reason, this does at least ask us to pause and consider the morality of what he’s doing rather than simply dismiss him as a villain. Vernon plays the part well, his odd facial features making him interesting to look at but at the same time, he’s able to invest in his character enough feeling and emotion to make the part his own. Lorys, in a double role, is beautiful and looks great but isn’t given quite as much to do while Valle, under heavy makeup as Morpho, steals every scene he’s in with an impressive and completely physical performance done without ever uttering a single word. Conrado San Martin is fine as the top cop in town out to save the day but he’s not made a particularly interesting character as far as what the script gives him to work with. He’s simply the good guy, and as such, he’ll do the right thing. As edgy as he gets is tossing a glass of water into Rousseau’s face to sober him up when he needs his help and bickering to his deputy about a cat being in his office.

    Ultimately, despite the pacing issues, this one gets a good bit more right than wrong. Here we see Franco already fetishizing the smoky nightclub location (look for him behind the piano in one scene) and using quirky jazz on the soundtrack. He’d bring Orlof and Morpho back in various incarnations throughout his career and here we see him combine on screen for the first time some (for the time) graphic nudity and nasty violence. In regards to that, note that this is the French version of the movie – so you get the scene in which Orlof uses the scalpel on his daughter’s topless body and you get the scene in which Morpho pulls down a woman’s top and grabs her breasts towards the end of the movie (some screen caps are below). It’s stronger than you might expect for a Spanish film made while Francisco Franco was still in office and the censorship of the era remained a force to be reckoned with. If nothing else, this movie sets into motion the taboo busting aesthetic that would in many ways become one of the director’s trademarks in the years to come.


    Redemption presents The Awful Dr. Orlof on Blu-ray for the first time framed at 1.66.1 widescreen in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation. Taken from an archival 35mm print, the image, like most of the transfers in this line to date, hasn’t undergone an extensive restoration so expect some vertical scratches here and there and some spots of print damage throughout the movie. Detail and texture are noticeably improved over the previous Image DVD release of the movie, as they should be as that disc is quite old. Black levels aren’t quite as deep as some might hope for but there’s still plenty of atmosphere to appreciate and enjoy here. Contrast looks good, it doesn’t bloom too often, and shadow detail is good for an older low budget feature.

    Audio options are offered in French or English in LPCM Mono with optional subtitles provided in English only. Audio quality is fine, there’s a little bit of hiss in a few spots and maybe some minor distortion if you listen for it but the balance is decent and the score sounds good. The dialogue is easy enough to understand and this is okay for the most part.

    Extras start off with a commentary track that comes courtesy of Tim Lucas, who does a fine job of explaining the interesting history for this film and putting it into some welcome historical context. As such, we get a bit of background information not just on the different cuts of the movie but also some details as to why they exist in the first place. Some of this is gone over in the featurettes as well but Lucas lays it all out rather well and also goes into quite a bit of detail as to how this particular film would play such a huge part as to where Franco’s career would go from here. We also get a lot of different bits and pieces of background information on the cast and crew members, Vernon in particular, and Lucas’ own thoughts and opinions on different aspects of the movie.

    Severin Films contributes an interesting fifteen minute featurette here which is essentially a sit down chat with the late Franco himself. He talks about how he and the producers originally intended to make a filmed adaptation of a novel called The Hanged Man but how that wound up causing problems with the Spanish censors of the day. From there, they took in a screening of a Hammer film and the idea for Orlof was spawned – though some of the reasoning behind this was so that the producers could have something made on a low budget that would do well in international markets and be brought in quickly to make their money back. Franco is relaxed here, sharing stories about how he met Howard Vernon and his feelings on him as an actor, the connection (or lack thereof) between this movie and Franju’s Eyes Without A Face and how this picture put him on the road to becoming known as a horror film director and not an arthouse filmmaker like he had originally thought he would become. He also talks about the use of music and jazz in the film and how it was quite unconventional at the time as the soundtrack on the movie is quite unorthodox by the standards of the day. He also notes that the actor who played Morpho was a homosexual who made his living as a dancer. It’s quite an interesting listen and for those who have trouble with his thick accent, English subtitles are provided.

    From there, we get a featurette called The Young Dr. Orlof Chronicles which clocks in at just under twenty minutes and involves the participation of Daniel Lesoeur and a trio of French film historians: Alain Petit, Lucas Balbo and Jean-Pierre Bouyxou. Interviewed individually, Lesoeur sheds some light on the origins of the picture and notes that the Hammer film Franco mentions in his interview was actually The Brides Of Dracula. He then notes its influence on the picture but also discusses similarities to the Bela Lugosi movie The Dark Eyes Of London and Eyes Without A Face. The historians talks about whether or not Franco ever did write pulp fiction novels under the David Khune alias (and where that name came from) or if that was just a case of the director telling tall tales. They also offer up some thoughts and observations on the movie, the cast and the historical importance and visual impact of the nudity and violence in the full strength French version of the movie. They also note that the backgrounds seen in those scenes are the same as those seen in the tamer footage that replaced them in the softer Spanish cut. Also included here is one clip from the Spanish cut in which Orlof wields his scalpel.

    The last featurette is an eight minute segment called Jess! What Are You Doing Now? and it’s an amusing and heartfelt collection of sound bites and clips from those seen in the Chronicles featurette talking to the camera about what Franco may be up to now that he’s passed on. We get answers ranging from ‘he’s worm food and rotting in the ground’ to ‘he’s filming naked ladies loving every minute of it’ (paraphrasing here). It’s done with a sense of humor but you can tell that those involved appreciate what Franco did, how he did it and who he was.

    Rounding out the extras is a still gallery made up of various international one sheets and some black and white publicity stills, a domestic trailer for the feature, trailers for other Franco Blu-ray releases available from Kino/Redemption (A Virgin Among The Living Dead, Female Vampire, Exorcism and Oasis Of The Zombies), menus and chapter selection. Unfortunately, though the French cut of the movie is widely considered to be the better version, the alternate footage from the sanitized Spanish version has not been included on this release.

    The Final Word:

    A decent and fairly atmospheric gothic horror picture, The Awful Dr. Orlof isn’t the best film Franco ever made but it is a very interesting foreshadowing of sort as to what would come a few years later in his career. Vernon is great in the lead and the movie has some great set pieces and a really fun ‘monster character’ in Morpho. If it doesn’t hit the dizzying heights of his more personal films, it’s plenty enjoyable in its own right. The Blu-ray release from Kino/Redemption offers up a good audio and video upgrade and throws in a surprising amount of quality supplemental material as well.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Lalala76's Avatar
      Lalala76 -
      Just to add, It is region Free.
    1. Gary Banks's Avatar
      Gary Banks -
      I was all set to skip this one but now I'm not so sure.
    1. paul h.'s Avatar
      paul h. -
      Those grabs look weird. Nothing is white. The brightest anything gets is a light gray, like a gray veil in front of the image. Maybe that's how it's supposed to look?
    1. John Bernhard's Avatar
      John Bernhard -
      Caps look awful...very similar to BLACK SUNDAY. Grey and mily white. This confirms to me that it's not the elements but something they are doing in the transfers.
    1. Richard--W's Avatar
      Richard--W -
      I agree something's wrong with the image. Also, why is Diane Lory wearing a towel around her face on the operating table? Could that be a body double? Can you zoom in on the face, Ian?