Sunday, September 20, 2015

Jess Franco almost at his best!

As I attempt to perform blogging necromancy on 'Terror Titans' in lead-up to the 31 Nights of Halloween festival I'm throwing next month, I welcome you to Jess Franco Week! Yes--nothing but reviews of movies from a gentlemen who loved filmmaking, spent his life making movies, and whose output ended up being less than impressive. Interestingly, Franco himself knew that most of movies were drek, and he widely acknowledged them as such. However, he also rightfully said that when he had appropriate time and budgets, he was able to create films that weren't entirely awful.

On that note, we start Jess Franco Week at high point.

The Awful Dr. Orlof (aka "Screams in the Night") (1964)
Starring: Howard Vernon, Diana Lorys, Conrado San Martin, Ricardo Valle, Maria Silva, and Perla Cristal
Director: Jess Franco (as "Jess Frank")
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A former prison doctor turned mad scientist (Vernon) is abducting party girls with the intent of grafting their skin onto the body of his daughter who was horribly burned in a fire. A none-too-bright Police Onspector (San Martin) is assigned to catch him, but it's the Inspector's lovely girlfriend (Lorys) who does much of the detective work to break the case... and then falls into the maniac's clutches.

If you've ever wondered what Hammer Films' celebrated gothic horror flicks would have looked like without the touch of an brilliant director like Terrence Fisher, you don't have to look any further than "The Awful Dr. Orlof".

What we have here is a film that's pretty damn good by the standards writer/director Franco sank to later in his career, but when compared to other entries in the gothic horror genre from the late 1950s and early 1960s, it's visually flat, unevenly plotted, and generally un-engaging due to the fact that we never get a real sense of how the various characters in the film fit together. Sure--we know the Inspector and his ballerina girlfriend are soul-mates, but why on earth do Dr. Orlof's henchmen stick with him? Why did he break them out of prison in the first place? And why is he using a blind man to help him with the killing--it's a creepy twist, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Without knowing the answers to these, we never really understand what motivates half the film's main characters... although it's clear Franco thinks we should empathize with them for some reason or another.

This film could have been a crushing bore if not for some fairly effectively staged murder scenes (featuring hints of the gratuitous nudity and sadism that is a hallmark of most of Franco's and the occasional visual flourish where Franco takes full advantage of the black-and-white medium. (The still above is taken from the very best of these... a scene so effectively lit and staged that it's what made me think of Fisher's efforts for Hammer Films.)

"The Awful Dr. Orlof" was not as bad as I had expected it to be, but there are far better films in this genre to check out before you get to this one. That said, I suspect Franco fans will love it, if they haven't already checked it out.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe my favorite Franco movie, competently made and atmospheric. The nude shot may be the most gratuitous I've ever seen!