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Latarnia presents CASTILIAN CRIMSON
The Spanish Horror Film

EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF

DR. ORLOFF'S MONSTER

1964

 

Director: Jesus Franco
Screenplay: Jesus Franco, Nicole Guettard
Music: Daniel J. White
Cast: Agnes Spaak, Jose Rubio, Marcelo Arroita Jauregui, Hugo Blanco, Perla Cristal
Running time: 92/99 minutes
A black-and-white film

   

 

REVIEWS: Mirek ~ Robert Monell


It is becoming apparent that despite the increasing appearance of rare Jess Franco films on DVD, the cinematic world of this controversial Spanish director is going to remain somewhat elusive, even in a medium that prides itself on uncut prints and the possibility of supplements assembled from the cutting room floor. With various countries contributing finances to the small money pots that generated Franco films, a variety of hands felt free to add or subtract from these films, at times without his approval or contribution to the alteration. These days, we are seeing the release of variants of Franco’s vision, scattered parts of a larger picture that will probably always remain stubbornly uncontrolled and never fixed, much like talent that shaped it.

Image’s newest Jess Franco release, DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER, is a good example of this situation. Using elements provided by Eurocine, the print is actually the French variant titled, oddly, LES MAITRESSES DU DR. JEKYLL (THE MISTRESSES OF DR. JEKYLL). This version contains two problematic nude inserts, and bastardizes by their insertion the mood and emotional impact of the original—-or what may be the original, as the Spanish version, EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF, has never received a video release. To figure out what EL SECRETO probably is or was, we have to head over to the video shelf and retrieve Something Weird’s out-of-circulation tape, DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER, sourced from an American television 16mm print, English-dubbed, and obviously and unfortunately full-framed.

The first nude insert begins with an dreary nightclub strip by an embarrassingly Ruebenesque dancer, who is then strangled in her make-up room by the android Andros, not because of an uninspired performance, but rather because she is a sinful woman upon whom Dr. Jekyll (Dr. Fisherman in the original version) wishes to exact a cuckold’s revenge on womankind for his wife’s sexual intimacy with his own brother. The instrument of Jekyll’s vengeance is Andros, the brother, who was murdered by Jekyll and is one of the living dead now, made mobile only through Dr. Orloff’s “secret,” passed on to Dr. Jekyll at the beginning of the film. The Argentinean actor Hugo Blanco, last seen in Franco’s previous horror entry, THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS, plays Andros, but this nude insert sloppily reveals another actor reflected in a mirror, giving direction to the actress (no less!) or cursing at her, it is unclear which. Nothing of this sequence is to be found in the American DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER and one assumes in the Spanish EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF. Here, Andros audaciously enters the nightclub and wombed in its darkness and noise strangles a woman at the bar who has been designated by Dr. Fisherman for death. It is a much more effective and shocking scene than the distracting insert and unfortunately not present on the Image disc except in hasty snippets found in the two foreign trailers provided in the supplements.

The second nude insert distracts even more, as it disrupts the cause and effect flow of two important emotional peaks. In one, Melissa (Andros’ daughter, who doesn’t know the details of her father’s death) first sights the crusty face of her andriod father, and her screams of horror result in his frantic escape from the Fisherman house. The other emotional highpoint, a direct result of the first one, has Andros either seeking understanding or a reclamation of his true state of death, as he stands over his own grave, the backdrop of which is an expansive landscape of solitude and eternal regret, and a silent companion to the feelings of despair and suffering that are released in the tears welling in Andros’ eyes. In the French version, however, Andros somehow finds his way first to a house where a man at a piano (Franco, sans glasses and looking a bit paunchier than he did in an earlier nightclub scene) sits playing. The piano player’s girlfriend heads upstairs to take a bath and provide more visuals of female flesh uncovered. A few quick shots of a gazing Blanco are intercut here, but tellingly the Argentinean actor doesn’t share a frame with the actress, though a double does. This disruptive scene has simply no reason for being, aside from giving pleasure to the raincoat crowd that may have filled dingy movie houses in the mid-sixties when the film was theatrically shown.

Eurocine’s association with this EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF is not clear. In the interview that ends the BIZARRE SINEMA book dedicated to his films, Franco doesn’t mention Eurocine at all when he speaks about the production difficulties of EL SECRETO and his annoyance at the “penniless” producers, “a cooperative society which wanted to get into cinema.” So poor were these producers, Franco goes on, that he wasn’t able to acquire the services of Howard Vernon; the airfare from France was that expensive for them. I suspect Eurocine grabbed up the distribution rights some time after the film was made, and added these inserts with what seems the assistance of Franco, as his framing is chiefly evident in these scenes and he himself appears in the second insert. Franco’s apparent willingness to indulge Eurocine and mar his own work is unfortunate and speaks to a lassitude of will that sabotages integrity and determined artistic independence.

Added to the annoyance of these inserts, the French and English audio tracks vary at a few critical points. The French one calls Dr. Fisherman “Jekyll,” of course, as it must to be true to the French retitling, which prompts unintentional humor whenever such a notorious name is mentioned and no one bats an eye or does a double take. More importantly, Andros’ last line, so vital for an insight into his inner turmoil, is strikingly different in both versions!

What of the film, then? A worthy member of Franco’s monochrome quartet of macabre frissons (THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF, THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS, and MISS MUERTE being the other films), DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER contributes much texture to the pain and blood motif of Franco’s overall body of work, in this case the blood being one of familial and marital relationships. Given expression are the unvoiced links of the soul between father and daughter, brother and brother, husband and wife. Franco pays attention to the seemingly incomprehensive stares behind which these characters wait for some understanding, while fixated in miseries and horrid memories that can be only jolted from their stop-motion framework by a horror, swift and savage, or the eruption of painful memory deeply buried. (Ironically, all these convergences and outbursts take place during Christmastime, a time when family is traditionally a source of warmth and security and happiness.) And in Andros, that automaton so simpatico, we possibly have modern horror’s first Cesare, updated with existential bafflement and a pity for his own condition—-Andros, a victim of the age-old emotions of lust and possessiveness and the modern scientific forces that can be used as weapons of crazed retribution.

DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER is listed as being presented at an aspect ratio of 1:66, but on my non-anamorphic system the framing looked closer to 1:85, with the French opening credits tellingly touching the top frame border a few times. Still, the ratio used is aesthetically pleasing and presents far more image than the old SW video, so I’m not complaining. The monochrome print is in fine shape, except for the nude inserts with their occasional jitter and frequent lines. Only now, with the precise lucidity of the print and extra width was I able to recognize that the main hall of the Jekyll/Fisherman residence would turn up, with little change, as Waldemar Daninsky’s own main hall in LA MARCA DEL HOMBRE LOBO, made four years later. I suspect that further study will bring up other such links as well.

Uncredited liner notes by Tim Lucas once again achieve the incisive and knowledgeable clarity that hallmarks his work, though many trustees of Classic Universal Horror will undoubtedly disagree with the flattering parallel Lucas offers between Blanco’s performance as Andros and Boris Karloff’s as the Frankenstein Monster.

DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER was never a masterpiece, but it came close enough to the possibility of being a masterpiece, a dream of what might have been, the reveries of which can spark more fascination and yearning that any polished and perfect product. The climatic ending, a must-see for anyone serious about international horror, is a graceful tour de force of direction and cinematography at the service of a perfectly delineated idea, and can be watched again and again with no diminution in impact or feeling. This exhilarating sequence of fate and existential ache proves that when Franco has a good script and tries, he is a director of the first order. All the more regrettable his general descent in the 1970s and thereafter into the less controlled territory of voyeuristic sexual fixations, petty pulp stories and off-the-cuff hallucinogenic imagery, mandated in part by poor financing and five-page scripts. It is ironic that Jesus Franco produced some of his best work, like DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER, when the other Franco, Generalissimo Francisco Franco, kept him in line, at least in Spain. Too much freedom can sometimes be a bad thing.

-- Reviewed by Mirek

The above review first appeared on the Mobius Home Video Forum


With the DVD release of the French version of this film, LES MAITRESSES DU DR. JEKYLL, we are left with the question of the Spanish version, EL SECRETO DEL DOCTOR ORLOFF, according to OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO, clocking in at 99 minutes in it's uncut state. It's unclear if this version was ever released theatrically in Spain, as the book also notes a 92 minute runtime, which could have also been the theatrical cut. The USA TV version is listed as lasting 88 minutes, two minutes longer than the French. Whereas the French version can be termed the sleaze-exploitation cut, with its semi-nude inserts, the US version plays as a more straightforward scientific nightmare. The sexual elements, which are flaunted in THE AWFUL DOCTOR ORLOFF, are here somewhat repressed. What the missing footage from EL SECRETO involves is anyone's guess.

Reflecting on DR ORLOFF'S MONSTER we encounter a nonetheless fascinating glimpse into Franco's early universe-building. He would remain fond of the mad doctor motif right up to the present day direct-to-video erotic horrors (cf LUST FOR FRANKENSTEIN) and as of this writing still plans another look at the awful Doctor Orloff, with Paul Naschy, Christopher Lee and other names surfacing as possible candidates for the lead role.

Perhaps this time around Franco was attempting to inject certain ideas concerning science and family dysfunction which would crop up again and again from this point onward. The father-daughter relationship in GRITOS EN LA NOCHE is contaminated by Orloff's "bad" use of scientific method. The scientist here employs the "good" science of another Dr Orloff to personal and destructive ends. In Europe Franco was preceded by Riccardo Freda and Georges Franju in applying gothic thriller techniques and imagery to questions of medical ethics (cf I VAMPIRI, LES YEUX SANS VISAGE). Of course, the original novel FRANKENSTEIN and the many films based on it predate all these Euroshock variants.

The twisted father-daughter relationship in the first Orlof film and the tormented link between brothers in LA MANO DE UN HOME MUERTO are here along with a sado masochistic standoff between husband and wife. Everyone's emotional walls are built high and guilty silences rule this house of strangers. A certain personal code (a "secret" code as suggested in the Spanish title) can be assigned to names and places. Dr Fisherman seems more of regular guy than the princely, elegant manifestation of insanity evoked by Howard Vernon (whom Franco couldn't get for this project). Even his name suggests a more working class occupation and status, even if he does live in a castle. Anglers and the sport of fishing seem to fascinate Franco at this point in his career. A fisherman leads the police to Orloff's hideout in GRITOS and a pair of anglers provide clues and comic relief in MISS MUERTE.

Dr Orloff's secret is his electronic invention which he passes along to Fisherman, but Fisherman has his own personal secret and the discovery is used to act out his repressed sexual rage at this wife and brother. Andros (Hugo Blanco), the robot/slave who murders for Fisherman, is the result, a radio controlled zombie out of a science fiction scenario who will be torn between his implanted switchboard and still flickering emotional life. In the dubbed US version he dies happily, saying "thank you" to Melissa, while in the French version he is lost in confusion as he expires, wondering "why?". One wonders what the Fono Espana version dubbed into this scene.

As normal family roles break down, addiction and psychopathology replace them. Fisherman's wife is an alcoholic who chain smokes as we cut to the Doctor smoking opium in a sleazy den while he is teased by a prostitute squirming around on the floor. Alcohol, drugs, sex, obsession have come to rule Fisherman's family and life as he becomes as emotionally zombified as Andros. The casting of burly Marcelo Arroita Jauregui as Fisherman is seen as a flaw by some, and his performance can be experienced as wooden, but I find him a chillingly realistic representation of repression and a kind of depressed dissociation. He seems a man shocked into withdrawl upon realization of his own brutality. Jauregui would also appear as a spy in CARTES SUR TABLE, a more lighthearted Franco take on electronically controlled people. Hugo Blanco's face suggests a mask of pathos as his Andros kills his way into oblivion. The villains are destroyed but a sense of anxiety and emotional turmoil remain, as the surviving characters exit into darkness, leaving us to consider a "empty" mise en scene.

-- Reviewed by Robert Monell, 2002


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