One thing you will never hear in a discussion about Spanish director Jess Franco is, “Franco? He’s okay, I guess….” Alternately hailed as a misunderstood genius as well as the worst of hacks, film fans seem to either love Jess or hate him. In a survey of online reviews for this film, it seems evenly split, as usual. However, regardless of what you think of Franco and his films, any objective viewer must agree the man knew how to squeeze every single cent from each of the (very few) dollars he had to make his films. Dr. Orloff’s Monster is no different.
On his deathbed, Dr. Orloff imparts his secret for the movement of his living androids to Dr. Fisherman, who promptly makes good use of this information. Many years ago, Fisherman killed his brother for sleeping with his wife. He has now used Orloff’s forbidden knowledge to create a “robot” of his dead brother, Andros, whose mind is controlled by ultrasonic waves. Fisherman uses Andros to murder beautiful women with whom he becomes smitten. He does this by the use of a necklace which is given to each woman. Each necklace holds an ultrasonic receiver which leads Andros to his victim. The local constabulary is mystified by these mysterious murders. Fortunately, Fisherman’s niece, Melissa (Agnes Spaak), who is vacationing at her uncle’s castle over the Christmas holiday, notices his suspicious behavior. Helped along by her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Juan Manuel, the young couple are able to unravel the mystery and prevent more killings.
An early entry in the Franco film library, and a sequel to 1962’s The Awful Dr. Orloff, this film isn’t nearly as lurid or hallucinogenic as many of Franco’s more famous efforts. In fact, it comes across as a clunky, gothic melodrama, similar to the Italian gothics of the same era. But it still displays many of the tell-tale signs that define classic Franco films. While there isn’t an overuse of the zoom lens that characterizes many of Franco’s later efforts, fans won’t be surprised to see several set pieces located in jazz bars. Franco was famous for his love of jazz and frequently used jazz music in his scores as well as setting plenty of scenes jazz bars. Viewers also won’t be terribly surprised to see ladies in various stages of undress throughout the film. And while these scenes are dated nowadays, they certainly were risqué, particularly in Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s 1960’s Spain. Jess loved the female form, loved filming the female form. And even this early in his career these proclivities are on display.
The plot is fairly standard and straightforward, which will be appreciated by many viewers, as Franco had a tendency—especially in the 1970’s—to use dreamlike, illogical storylines later in his career. But while there are some plot holes and questionable calls in Dr. Orloff’s Monster, the story is easy to follow, if a little boring. Even by 1964 the “mad scientist with a monster under mind control” was already an overused scenario.
As stated earlier, Franco was a master at squeezing production value from every dollar. But even Franco has his limits, and by all accounts this film was made for mere pennies. This sometimes shows, as in the shots of the ancient castle with electric line crossing in front of it. While set in contemporary times, the purpose of these shots were to generate an eerie atmosphere which as immediately dispelled by the modern electric lines. One has to wonder if Jess was more concerned with simply getting a shot than trying to find the perfect angle. Another funny scene has Fisherman giving one of his potential victims a necklace in a jewelry box. Fisherman has to turn the box three ways while there is an awkward pause in the scene before finding the opening to the box. Again, one can envision Franco wincing but not having the time for a second take, so moving on the next scene to be filmed.
The film sometimes suffers for the names of various characters. I mean, c’mon, naming your robotic android Andros is like using a sledgehammer to crack an egg! Not to mention the fact that your “robot” is clearly more of a zombie. Robots are machines, not human flesh. If you choose to watch the French language version of the film, Fisherman’s character is renamed Dr. Jekyll even though when he visits the family cemetery the tombstone is clearly labeled “Fisherman.” While this isn’t necessarily Franco’s fault, it does create some potential confusion to astute viewers.
But the cheap potboiler melodrama and low-budget flaws give the film kitschy character. I, for one, enjoy watching these films. They have a certain charm to them missing from today’s films. Plus, at less than 90 minutes, it’s a quick and painless way to spend a stormy Friday night.
Kino Lorber, in cooperation with Redemption Video, has released a nice Blu-Ray package of Dr. Orloff’s Monster. If you enjoy an old-fashioned, low-budget melodrama with a little bit of sci-fi sprinkled in for good measure, there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes or so. The print quality is nice and you have the choice between the French language track and the English track (the film itself is presented in the French version entitled Les maitresses du Dr. Jekyll). Supplemental features include the English and Italian film trailers, a nice commentary by Franco aficionado and genre film guru Tim Lucas, and 11 minutes of outtakes which presents more sexually explicit material. While the film as presented has only one quick glimpse of female nudity, different countries demanded different material. These outtakes look to be alternate takes Franco shot to be inserted into the film for different markets, depending upon the need. And while I’m not entirely sure I agree with Lucas’ unabashed analysis of the deeper meaning of Dr. Orloff’s Monster, he is extremely knowledgeable without being terribly academic.
For more information about this film you can visit www.kinolorber.com or you may purchase the film at Amazon.