The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962) – By Duane L. Martin

Dr. Orlof’s daughter Melissa was disfigured in a lab fire, and has been in a sort of a waking coma ever since. In order to restore his daughter’s beauty, Dr. Orlof, along with his blind and dumb assistant Morpho are kidnapping and killing beautiful women so he can give his daughter skin grafts using the skin of his victims. Unfortunately for Dr. Orlof, the disappearances of several women has attracted the attention of the police, and Inspector Edgar Tanner has been given the case of his career. Along with his partner Maurice and the help of his amazingly beautiful and famous dancer fiance Wanda, they must figure out who is kidnapping these women and put a stop to the doctor’s plans, once and for all.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I absolutely dread any film I have to review that has Jess Franco’s name on it, because most of them are just pointless, poorly written nonsense. What I can’t figure out is why this film is so unbelievably different from the stuff he put out later on. This film is a well acted and beautifully made thriller that involves characters that actually have some depth to them rather than simply existing to fill time between the next sex scene or shot of a naked girl. It’s a classic horror in every sense of the word and will likely be enjoyed by every fan of classic horror films. So why did he change so drastically in his style of film making and the types of films he was making later on? I really don’t have an explanation for it. If he had stuck with films like this, then I’d be a total fan.

This film is widely regarded as the first horror film produced in Spain, and was every bit as good as anything that was coming out of the classic horror scene in Britain or America at the time. A lot of attention was paid particularly to the lighting, and it was used to great effect to create a mood and an atmosphere in the various scenes. One scene that really stood out as an example of this was a scene where Dr. Orlof was seducing a beautiful singer at the cabaret so he could take her back to an empty house where his assistant Morpho wrestled with her until she fainted, thus allowing them to carry her back to Orlof’s castle to be used in his efforts to restore his daughter. Initially we see Orlof sitting at the table, fully in shadow, while his soon to be victim is well lit. When he gives her a necklace and he puts it on her, he’s still encased in shadow, but his eyes are lit as he stands behind her. It’s things like this that really set the mood of the film, and it was a technique that was often disregarded, or used in a far less effective way in many of his future films.

The entire cast of this film did an excellent job with their roles, but I think the most difficult role had to be that of Morpho. He was supposed to be blind and disfigured, using his ears to locate people and to maneuver around. He had some very strange looking make up on, and eye covers to make his eyes look buggy and vacant. Dr. Orlof would tap his cane on the ground when leading Morpho places, and when Morpho was moving around on his own, he moved in a rather unsure way. Obviously he could see through the eye covers, but it had to have been a very difficult role to play convincingly.

Now this film, while it is an excellent piece of work, isn’t without it’s problems. There are bits here and there in the story that don’t really work. Like when Wanda goes off on her own to find the person responsible for the disappearances and puts herself in harm’s way, she doesn’t tell Edgar where she’s going or what she’s doing. When she does end up with Dr. Orlof at the cabaret, she quickly writes a note in lipstick and asks the flower lady to get it to the policeman outside so he can get it to Edgar, and yet she doesn’t sign it or even mention the identity of the killer. Edgar and Maurice had to figure it out on their own, and by the time Edgar had his informant, who was essentially just a drunken tramp, lead him to Orlof’s castle, it was almost too late. There are minor little things like this in the story that the film can be dinged on, but it’s such a great film overall, that things like this don’t really make a whole lot of difference when it comes to the gauging the overall entertainment value and quality of the film, which in this case is excellent.

This release from Kino Lorber’s Redemption label was mastered in HD from the original 35mm negatives and contains the uncut, French version of the film with optional English subtitles and optional English dubbed audio. It also has audio commentary by Tim Lucas, an interview with Jess Franco about the film, a short documentary on the making of the film, a short homage to Jess Franco including interviews with his friends and collaborators, a photo gallery and theatrical trailers.

The audio and visual quality of this release are both excellent, and this is simply just a quality release that you’re definitely going to want to add to your collection.

If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out it’s page on the Kino Lorber website here. If you’d like to pick up a copy for yourself, which I highly recommend, you can get the blu-ray or DVD from Amazon, or from any of the other usual outlets.