Dr. Orloff's Monster
D V D   R E V I E W   B Y   S H A N E   M .   D A L L M A N N

The first films of prolific writer/director Jesus (Jess) Franco to be released in the U.S. were a series of similarly-themed black-and-white thrillers, starting with the surgical horror show The Awful Dr. Orloff (produced in 1962 by the French company Eurocine--then known as Eurocineac). The international success of that effort demanded a follow-up--yet the eventual "sequel" was one in name only. 1964's El Segreto de Doctor Orloff ("The Secret of Dr. Orloff") was released as Dr. Orloff's Monster in America, but the frail, bedridden Dr. Orloff seen in this film is neither the central character nor the same Dr. Orloff found in the previous outing. (It would soon become apparent that character names such as "Orloff," "Radeck," and "Morpho" were staples in Franco's filmic outpouring). And to add to the potential confusion, the project was advertised in some European territories as an adventure of Dr. Jekyll! Now, thanks to the video innovations of multiple audio and removable subtitles, Image Entertainment offers Dr. Orloff's Monster in a DVD edition that essentially combines two variant versions of the film in one presentation.

Dr. Conrad Fisherman (Marcelo Arroita-Jauregui), a disciple of the dying Dr. Orloff, visits his mentor with the news that he has achieved their shared dream of robotic control over a recently deceased human subject. It turns out that the cadaver is none other than Fisherman's brother Andros (top-billed Hugo Blanco, the star of Franco's earlier The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus, which was never given a U.S. release)--murdered by his brother upon the discovery of his adulterous affair with Fisherman's wife, Ingrid (Perla Cristal). While Ingrid is allowed to live in a state of perpetual guilt and misery, the body of Andros is routinely called forth to strangle a series of young women (mainly nightclub singers and strippers)--seemingly for no greater reason than to satisfy the vicious misogyny of its controller. Unsuspecting victims-to-be are presented with special pieces of jewelry fitted with transmitters that emit a radio signal to which the undead robot is tuned.

Vacationing Austrian student Melissa (Agnes Spaak, sister of Catherine Spaak from Dario Argento's The Cat O'Nine Tails) stumbles upon this charming domestic scene when she pays a visit to her Uncle Conrad and Aunt Ingrid. Melissa, of course, is the daughter of Andros (who supposedly died in surgery as his brother fought valiantly to save him), and the last thing Dr. Fisherman needs is for her to discover the truth about her father. Naturally, an encounter between Melissa and Andros is inevitable. The question is: will he recognize his daughter and act accordingly, or will he simply behave in the manner in which he has been programmed?

With its racier and more disturbing elements toned down for American viewers (one could usually count on children being a large part of the audience), Dr. Orloff's Monster eventually wound up becoming one of the more boring "creature features" syndicated on weekend television. While it provided no thrills for the younger set, older and more patient viewers could appreciate such elements as the genuinely sensitive performance of Blanco in the title role. His pale, corroded face and black garb occasionally recall Cesare the Somnambulist from the silent classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but this sleepwalker inhabits a far less expressionistic plane, traveling as he does from the Gothic surroundings of Fisherman's castle to the contemporary jazz clubs of the day (and taking time out to visit his own grave in a poignant detour). Franco upholds cinematic tradition (to which he pays tribute with visual references to such inspirational filmmakers as Charlie Chaplin and Henri-Georges Clouzot) by depicting the "monster" as a creature deserving of sympathy and far less "monstrous" than those who created him--but which must still be destroyed before he kills again. In many ways, this is Franco's most conventional film, but the milieu and approach keeps it distinctly his own; it certainly takes precedence over the rather clumsy narrative (in which the police don't catch on to the secret of the peculiar jewelry until they receive an anonymous phone call).

The original English-language dubbed version of Dr. Orloff's Monster can be obtained from such mail-order sources as Sinister Cinema, but Image Entertainment offers a DVD exclusive: the print used here was derived from the French-language release, entitled Les Maitresses du Docteur Jekyll ("The Mistresses of Dr. Jekyll") and represents the stronger version of the film, while the option of the English-language track is retained. The visual differences between this print and the U.S. release version are limited to two "insert" sequences added for the sake of nudity: the opening strip act and the subsequent murder of the performer are made more explicit, while a subsequent narrative-disrupting sequence has Andros (or his double) break into someone's home and murder a blond woman just seen taking a bath. Both inserts feature cameos by Franco himself at the piano (though his appearance in the former scene is visible in all versions).

One can easily imagine the film without such material and get an approximation of what U.S. viewers saw, but the alterations in the dialogue were even more pronounced. These differences are most efficiently discovered while switching to the DVD's dubbed English audio track and utilizing the subtitles supplied for the French-language version. Fisherman is, indeed, referred to throughout as "Dr. Jekyll" (though the story never approaches Robert Louis Stevenson territory), references to Ingrid's infidelity are far more pointed than they were in the U. S. version (where vague dialogue about a state of "perfect happiness" was substituted), and less-consequential variations in dialogue can be found throughout the entire film. In addition, the tone of the final scene depends completely on which version one views: in the French rendition (which most likely reflects the film as Franco envisioned it), the last spoken line is "Why?" as opposed to "Thank you" in the English dubbed version (for those who haven't seen the film, rest assured that it makes a difference).

Image's DVD offers a clean, attractively letterboxed (approximately 1:85:1, though the cover suggests 1:66:1) print of the film, though some occasional trembles and imperfections were unavoidable. Extras are offered in the form of the French and Italian trailers (near identical save for the imposed titles, which aren't seen at all in the French version and which refer to "Dr. Jekyll" in the Italian variant). Approximately eleven minutes of "alternate and deleted footage" are also available. This material, while not uninteresting, is derived completely from outtakes from the French "insert" scenes and becomes fairly repetitious. In all, Franco's fans will need no persuasion to purchase this disc. Those who only remember Dr. Orloff's Monster as a dull weekend time-killer may now find a re-introduction to the film worthwhile. Similar treatment for the following entry in this series-that-isn' t-a-series, Miss Muerte/The Diabolical Dr. Z would be most welcome!

Dr. Orloff's Monster is now available on DVD from Image Entertainment. The disc includes French and Italian trailers and over 10 minutes of alternate and deleted footage. Suggested retail price: $24.95 each. For more information, check out the Image Entertainment Web site.


Photo credits: © 1964 Eurocine. All rights reserved.




DVD reviews of The Awful Dr. Orloff, Kiss Me Monster, Succubus, Two Undercover Angeles, and Female Vampire.