Combustible Celluloid
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With: Conrado San Martn, Diana Lorys, Howard Vernon, Perla Cristal, Mara Silva, Ricardo Valle, Mara Laso, Venancio Muro, Flix Dafauce, Faustino Cornejo, Manuel Vzquez
Written by: Jess Franco
Directed by: Jess Franco
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 86
Date: 08/19/2013

The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Not so 'Awful'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Though it's generally agreed that none of his movies rank among the elite classics of cinema, Jesus Franco -- who died this past spring at the age of 82 -- was a most extraordinary figure that, at the very least, probably broke some moviemaking records. His resume shows that he was involved, in some capacity, either credited or uncredited, in over 300 films or videos. He apparently directed some 199 of those. He worked as a writer, director, composer, actor, producer, as well as on visual effects, art direction, editing, costumes, makeup, and second unit. He used more than 60 different aliases to sign his movies, the most common of which is probably "Jess Franco." And now, making its Blu-ray debut, is one of his most popular movies -- and one of his best -- The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962).

The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962) is also reportedly the first horror movie produced in Spain, although it has no real supernatural elements in it. Conrado San Martin stars as Inspector Tanner, who somehow meets and falls in love with a beautiful ballet star, Wanda Bronsky (Diana Lorys) during a vacation. Unfortunately, Dr. Orlof (Howard Vernon) is on the loose, kidnapping women and using their skin to restore youth and vitality to his scarred, ruined daughter. His creepy, mute assistant Morpho (Ricardo Valle) does most of the dirty work. (It looks as if he's got blobs of makeup over his eyes to give him an eerily non-human look).

It may seem as if Wanda is next on Orlof's list, but she's actually the one that goes seeking him out, in order to help her husband. She succeeds in getting picked up -- not too hard looking the way she does -- and tries to get a note to the inspector. But due to the high number of crackpot false alarms, he doesn't read the note and actually goes to bed. This may be the only movie that generates suspense with a guy going to bed.

The movie features some really lovely, effective, black-and-white cinematography, highlighting off-center angles during the tensest moments, and showcasing some nicely creepy set designs. In one sequence, during an attack, Franco cuts to quick shots of an owl and a cat running away; it's an old-fashioned, but still useful, effect. Franco also composed the sinister score. A handful of colorful characters also come into play, like the drunken Rousseau (Venancio Muro), who helps out in the end.

Orlof (sometimes spelled as "Orloff") reappeared several times over the years, sometimes played by Howard Vernon, and sometimes not. You can hear more detailed information about him and the rest of the movie on Tim Lucas's amazingly knowledgeable commentary track. The Blu-ray, released by the always-reliable Kino Lorber under their "Redemption" label, also features interviews, documentaries, and featurettes. The movie itself comes in French with English subtitles, or in an alternate English-dubbed track. The disc also comes with a trailer and a photo gallery.

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