As a film director Jesús Franco has become notorious for several things, including a rather slapdash approach to film-making (a reputation that is actually somewhat unfair and inaccurate). There’s nothing slapdash, however, about his 1962 debut feature, The Awful Dr Orlof (Gritos en la noche). In fact it’s made with considerable skill and a good deal of style and flair. Lots of twisted camera angles combine with the sort of discordant jazz-influenced score that later became one of his trademarks to make this quite a disturbing little horror film. The other thing Franco became notorious for was the sexual perversity of his films, and there are definite signs of that in The Awful Dr Orlof. But then how many horror films are there that don’t include a certain amount of sexual perversity?
As for the plot, it involves a Dr Orlof whose daughter has been horribly disfigured. Dr Orlof kidnaps women to use as a source for akin grafts to restore his daughter’s beauty. He is assisted by Morpho, a blind insane murderer he saved from the gallows. The police inspector investigating the case is assisted by his girlfriend, ballerina who decides to play amateur detective. Howard Vernon as Dr Orlof is quite effective and Ricardo Valle is superb and very chilling as the mad Morpho. This is classic gothic horror, and while it’s not quite in the same class as Mario Bava’s early gothic horror movies, or the best of the gothic chillers made at about the same time by Roger Corman and Terence Fisher, it’s not far behind. For a first feature it’s exceptionally good. It provides plenty of entertainment and it’s visually very impressive. I must confess that I’ve only seen one other Jesús Franco film, Vampyros Lesbos, so I can’t really give an opinion on whether he really did fritter away his early talent. I actually quite liked Vampyros Lesbos – it had a rather satisfying weirdness to it. So at this stage I’m intending to see more of his films.