Monday, 4 January 2010

El secreto del Dr. Orloff (1964)

Like so many of Jess Franco’s films El secreto del Dr. Orloff exists in several different versions with a bewildering array of titles, including The Secret of Dr. Orloff and Dr. Orloff's Monster. My copy was entitled Dr. Jekyll's Mistresses, but it’s still the same movie! Made in 1964, it’s one of the best of his early black-and-white horror flicks.

Melissa (Agnès Spaak) is spending a week in the country with her aunt and uncle. They live in a wonderfully gothic castle, and her uncle is a mad scientist. He’d been working with his mentor on the re-animation of corpses, and just before his mentor’s death he had come up with what he believed was the answer they’d been looking for - the use of ultrasonic sound waves. These would not only allow the creatures to move, they would also allow them to be controlled absolutely.

Having a robotic corpse wandering about is bad enough, especially when it starts killing women. The mad scientist uncle doesn’t seem very fond of women; we later find out why. We also find out why Aunt Ingrid is an alcoholic. In fact there are all sorts of dark family secrets. This extreme emphasis on the family, and on family dysfunctionality, makes the movie slightly unusual among Franco’s output. I can’t think of any other of his films that focus so much on family relationships.

It has a slightly early 60s German krimi feel to it, with the police detective providing the comic relief those movies always incorporated. The black-and-white cinematography and the mix of gothic and seedy urban settings emphasises this resemblance. Not that a resemblance to the classic German Edgar Wallace krimis is a bad thing. I happen to be incredibly fond of such films, and they continued to influence Franco for many years to come. The Devil Came from Akasava is an obvious later example.

And it has the erotic night-club act scene, without which no Jess Franco movie is complete. It’s not as memorable as some of the classic night-club scenes in later Franco opuses, but it’s still quite well done. And features more nudity than you’d expect in 1964.

The makeup effects for the monster are subtle but actually quite creepy, since he still looks mostly human. The acting is generally quite good, with Agnès Spaak very effective as Melissa.

Overall it’s a well-constructed and clever little movie with some good plot twists that come together rather nicely. It’s a lot more conventional than his later movies, or even his 1962 The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus (La mano de un hombre muerto), but it’s still very successful. There’s none of the trippiness or dream-like feel of late 60s or early 70s Franco, there’s a straightforward linear narrative and a neat ending that ties up the loose ends. It’s a Franco movie that should satisfy fans of traditional horror movies, while still having enough hints of perversity to keep true Francophiles happy.

The Region 2 DVD from Arrow Films is dubbed in English but is apparently the French cut, which I’m led to believe includes some scenes not included in the Spanish cut. Picture quality is very good, and the dubbing is reasonably well done, but there are no extras.

This is not one of the essential Jess Franco films, but if you’re a fan of his movies it’s well worth a look.

1 comment:

Alex Bakshaev said...

Nice review, only I would argue that "El secreto del Dr. Orloff" very much is essential Franco. It's this film that I would pick out as his most effective from the early B/W period.
It's competent in every department: has good pacing, stylish visuals and unique overall ambience.
I'm not a fan of Frankenstein films or Hammer horror, but "El secreto" is very dear to me. It has such "human" monster!