Halloween Endurance Test: the Awful Dr. Orlof (1962)

The Awful Dr. Orlof is infamous Spanish director Jess Franco’s first film. Franco’s infamy is due to the sheet amounts of films he’s directed. After Orlof’s premiered in 1962, and since then he’s had up to 300(!) films attributed to him. Granted, some of these “films” are frequently all the same film, just as different versions for the different markets. Britain being notoriously censorious, Germany allowing anything, and Spain straddling the line in between. Given the number of different territories within Europe itself, one film can easily lead to five or six different titles. Next factor in Franco’s own career trajectory: horror films to porno back to horror films then back to porno, and it’s a wonder he doesn’t have 3,000 films to his credit!

The one recurring factor running through his repertoire is that they’re all terrible. The first of Franco’s films I saw was the Oasis of the Zombies, a film that ranks as one of the worst zombie movies ever; quite a feat considering the recent competition. Vampyros Lesbos, his most famous production, is known more for its soundtrack than the film itself, and, well, his Bare-Breasted Countess takes the blood sucking habit of Countess Dracula to its logical extension; with a vampire who extracts the blood through the genitals instead of the breasts. While I can understand the idea behind naming his film the Awful Dr. Orlof, with “awful” obviously hinting at the doctor’s actions and not an indictment of the film’s quality, Franco’s use of adjectives is still bizarre.

The Awful Dr. Orlof can be considered Vampyros Lesbos’ spiritual precursor. The film opens with another jazz track, this one sounding like a Free Jazz outtake. A cacophony that matches the action onscreen perfectly, as a drunken socialite careens around the screen. She stumbles into a closet where our bug-eyed killer waits, and quickly meets her end.

It’s not until the second murder that we learn our bug-eyed killer is actually Morpho (Ricardo Valle), another future feature of Vampyros Lesbos. In his original incantation, Morpho still didn’t talk, and looking at his bug-eyes, it’s no wonder he was soon donning Kool Moe Dee-style stunner shades in the ’70s.

Both films also prominently features jazz club scenes that ostensibly set-up the next murder, but really seem like an excuse for Franco to feature a(nother) jazz band. Unfortunately this performance is more a musical performance than some performance art.

One bit that would wisely not be recycled is Police Inspector Tanner’s (Conrado San Martin) community interrogation scene. Now I don’t know how investigations were conducted in the early ’60s, but I’m guessing inviting everyone who had been in a nightclub on a certain night to communally decide on how a suspect looked is frowned upon these days. It plays out as you’d expect, one lady says the killer had a square-jaw, and next a gentleman claims he had a corpselike face. The arguments continue until we have two suspects.

The film borrows its story quite liberally from Georges Franju’s 1960 masterpiece, Eyes Without a Face. Both center on a doctor’s struggle to heal his grievously wounded daughter with the face of another. As with all these films, the operations never take, whether it be due to bad blood, or from taking a face from a cadaver instead of a live “donor.”

Luckily for Inspector Tanner, he’s dating a famous ballerina, Wanda (Diana Lorys), who just happens to run into Dr. Orlof every 15 minutes. She naturally has all the features Orlof needs to complete his daughter’s reconstructive surgery, so becomes his final target. Why the doctor, who, up to this point, used drunks and hookers for his victims would now make the jump to attacking an national star, is anyone’s guess. As a doctor, you’d suspect that he’d be smart enough to realize that the bigger the celebrity victim, the more likely it’ll be that you’ll get caught.

I guess years of failure will have that effect on a man. And not to be overly negative, but is using your own fiance as bait to catch a killer doesn’t seem like the kind of behavior a top-tier inspector would be engaging in. Though, after her life is carelessly endangered, the crime is solved. Dr. Orlof falling victim to his own mute vampire henchman Morpho. Morpho, while carrying Wanda, is then shot dead by the inspector; care of a risky long-distance shot

Wanda’s reward for all this reckless endangerment? She is promoted to being the inspector’s official “partner.” (A clever play on words on Franco’s part, as they’ll now be married and, one guesses, she’ll continue freelancing as police bait.)

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