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The Awful Dr Orlof (1962)
Director: Jess Franco

review by James Starkey

This rather amusing melodrama was fairly typical of the early-1960s' European crime/thriller genre that rose up and disappeared almost overnight. Influenced by the work of Ed Wood in the US and the British Hammer studios, Jess Franco went about producing his own little slice of terror - Italian style. The result is a fairly run-of-the-mill, but nonetheless enjoyable romp involving buxom dancers, and mad doctors.
   Franco sets the movie in an early-20th century Italian town, a place of dark alleyways, horse-drawn carriages and late night dance halls. To the director's credit, he doesn't go overboard with the scenes of foggy streets and distant figures. Instead he keeps this to a minimum but effective level.
   Dr Orlof is a rather disturbed individual who feels the need to spend his evenings stalking women. His objective is not sexual however, rather he wishes to remove their skin in order to replace his wife's own damaged face. Little is known as to why his wife is disfigured apart from something about a 'laboratory fire'. Orlof is aided in his abduction of the women by a truly hilarious sidekick by the name of Morpho. Without doubt this character makes the movie. Admittedly, Orlof get all the amusing lines, but it is Morpho who is so genuinely hilarious. The doctor's trusty henchman obeys his masters every command without question - managing to abduct his victims with relative ease apart from the slight disadvantage of being blind! Furthermore, Morpho's eyes seem to take on the appearance of boiled eggs, or table-tennis balls with eyelashes painted onto them.
   Franco appears unconcerned about developing any kind of relationship between Orlof and Morpho - contented enough to have the audience recognise their most basic of master and servant arrangement. This isn't too important a glitch as the antics of the marauding Morpho manage to make up for it. Howard Vernon is satisfactory as Orlof without reaching the heights. His rather shady features make him pretty much perfect for the role - a shrewd piece of casting indeed. Overacting is kept to a minimum - Vernon manages to really convince as Orlof. At no point do you get the impression that he is forcing the issue.
   Repeated attempts to garner a cure on both live and dead specimens soon take their toll on Orlof, who is now pursued by a rather wooden policeman (Conrado San Martin). Various predictable clues (and the obligatory buxom brunette) lead the police to the doctor's castle. As I suspected however, it is Morpho who steals the show at the movie's end. He is involved in a scene at the very end that dragged me out of my cynical slumber and had me roaring with laughter.
   Franco's first attempt at this genre is fair. At no point does it lurch towards the ridiculous as some of the director's later works would. Direction is pretty proficient and well paced with relevant scenes papering over any of the waffle that was so common in movies of this era. Sadly, Franco seemed unable to do anything to stop the frankly criminal performances of the minor characters such as the old lady - who is tedious as the distraught mother searching for her daughter, and the drunk who willingly gives information to the police.
   As is par-the-course for these types of Region 2 discs, picture quality is poor as is the dubbing. Equally poor is the range of features on offer (this disc did not have subtitles with the option to watch the movie in Italian) I suspect the movie is cut quite considerably, as some of the scenes seem jumpy and out of sync with those that follow. Orlof is still fun however, and can be recommended simply for the immortal Morpho (just make sure you buy it in a sale).
The Awful Dr Orlof

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