Ah, the perils of Jess Franco! All in all, I’m very positive on Uncle Jess’s films: though not quite a Francophile, I can always appreciate his brand of zany Eurosleaze. But in the pre-Lina and pre-Soledad years, Jess hadn’t quite found his sense of fun. Even the camera work is disappointingly staid, with ne’er a random zoom in sight. So it is with early b&w offering Dr Orloff’s Monster. Perhaps my tastes have been formed by less cinematically well-crafted, less artistic offerings, but so it goes. You should see my DVD collection, and then you’d forgive me that, and most things…
Although Dr. Orloff is mentioned in the title, the mad scientist of this film is actually one Conrad Jekyll (or is it Conrad Fisherman?) who learns the secret of controlling the dead as automata. He kills his brother when he discovers him in a tryst with his wife Ingrid, and then keeps him as a slave, using him to dispatch pretty jazz chaunteuses and strippers (by giving those women necklaces which contain transmitters – sending ‘Andros’ as he’s now known into a murderous rage.)
All the scientific apparatus in this film – as in many films of the period – seems to emit a stylophone-like drone. Learn from my mistake – keep the volume low…
Meanwhile, Conrad’s niece, Melissa (daughter of his brother) arrives at the castle (if you took Jess Franco’s and Jean Rollin’s word for it, you’d think everyone in Europe had a chateau of their very own!) She’s there to hear details of her inheritance, but not before a flirtatious taxi driver called Juan takes a shine to her and holes up in a local hotel to spend more time with her. She meets her aunt and uncle – and it soon becomes apparent that all is not well – Ingrid is a bitter, sick woman and Conrad spends all of his time in the laboratory. Slowly, we begin to discover Ingrid’s past feelings for Conrad’s brother, and Melissa grows increasingly interested in finding out more about her father’s untimely death. ‘Cept of course, he’s still in the castle, and one night when not out strangling women, they bump into each other.
Now Andros is loose. With a homing instinct for pretty nude ladies. Melissa and Juan must solve the mystery before more women die, (with the help of an oddly comedic police task force) and stop Andros forever.
I know, it’s absurd to sound crestfallen about this but – this is actually a really well-made film, well edited, with some gorgeous long shots and scenery. It just doesn’t quite make it as a cogently-plotted piece, and lacks the madcap bravado of later works. The performances aren’t bad, and there’s even a few moments of pathos for ‘Andros’ (Hugo Blanco) and his daughter Melissa (Agnès Spaak). But the comic cops destroy any tension, and seem an unusual choice here – comic foils don’t quite seem needed.
If you don’t like jazz music – I don’t, but squirm at most club scenes in films – then this film will be heavy going. The film also contains one of the most unconvincing murders I’ve ever seen committed to celluloid – topping even Dennis Price’s pathetic getaway in Vampyros Lesbos! That said, despite the hazy moments in the plot, this isn’t a bad idea, and just lacks a certain something along the way to really make it work, at least for me. Interesting in some ways, and flat in others, I think I’d just prefer the 70s-era films whose flaws are integral to their charms.
Best quote of the film: spoken about Dr. Jekyll – “He comes off as if he’d invented penicillin or something.”