EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF
DR. ORLOFF'S MONSTER
Director: Jesus Franco
REVIEWS: Mirek ~ Robert Monell
It is becoming apparent that despite the increasing appearance of rare Jess Franco films on DVD, the cinematic world of this controversial Spanish director is going to remain somewhat elusive, even in a medium that prides itself on uncut prints and the possibility of supplements assembled from the cutting room floor. With various countries contributing finances to the small money pots that generated Franco films, a variety of hands felt free to add or subtract from these films, at times without his approval or contribution to the alteration. These days, we are seeing the release of variants of Franco’s vision, scattered parts of a larger picture that will probably always remain stubbornly uncontrolled and never fixed, much like talent that shaped it.
Image’s newest Jess Franco release, DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER, is a good example of this situation. Using elements provided by Eurocine, the print is actually the French variant titled, oddly, LES MAITRESSES DU DR. JEKYLL (THE MISTRESSES OF DR. JEKYLL). This version contains two problematic nude inserts, and bastardizes by their insertion the mood and emotional impact of the original—-or what may be the original, as the Spanish version, EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF, has never received a video release. To figure out what EL SECRETO probably is or was, we have to head over to the video shelf and retrieve Something Weird’s out-of-circulation tape, DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER, sourced from an American television 16mm print, English-dubbed, and obviously and unfortunately full-framed.
The first nude insert begins with an dreary nightclub strip by an embarrassingly Ruebenesque dancer, who is then strangled in her make-up room by the android Andros, not because of an uninspired performance, but rather because she is a sinful woman upon whom Dr. Jekyll (Dr. Fisherman in the original version) wishes to exact a cuckold’s revenge on womankind for his wife’s sexual intimacy with his own brother. The instrument of Jekyll’s vengeance is Andros, the brother, who was murdered by Jekyll and is one of the living dead now, made mobile only through Dr. Orloff’s “secret,” passed on to Dr. Jekyll at the beginning of the film. The Argentinean actor Hugo Blanco, last seen in Franco’s previous horror entry, THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS, plays Andros, but this nude insert sloppily reveals another actor reflected in a mirror, giving direction to the actress (no less!) or cursing at her, it is unclear which. Nothing of this sequence is to be found in the American DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER and one assumes in the Spanish EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF. Here, Andros audaciously enters the nightclub and wombed in its darkness and noise strangles a woman at the bar who has been designated by Dr. Fisherman for death. It is a much more effective and shocking scene than the distracting insert and unfortunately not present on the Image disc except in hasty snippets found in the two foreign trailers provided in the supplements.
The second nude insert distracts even more, as it disrupts the cause and effect flow of two important emotional peaks. In one, Melissa (Andros’ daughter, who doesn’t know the details of her father’s death) first sights the crusty face of her andriod father, and her screams of horror result in his frantic escape from the Fisherman house. The other emotional highpoint, a direct result of the first one, has Andros either seeking understanding or a reclamation of his true state of death, as he stands over his own grave, the backdrop of which is an expansive landscape of solitude and eternal regret, and a silent companion to the feelings of despair and suffering that are released in the tears welling in Andros’ eyes. In the French version, however, Andros somehow finds his way first to a house where a man at a piano (Franco, sans glasses and looking a bit paunchier than he did in an earlier nightclub scene) sits playing. The piano player’s girlfriend heads upstairs to take a bath and provide more visuals of female flesh uncovered. A few quick shots of a gazing Blanco are intercut here, but tellingly the Argentinean actor doesn’t share a frame with the actress, though a double does. This disruptive scene has simply no reason for being, aside from giving pleasure to the raincoat crowd that may have filled dingy movie houses in the mid-sixties when the film was theatrically shown.
Eurocine’s association with this EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF is not clear. In the interview that ends the BIZARRE SINEMA book dedicated to his films, Franco doesn’t mention Eurocine at all when he speaks about the production difficulties of EL SECRETO and his annoyance at the “penniless” producers, “a cooperative society which wanted to get into cinema.” So poor were these producers, Franco goes on, that he wasn’t able to acquire the services of Howard Vernon; the airfare from France was that expensive for them. I suspect Eurocine grabbed up the distribution rights some time after the film was made, and added these inserts with what seems the assistance of Franco, as his framing is chiefly evident in these scenes and he himself appears in the second insert. Franco’s apparent willingness to indulge Eurocine and mar his own work is unfortunate and speaks to a lassitude of will that sabotages integrity and determined artistic independence.
Added to the annoyance of these inserts, the French and English audio tracks vary at a few critical points. The French one calls Dr. Fisherman “Jekyll,” of course, as it must to be true to the French retitling, which prompts unintentional humor whenever such a notorious name is mentioned and no one bats an eye or does a double take. More importantly, Andros’ last line, so vital for an insight into his inner turmoil, is strikingly different in both versions!
What of the film, then? A worthy member of Franco’s monochrome quartet of macabre frissons (THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF, THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS, and MISS MUERTE being the other films), DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER contributes much texture to the pain and blood motif of Franco’s overall body of work, in this case the blood being one of familial and marital relationships. Given expression are the unvoiced links of the soul between father and daughter, brother and brother, husband and wife. Franco pays attention to the seemingly incomprehensive stares behind which these characters wait for some understanding, while fixated in miseries and horrid memories that can be only jolted from their stop-motion framework by a horror, swift and savage, or the eruption of painful memory deeply buried. (Ironically, all these convergences and outbursts take place during Christmastime, a time when family is traditionally a source of warmth and security and happiness.) And in Andros, that automaton so simpatico, we possibly have modern horror’s first Cesare, updated with existential bafflement and a pity for his own condition—-Andros, a victim of the age-old emotions of lust and possessiveness and the modern scientific forces that can be used as weapons of crazed retribution.
DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER is listed as being presented at an aspect ratio of 1:66, but on my non-anamorphic system the framing looked closer to 1:85, with the French opening credits tellingly touching the top frame border a few times. Still, the ratio used is aesthetically pleasing and presents far more image than the old SW video, so I’m not complaining. The monochrome print is in fine shape, except for the nude inserts with their occasional jitter and frequent lines. Only now, with the precise lucidity of the print and extra width was I able to recognize that the main hall of the Jekyll/Fisherman residence would turn up, with little change, as Waldemar Daninsky’s own main hall in LA MARCA DEL HOMBRE LOBO, made four years later. I suspect that further study will bring up other such links as well.
Uncredited liner notes by Tim Lucas once again achieve the incisive and knowledgeable clarity that hallmarks his work, though many trustees of Classic Universal Horror will undoubtedly disagree with the flattering parallel Lucas offers between Blanco’s performance as Andros and Boris Karloff’s as the Frankenstein Monster.
DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER was never a masterpiece, but it came close enough to the possibility of being a masterpiece, a dream of what might have been, the reveries of which can spark more fascination and yearning that any polished and perfect product. The climatic ending, a must-see for anyone serious about international horror, is a graceful tour de force of direction and cinematography at the service of a perfectly delineated idea, and can be watched again and again with no diminution in impact or feeling. This exhilarating sequence of fate and existential ache proves that when Franco has a good script and tries, he is a director of the first order. All the more regrettable his general descent in the 1970s and thereafter into the less controlled territory of voyeuristic sexual fixations, petty pulp stories and off-the-cuff hallucinogenic imagery, mandated in part by poor financing and five-page scripts. It is ironic that Jesus Franco produced some of his best work, like DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER, when the other Franco, Generalissimo Francisco Franco, kept him in line, at least in Spain. Too much freedom can sometimes be a bad thing.
-- Reviewed by Mirek
The above review first appeared on the Mobius Home Video Forum
With the DVD release of the French version of this
film, LES MAITRESSES DU DR. JEKYLL, we are left with the question of the
Spanish version, EL SECRETO DEL DOCTOR ORLOFF, according to OBSESSION:
THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO, clocking in at 99 minutes in it's uncut state.
It's unclear if this version was ever released theatrically in Spain, as
the book also notes a 92 minute runtime, which could have also been the
theatrical cut. The USA TV version is listed as lasting 88 minutes, two
minutes longer than the French. Whereas the French version can be termed
the sleaze-exploitation cut, with its semi-nude inserts, the US version
plays as a more straightforward scientific nightmare. The sexual
elements, which are flaunted in THE AWFUL DOCTOR ORLOFF, are here
somewhat repressed. What the missing footage from EL SECRETO involves is
Dr Orloff's secret is his electronic invention
which he passes along to Fisherman, but Fisherman has his own personal
secret and the discovery is used to act out his repressed sexual rage at
this wife and brother. Andros (Hugo Blanco), the robot/slave who murders
for Fisherman, is the result, a radio controlled zombie out of a science
fiction scenario who will be torn between his implanted switchboard and
still flickering emotional life. In the dubbed US version he dies
happily, saying "thank you" to Melissa, while in the French
version he is lost in confusion as he expires, wondering
"why?". One wonders what the Fono Espana version dubbed into
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