Tuesday, January 3, 2012

8. THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF (LOS OJOS DEL DR. ORLOFF, 1973)

Finally available in an English-friendly edition almost 40 years after it was made, this Jess Franco thriller loses less than might be expected by replacing Howard Vernon, the original Dr. Orloff, with American actor William Berger in a contemporary storyline. Though visually flat most of the time, the English subtitles reveal lurking tiers of tongue-in-cheek irony (Sweet Davey Brown, a hippie musician played by Robert Woods, must bring the case to the attention of a disbelieving inspector played by Edmond Purdom) and some fairly dark psychological ground while also deepening the mythos of the Orloff character, previously seen in Franco's THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF (1962) and DR. ORLOFF'S MONSTER (1964) and subsequently exploited by Santos Alcocer in THE ORGIES OF DR. ORLOFF (1969) and by Pierre Chevalier in ORLOFF AND THE INVISIBLE MAN (1970). Vernon, who had played Orloff in all but the second film, was promised to another production when the funding came together for this picture, so Franco hired Berger (reportedly only 3-4 weeks free from prison on a drugs charge) and says in an accompanying interview how pleased he was by his performance. Berger never played Orloff again, but Franco hired him for several more features and was in fact the last director to employ him, shortly before his death.

In THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF, we discover that Orloff's daughter Melissa, whose ruined beauty he strove to restore in the original film, was in fact the namesake of the now-late Lady Melissa Comfort, who rejected Orloff's love to marry Lord Comfort and bore a daughter of her own to carry on her name. This prompts the mad doctor, 20 years later, to pursue a most complicated vengeance against her descendants. He achieves this with the unwitting aid of Lady Comfort's daughter Melissa (Montserrat Prous, playing the first of a few lead roles for Franco), paralyzed since birth, bound to a wheelchair, and haunted by gruesome dreams in which she walks and commits murder. A reprise of Franco's recurring murder-under-hypnosis storyline, this is not one of his best or most original films but it's more interesting than you might expect, and Davey's obsessively replayed song "Open Your Eyes" (attributed to Franco's nom de plume David Khunne) offers one of Franco's most memorable musical motifs. Intervision's subtitles contain some humorous inaccuracies and even vanish for a couple of minutes.

Viewed on Intervision Picture Corp. DVD.

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