O: Orloff and the Invisible Man (1970)

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Oh dear God, not Jess Franco again! Why? Whyyyyyyyyy

003012-01What’s that you say? It’s not Jess Franco? It’s Pierre Chevalier? And what is more, you claim that after the first ten minutes, I am going to be begging for the return of Jess Franco? Pish tush, I say! And furthermore, folderol!

You are, incidentally, going to be right.

This is known by many names – even on its own DVD. Sure, the cover says Orloff and the Invisible Man, but the menu claims it’s Orloff Against the Invisible Man. Go to the IMDb and it’s Dr. Orloff’s Invisible Monster. In the UK, The Invisible Dead. And if you use Letterboxd, it’s the original title, The Love Life of the Invisible Man. That last one is going to turn out to be – rather horrifyingly – the movie’s raison d’etre.

We are apparently once a-goddamn-gain in some superstitious 19th century Carpathian village, and the new doctor in town can’t understand why no one wants to take him to the castle of Professor Orloff for an emergency call. At least the doctor in Kill Baby… Kill! made it almost to his destination, this poor sod gets ditched in the middle of nowhere, and in a rainstorm, to boot.

Dr. Garandet (Paco Valladares) finally makes it to Castle Orloff, where the two remaining servants also refuse to tell him what’s going on. He finally talks with Orloff’s daughter, Cecile (Brigitte Carva), who tells him she’s seen an invisible man, and also her father is always in his laboratory. Papa, of course, is Professor Orloff (Howard Vernon), who not only somehow survived our last encounter with him at the other end of the alphabet, but also managed to add an “f” to the end of his name.

orloff-and-the-invisible-manOh, good God, why keep pretending? This has absolutely nothing to do with that Orloff except it’s still Howard Vernon, and he’s still tampering in God’s domain like a mofo. In this case, he has created an Invisible Man (exactly how is never revealed), an entirely new form of life which is “Intelligent and obedient” and will rule the world, or something mad science like that.

But never mind that, let’s while away the next twenty minutes with the tale of how, six years ago, Cecile had some sort of cataleptic fit and was interred alive, and saved only by two wicked servants robbing her grave for the jewelry. When she revived, they panicked, stabbed her, and ran off. Well, the smart one, the woman (Isabel del Rio) ran off, the man stuck around to be used for experiments. Oh, don’t worry, the woman is tracked down with dogs, which causes her blouse to unbutton.

This suspiciously modern underwear does not appear in the actual movie.

This suspiciously modern underwear does not appear in the actual movie.

You see, to get back to the Invisible Man stuff, and the Love Life thereof, if you see a woman under the age of 30 in this movie, you can rest assured that at some point you are going to see her naked. Isabel del Rio, to convince her fellow servant to do some grave robbing, will coquettishly (ie., slowly) change into a nightshirt. Then take it off and put her clothes back on for some resurrectionist action. The one remaining female servant in the castle – who is the one who sent for Garandet – will be punished by handing her over to the Invisible Man, mainly because Orloff “wants to see what he will do with a human female.” It involves the poor girl jerking herself around, trying to convince us that she is being pulled along by something invisible, and then manhandling herself on a bed of hay. Then, when we thankfully start running short on time, the Invisible Man also wants to rape Cecile, so say goodbye to that particular nightgown, too.

(I must give Image Entertainment props for giving us, as a DVD extra, the Alternate Clothed Footage of these scenes, unlike yesterday’s feature)



In other words, a better title would have been The Rape Life of the Invisible Man. The plot is entirely superfluous, and were we not distracted by naked breasts and unshaven pudenda (I would like to thank modern pornography for making pubic hair exotic again), the entire enterprise would be so generic and unoriginal, so padded with lugubrious claptrap, that the only way to deal with it would be to take a restful nap or perhaps read a book while you coexisted in the same room with it during its mercifully brief 82 minutes.

There are points at which somebody on the crew said, “Hey, you know, that Bava guy’s been doing some pretty cool stuff” and breaks out the colored gels in the numerous catacomb scenes, but overall the scenes are way too brightly lit – there are obviously big lights on the other side of the camera, eliminating all atmosphere and period ambience.  There is also a bizarre reliance on close-ups that are out-of-focus, but now perhaps I’m just being bitchy.

The invisible effects are, at least, handled pretty well… at least until Garandet tosses some flour on the Invisible Man and we discover it was a man in a monkey suit all this time. Don’t believe me? Here:

Soccer blue! Buy Orloff and the Invisible Man  on Amazon!


A: The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962)

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Oh, God, it’s Jess Franco.

Gritos_en_la_nocheNow, a lot of people whose opinion I respect like Jess Franco. I have yet to find that movie that will win me over to his camp, however. It may actually happen someday, but in the meantime, I ain’t holdin’ my breath. The Awful Dr. Orlof is described by some as “Franco’s masterpiece”, which means in a career spanning around 200 movies, he hit his high point on his fifth movie. Contemplate that upon the Tree of Woe, and let us begin.

France, 1912: Four beautiful women have already disappeared, and as the movie starts, number five is killed by a disfigured, caped man, who then carries her body out, guided by the tapping of a cane. The man doing the tapping is our awful title character (Howard Vernon, here beginning a lifelong friendship and collaboration with Franco), clad in opera cape and top hat. The killer is Morpho (Ricardo Valle), whose scarred face and bulging, unblinking eyes are the classic stuff of monster movies.

awful-dr-orlof-howard-vernon-orlof-spots-wandaWe are quickly introduced to Inspector Tanner (Conrado San Martin) and his ballerina fiancee, Wanda (Diana Lorys). Tanner is put in charge of the missing woman epidemic and will prove mostly ineffective (it is, in fact only due to a comic relief drunk played by Faustino Cornejo that Tanner solves anything). Orlof is trying to restore his daughter’s face, scarred in a laboratory fire years before – after his most recent failure (an unfortunate drunken woman trapped with Morpho in an empty house, a very effective scene), he determines that his next victim must be living when he attempts the skin grafts. Then he notices that Wanda and his daughter are played by the same actress…

hqdefaultOkay, we can stop right now and examine the obvious, that this is the same plot as Eyes Without A Face, released only two years previous. In this instance, Franco has an excuse: he was denied a permit to film his intended fifth movie by the Spanish State Censor, and he already had a cast and crew ready to go. He wrote Orlof in a week, figuring – as is often the case – that a horror movie would be perceived as having no particular political message. This doesn’t necessarily excuse his return to this particular trough over and over again through the years, however.

horrible-dr-orlof-1962-02-gFranco was a cinematic omnivore, and this really shows in this version of Les Yeux Sans Visage through the filter of a 1930s Universal monster movie (it’s a possibility that Orlof is a tribute to Bela Lugosi and his blind henchmen in The Human Monster), or one of the more contemporaneous Hammer gothic horrors. It’s certainly lacking the poetry of Franju’s film – the tormented nature of the daughter, the recipient of her father’s increasingly horrific attempts to restore her face (Lorys as the daughter is called upon to do little more than loll her head about on a uncomfortable-looking bed). There is some tribute paid to Orlof’s agony over what he’s doing, but it feels more like filler here. I’m sure the dreadful English dub is not helping out there, either.

tumblr_m83sl8hbSv1r4ro7yo1_500The character of Wanda the ballerina is a new addition to the story, using herself as bait when she realizes Orloff is becoming obsessed with her. The final twenty minutes of the movie, with Wanda in the clutches of the mad scientist and her worthless boyfriend the Inspector finding every excuse possible to not read her hastily-written note, is pretty compelling, though the viewer finds himself wondering why she thinks taking such a hazardous course without notifying her policeman boyfriend in advance is going to turn out alright.

If nothing else, you have to admit that the original title, Gritos en la noche, or Screams in the Night, is a great title for a horror movie. Exactly when it became The Awful Dr. Orlof is opaque to me; I had assumed the change was made so it could occupy the lower half of a double bill with Ricardo Freda’s The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, but my Image DVD bears the french title L’horrible Docteur Orlof. I need more coffee before I can begin to untangle this, and I’m inclined to believe it’s just not worth it.

For some – like, for instance, me – it’s an okay way to kill an hour and thirty minutes. For others it’s going to be an unforgivable slog, though a couple of instances of shocking (for 1962, anyway) female nudity employing an obvious body double might wake them up.