The Awful Dr Orlof (1962) from Johnny Web

You are going to be very surprised by several of the things I say about this movie.

First of all, it's good. Forget the low rating at IMDb - it isn't likely to score high because this isn't a movie with real broad-based appeal. It's a black and white horror picture which is a perfect homage to the old style Universal horror pictures of the 1930's. It features the same mad doctors with deformed assistants, old castles, horse-drawn carriages, long shadows, quirky minor characters ala Elijah Cook and Peter Lorre, romantic subplot, gothic camera angles, etc

In fact, it is actually an improvement on those pictures. The photography is clearer and more imaginative.

Although the plot is derivative, just a hodge-podge of elements borrowed from films shot from 10 to 25 years earlier, this film is the equal to the best from Universal, and better than anything from Hammer. In fact, the only way you can tell it's not from Universal is that the mad doctor actually pulls back the sheet from the female victim on the operating table and we see - breasts! Not for long, but they are there.

Well, maybe one more thing to distinguish it from the classics. The eerie sound track includes a decided overuse of - slide whistles! I have to admit that was effective for a while, but then he just kept repeating the slide whistle noises, and it got irritating.

Second surprise - it was directed by Jess Franco. Now you all know how much time I've spent bad-mouthing Franco in the past for his constant zooming and his technical flubs and his often boring obsessions. But this film is technically excellent. And the plot moves along quickly and logically. Ol' Jess could make a real film when he wanted to. (Well, I guess we knew that, because Orson Welles once hired him. By the way, Franco is much indebted to Welles for many stylistic elements.)

This was Jess' first horror film, and he actually did an excellent job. As he later got more and more freedom to control his work, his films became more and more personal statements, and reflected the oddness of the man himself. But this one was slick and professional. It's even dubbed well.

Now bear one thing in mind. This is a beautiful job at making a 1938 picture. But it wasn't made in 1938; it was made in 1962, and everything in the film had already been done, and people had stopped doing it 10 years earlier. But that doesn't mean it isn't good.

The characters established in this movie became the official Franco repertory staples: the tortured Doctor Orlof, the deformed Morpho, police inspector Tanner. They would make many reappearances, in name at least, in later and decidedly inferior Franco films.

The DVD has been mastered from an old French print, so you now get to see the nudity that was cut from the American release.

IMDB summary: 5.3 out of 10. Don't let this scare you off. If you like the Universal and Hammer films, or if you like the old Warner films, this will probably please you. However, if you are a fan of the typical quirky Franco offering, you may not like this at all, since it is more or less a straightforward and traditional picture.

DVD info from Amazon

Here is a very good summary of the movie in general, and the DVD in particular.

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