Friday, March 4, 2011

DVD Review: The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff (1973)

My dearest friends, I bid thee welcome and well-met! Yes, you can cease your weeping and unclench your butt cheeks, the Duke of DVD has returned once again to further debase your souls and once more hurl you headlong into the deepest abyss that is MAD cinema! Too long have I been absent these hallowed pages, but it is for good reason, I assure thee. I have just returned from my winter holiday, but it was holiday in name only, for I funded and lead an expedition into the deepest regions of Wallachia, in search of objects of such demented nature, rank with dark energies, that they twist all but the strongest minds.

Employing the use of several guides from Severin and Hungary, we journeyed deep into forbidden mountains, jagged, twisted formations that claw at the sky like the claws of a demon. Crusted with snow, consisting of blackest obsidian and rough basalt, they were home to only the most devout of cults. Their enclaves, hidden from the eye and entered only by the use of weighted stone doors which open only upon speaking certain arcane rituals, contain untold treasures of dark portent. It was in one such temple that I found a certain artifact belonging to Mircea the Elder, a brutish, vile heretic who ruled most of the region during the 14th century until his mysterious death from 37 stab wounds to the back.

Hidden deep in a storage area, behind weeping casks of honeyed, salted meat (long gone rank) and amphorae filled with a black, tar-like liquid that claimed the life of one of my entourage when he came in contact with it (he died screaming as his eyes erupted and his tongue turned black, swelled, and ultimately choked him to death), sat an ossuary carved with blasphemies against every benevolent god in existence.

Inside, wrapped in the cracked, stretched hide of a burned saint, a most foul treasure…

The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff! That’s right, friends, one of Jess Franco’s “Orloff” series of movies dealing with the apparently sinister-eyed Dr. Orloff. In other Orloff movies (going from The Awful Dr. Orloff to The Orgies of Dr. Orloff, and I think there’s probably one called Dr. Orloff Goes To Buy Groceries), the good Doctor is usually played by Howard Vernon. Franco apparently needed someone with more sinister eyes, so he employed the supreme talents of William Berger, a man who once stared down a charging grizzly and who killed a wildebeest with his bare hands.

"Don't make me angry.  You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."
Our movie starts off with the fevered nightmare of the apparently helpless Melissa (Montserrat Prous), the daughter of a well-to-do man who has passed away, leaving her a considerable fortune. In the nightmare, she is a young girl in her nightgown, cringing in terror from a flailing man who looms over her, and drips blood on her gown. She awakes screaming. Martha (Loreta Tovar), a busty blonde, comes in to comfort her, wearing a long black gown that she doesn’t bother to keep closed, flashing her vag at her step-sister Melissa.

"Also, check out my hoo-hoo."
It turns out Melissa is paralyzed from the waist down, confined to a wheelchair and needing the constant ministrations of her faithful butler Matthews (Jose Manuel Martin), who had served her father for years. Matthews is mistrustful (for good reason) of Melissa’s step-sister Martha, and the new lady of the house, Flora (Kali Hansa), an ex-showgirl who is shacked-up with Melissa’s uncle Robert (Jaume Picas), who currently runs the house. (Whew!) Melissa seems to spend most of her days either in bed or being pushed around the estate gardens by Matthews.

Martha the step-sister and Flora bring in Dr. Orloff, on the pretense that Melissa’s paranoia and dreams are getting out of hand. Melissa is convinced that people are out to get her and that the dreams she has about the man dripping blood on her somehow have to do with her departed dad. Dr. Orloff arrives, sporting a black suit and piercing, nay, sinister eyes, and really doesn’t help Melissa at all, instead telling her that both he and her dad loved the same woman, Melissa’s long-dead mother, and that when Orloff didn’t win her hand in marriage, he moved away, married another woman, and had a daughter who was eerily also named Melissa, who then died. WTF Doc, you need to go back to shrink school!

Even more rattled than before, Melissa takes the only solace she can find: sitting in her wheelchair amongst the flowers and plants of her sprawling backyard. It is there that she hears the dewy, dulcet tones of Sweet Davey Brown (Robert Woods), a folk singer who has apparently struck it rich enough to afford the neighboring mansion and keep a smoking hot chick who only wears panties, a tight t-shirt, and boots at all times around him. He’s out by the pool, strumming and singing, when Melissa hears and rolls closer to get a better look. Using preternatural instincts no doubt honed from years of touring and singing, Sweet Davey Brown senses Melissa’s virgin poon nearby and begins encouraging her to come over for a dip, not knowing she’s wheelchair-bound. He jumps over the hedge, and is suitably ashamed when he sees that she can’t just up and come over. Matthews arrives, runs the folk singer off (he’s no doubt an Engelbert Humperdinck fan) and takes Melissa back inside.

The predatory hippie, seen here, readies his instrument as he stalks his prey.

That night, Melissa has a dream in which her uncle is murdered. We see in the dream a Melissa that can walk, sneak into her uncle’s study and cut his throat using the apparently razor-sharp edge of a clock’s pendulum! She wakes up the next morning, immediately asking where her uncle is. Step-sister Martha says he went hunting like he had planned, and Matthews confirms that uncle Robert’s car, which he always drives when going hunting, is missing from the garage. We quickly learn, through a couple of rather dashing and awesome detectives, that uncle Robert has been found with his throat cut sitting out in his own car out in the middle of nowhere. Melissa is distraught!

Time is a maniac scattering dust...and also internal organs.
At about this point, we get a long monologue from Dr. Orloff that reveals his evil plans, which I assume have something to do with loving Melissa’s mother in the past, getting screwed by uncle Robert, and such. I have to assume, mind you, because the DVD from Intervision is faulty! The subtitles wig out for almost 5 minutes right at this crucial juncture in the film, and since my Spanish is only good when applied to Paul Naschy films, I had to infer everything from Dr. Orloff’s sinister glares and gruff growl.

I do know this: the seeming-off-the-cuff plot involves the help of Martha and Flora, who are promised a cut of the wealth if they’ll help Orloff kidnap and then murder Melissa. Orloff, with the help of a blond assistant who only wears all-black uniforms it seems, also repeatedly hypnotizes Melissa, getting her to do murder most foul. Martha and Flora do indeed pull off the kidnapping, with Flora wearing a pantsuit and Martha wearing, no lie, an ultra-short nightgown (short enough to show her underwear the entire time) and knee-high boots. Franco, bless you sir, you pervert you! Unbeknownst to them, however, is that Sweet Davey Brown witnesses the ‘napping!

Exhibit A of why we love Jess Franco.
Matthews finds out as well, and goes to rescue Melissa, putting her in a car and driving out into the country. The car breaks down on a fog-shrouded hillside (and by “fog-shrouded” I mean a smoke machine coupled with someone holding a stained plexiglass sheet directly in front of the camera lens), and Matthews gets out to repairit. Melissa stands up in a fugue state, gets a tire-iron from the car’s boot, then proceeds to whack poor Matthews to death, who only ever wanted to help her. It seems the sinister eyes of Dr. Orloff know no human decency! Flora and Martha arrive very quickly, having found Melissa missing, only to find her passed out on the ground and Matthews lying nearby, presumably dead.

Exhibit B
They take Melissa back with them to their house, where they then have a nice dinner together, talking about how they’re going to spend their riches. Martha heads off to take a bath, and we finally see her naked, but it comes at the cost of also seeing Flora beat her to death with the shower wand, screeching about how she’s not going to share the wealth. While Flora is dragging Martha’s dead body through the house, the doorbell rings, and it turns out its Sweet Davey Brown, still sniffing around trying to find out what’s happening with Melissa. Flora blows him off, but he doesn’t give up, instead going to the police Inspector from earlier. After first getting rebuffed by the Inspector (I mean, really, who wants a dirty hippy yapping away at the them?), Sweet Davey Brown finally wins him over, enough to go check things out.

The arrive just as Dr. Orloff and his assistant are taking Melissa to his secret lair. They follow, and manage to track them down and kick in the door, right as the evil Doctor is about to inject Melissa’s neck with something. Something sinister, no doubt! The good Inspector fires a few bullets into Dr. Orloff and into his assistant, while Sweet Davey Brown scoops up Melissa and carries her to safety. Fin!

My eyes... apparently not sinister enough to stop bullets.
Dearest readers, despite its inherent flaws, and despite a less-than-stellar DVD effort, both in missing subtitles and in a admittedly shitty transfer, I liked this movie. Was it Franco’s best? Absolutely not! Does it hold value for a Franco worshipper such as yours truly? Why yes, yes it does. “But Duke,” you shriek in a piping voice, one hand gesticulating wildly while the other probes the bottom of an oversized Funions bag, “What happened to Sweet Davey Brown? Did he become bigger than the Beatles and Jesus combined?!” Dearest friend, I can only assume this to be true. He was already mega-rich, mega-handsome, and mega-heroic. I can only assume his star continued to rise upon the news that he put life at risk thwarting the evil Dr. Orloff and rescuing the fair Melissa.

A glimpse inside the Calgon testing facilities.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Franco’s expert use of camera and sense of placement. His every shot ensconces us with the grandeur of mansions, the expansive palatial estates filled with flowers, birds, and hedgerows carved into the shapes of Leprechauns fornicating. OK, I made that last part up, but it should have been included in the film, and I can only surmise that Franco left such shots on the cutting room floor, causing him much personal anguish. As usual in Franco films, lots of bad people do bad things while wearing sexy outfits or while staring menacingly, sometimes both.

The Sinister Penetration of Dr. Orloff

I’m betting this is a rather divisive film, one that Franco-philes will enjoy for what it represents, but not exactly love because it doesn’t really add much to the Dr. Orloff canon. Franco himself must have loved this movie, as he remade it later in life under the name Alone Against the Terror, which while a killer title for a movie, doesn’t have quite the ring to it that The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff has. I enjoyed myself while watching this movie, and while it doesn’t have the usual amount of blood-letting or top-removing that other Franco movies have, it is still worth your time dearest reader. Has the Duke ever lead you astray? Certain parties would claim “yes” when I enthusiastically gave a blurb to the Vicar’s latest book A Cut Above The Rest: A Study Of Late Sumerian Circumcision Practices by stating “If you don’t love this book then you are a fucking moron who should be burned alive while your horrified family watches on in, uh, horror. Fuckers!” on the back jacket. Don’t listen to them, friends! The Duke knows what’s good for his faithful: a liberal dose of MAD cinema, and a healthy shot of The Duke’s Own™ Man Ranch across the lower back!
Until next time, I bid thee aideu!



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