The bleary eyes of Judge Gordon Sullivan scare him when he looks in the mirror.
"A beloved slab of psycho-sleaze."
Although a number of directors have very distinct styles, it's rare to find a film that perfectly encapsulates a director's approach to filmmaking. Usually their films will be missing some common element, or will have some extra weird bit that doesn't fit in with the rest of their films. However, for famed exploitation director Jess Franco, I think I've found his typical film: The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff. Although it lacks the gonzo surrealism of his more famous Vampyros Lesbos and the full-frontal sexuality of something like Justine, The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff contains pretty much all the elements that have made Jess Franco a cult director. This DVD from Intervision will likely please Franco completists, even if the source is far from pristine.
Poor Melissa (Montserrat Proust, possibly the most unlikely name in show business) is confined to bed, and she keeps having recurring nightmares involving the death of her father years ago. Her family decides to consult Dr. Orloff (William Berger). Melissa thinks there's a conspiracy against her, and only her faithful butler can help keep her alive.
So, if this is the typical Jess Franco movie, what do we get for our troubles? Because this is a Jess Franco movie, we get a nubile young woman in an isolated location while lots of murder is going around. In addition to our protagonis, we also get other attractive women, along with some sinister and brooding guys (including a rather creepy butler), and one of them is a murderer. Perhaps more famously, Franco is known for his atmosphere. Part of that is definitely created by the isolated locations of many of his films (and Dr. Orloff is no exception), while another dose is contributed by his use of soft focus and gauzy textures. Watching Dr. Orloff (or any Franco movie) is like entering into a bizarre dream world inhabited by European beauties and oddly shaped thugs. This atmosphere contributes to an overwhelming sense of dread. Jess Franco only needs a few minutes to sink his teeth in. From then on every little moment takes on a creepy significance.
The only problem with The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff is that a typical Jess Franco film just isn't that great. Sure it has some attractive women, a bit of violence, and a thick atmosphere, but without the insane touches of Vampyros Lesbos or She Killed in Ectasy, the film comes off as kind of bland. There's a bit of violence, but no blood or gore of note. Nudity is implied in a few places but present only briefly. What's left is a kind of mystery film with some supernatural touches provided by the sinister eyes of the title. It's not really bad—there are lots of more incompetent Eurotrash flicks from this era—but it doesn't leave with a rush like the best Franco flicks.
This DVD, however, is pretty special. Jess Franco has directed over a hundred films, and with that many floating around it was bound to happen that one or two slipped away. The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff was one of those films thought lost. But no, Intervision has dug up a copy. Sadly it's not some pristine master kept in a spotless vault. Instead, we get a full-frame transfer of what looks like a VHS copy of the film. That means detail is low, colors are muddy, and the framing is off for the whole film. On the plus side, putting this disc in feels like receiving a transmission from a teenager's bedroom cable box back in 1986, which kind of helps the atmosphere of the film. The mono Spanish audio is surprisingly clear, and the subtitles are easily readable. It does, however, appear that the subtitles drop out from time to time, but with a plot like this one I don't think I missed much.
This is a "lost" film, so a lavish special edition is too much to expect. Still, I was pleasantly surprised by the presence of an interview with the maestro himself, Jess Franco. He speaks in a heavily accented English for almost 20 minutes about the film, his intentions, and his career. Subtitles would have been nice, but that's looking a gift horse in the mouth. This is a solid interview from an aging director who still appears to know his stuff.
As a film, The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff doesn't have much to recommend it. Aside from the heavy atmosphere, the film is missing the sheer craziness of Franco's best work. Also, this DVD was sourced from a video feed, so it's far from a spectacular presentation. However, for Franco completists, the film is a must-have, and the interview with the director should tempt even casual fans to at least rent this disc.
One of Franco's lesser efforts, The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff is
still not guilty.
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