Jess Franco's 1964 pictureDr. Orloff's Monster (alternately known as The Secret Of Dr. Orloff and, maybe more accurately, The Mistress Of Dr. Jekyll), sees its titular antagonist done away with in the film's opening scene, but hey, given that his earlier The Awful Doctor Orlof did well enough, why not cash in on the name? Once Orloff has been killed, we meet up with one Dr. Conrad Jekyll (Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui), a mad scientist type who goes about his sinister business deep within the confines of his castle and with aid from his assistant Andros (Hugo Blanco).
As it turns out, Andros is actually Jekyll's brother, whom he murdered a short time ago after throwing a nasty temper tantrum when he found out he was messing around with Mrs. Jekyll. Andros is now basically a robot, his corpse brought back to partial life by Jekyll's mad science and able to be controlled by way of a high pitched signal of some sort. Don't think about this too much… at any rate, Jekyll's doing this thing and getting away with it until he gets a surprise guest in the form of Melissa (Agnès Spaak), Andros' daughter. She had arranged to visit her father before he was killed and soon finds herself having to deal with an increasing body count and her uncle, the sinister Dr. Jekyll himself.
First things first, Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui is no Howard Vernon (who played Orlof in the original picture). As Dr. Jekyll (or Dr. Fisherman depending on which version you watch) he's fairly dull and uninspired, which is never a particularly good quality in a psychopath/mad scientist character. Given how much of the movie rests on his shoulders it's quite surprising that the picture is as entertaining as it is because the guy is just flat. As Ardos, Hugo Blanco fares better. He's not particularly frightening but he is at least invested enough in his part to give it the ol' college try. He lumbers about with some hokey makeup on and does the stilted robot-corpse thing well enough. He is, at the very least, fun to watch here. Thankfully pretty Agnès Spaak is pretty decent in her part. She's cute and quirky and charming and for those reasons plenty enjoyable as the female lead. A supporting effort from Perla Cristal as a sultry lounge singer vamping it up in the film's requisite night club scene is worth mentioning (look for Franco himself as the piano player, cigarette glued permanently to his lip).
Although like most of Franco's output Dr. Orloff's Monster was made on a modest budget, the director earns full marks for using what he had quite wisely. The locations photographed throughout the film help to give the picture plenty of gothic atmosphere and the black and white cinematography captures all of the shadowy interiors quite nicely. A few odd camera setups help to keep things interesting in terms of the compositions that are employed throughout the picture and the lighting is quite solid as well. Throw in a generally rousing score full of unexpected changes in mood and style from regular Franco co-conspirator Daniel White and, if this isn't his best film from this early period in his career, Dr. Orloff's Monster still has enough going for it to make it worth checking out. Those who don't care for the director's output won't find this to be the picture that makes them change their mind or reevaluate his output, but it's a fun mad scientist picture with plenty of horror movie trappings.
Note: It's recently been mentioned elsewhere on line by those more familiar with the film than myself that this release runs approximately five minutes shorter than the DVD that was released years back by Image Entertainment. As the missing material was apparently shot by Franco for inclusion in the French cut of the film, we've amended our recommendation to a rental. The movie is still worth seeing for Franco fans, but since it's evidently heavily edited here, it's hard to endorse it.
Redemption presents Dr. Orloff's Monster on Blu-ray for the first time on a 50GB disc framed at 1.66.1 widescreen in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation. Taken from an archival 35mm print, the image, like most of the transfers in this line to date, hasn't undergone an extensive restoration so expect some vertical scratches here and there and some spots of print damage throughout the movie. Detail and texture are noticeably improved over the previous Image DVD release of the movie, as they should be as that disc is quite old. Black levels aren't quite as deep as some might hope for but there's still plenty of atmosphere to appreciate and enjoy here. Contrast looks good, it doesn't bloom too often, and shadow detail is good for an older low budget feature.
Audio options are offered in French or English in DTS-HD Mono with optional subtitles provided in English only. Audio quality is fine, there's a little bit of hiss in a few spots and maybe some minor distortion if you listen for it but the balance is decent and the score sounds good. The dialogue is easy enough to understand and this is okay for the most part.
The main extra on the disc is an audio commentary from Tim Lucas that does a fine job of summing up Franco's career up to this point and then dissecting the film by discussing its plotting, where some of the story ideas possibly came from, detailing the history of the cast and crew involved with the picture, making some interesting critical observations about the score and the locations and more. In typical Lucas fashion this is well researched and very thorough, though it makes no mention of the edits.
Also included on the disc is eleven and a half minutes of more explicit footage that includes different nudity-laden footage than that scene in the feature presentation version as well as some alternate footage from the cabaret. This material is presented as silent footage. Rounding out the extras on the disc are the film's original French and Italian theatrical trailers, menus and chapter selection.
Dr. Orloff's Monster isn't Franco's best picture from his early period but it is a lot of fun. The movie has got plenty of atmosphere and some great visuals, enough that we can overlook some of the rather gapping plot holes that pop up in the film. Redemption has done a fine job bringing this to Blu-ray, presenting the picture in very nice shape and with an interesting audio commentary as its chief supplement. This isn't one that will convert Franco's naysayers, but for fans of the director's eclectic output it is worth seeing, making it all the more of a shame that it is cut on this release. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.