How Awful!

One for the Jess Franco fans!

Franco first detailed the misadventures of demonic plastic surgeon Dr. Orloff in 1962, in GRITOS EN LA NICHE, better known as THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF. It’s a cheap ‘n’ nasty rip-off of Franju’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE, in which the titular mad scientist (American Swiss abroad Howard Vernon) is swiping the kissers of young girls to decorate the head-front of his mutilated daughter. Well, we’ve all done it.

Totally lacking the pop-surrealist poetry of the Franju classic, Franco’s film is nevertheless atmospherically shot in black-and-white, with noirish lighting effects, wide angle lens distortion, and nice tracking shots. It’s very different from the modernist noodling of later Franco breast-fests like VAMPYROS LESBOS. He leaves the zoom lens in the box this time.

Vernon’s mad scientist romped bloodily through numerous sequels by Franco and others, making him poor cousin to horror staples like Dracula and Frankenstein. He seems to have been treated as a copyright-free myth from the off, so that anybody can use him if they feel like it. His last outing, still played by Vernon, was in the glossy, cheesy, and appallingly nasty FACELESS, where he lurks in the background, allowing Helmut Berger to dominate the procedings, peeling one victim’s face off and SHOWING IT TO HER. Despite the always-ludicrous presence of Telly Savalas, Chris Mitchum, Anton Diffring and Caroline Munro (and Stephanie Audran! WTF?), the movie keeps slipping out of the realms of camp, into more upsetting territory. If you’re going to see it, turn the hot water on first. You’ll need it.

Anyhow, go HERE. Just when I was speculating what Victor Frankenstein might be getting up to nowadays! It makes perfect sense that Orloff, or maybe the SON OF ORLOFF, would wind up in such circs.

8 Responses to “How Awful!”

  1. Thanks for the correction. Vernon’s true nationality makes a BIT more sense out of his casting in Le Silence de la Mer. He’s also in Bob le Flambeur, making him a favourite “Melvillian actor” to use Melville’s own phrase.
    I blogged before, I seem to recall, about Lang’s response to Vernon’s sexual preferences.
    Jeunet and Caro were very impressed with Vernon’s devotion to his craft on Delicatessen, which involved some very uncomfortable filming in a waterlogged room.

  2. Vernon’s one of those Great Unsung Acting Pros. Considering that as a character actor he’s basically a “type” (slinky-sinister) he had a remarkable career in a wide variety of very different films working with some very great filmmakers.

  3. Eyes like fried eggs. Pretty useful.

  4. Christoph Huber Says:

    Not to distract from the greatness of Vernon, whose career is, I agree, truly impressive, but as a certified member of the Helmut Berger adoration society I do have to point out that allowing him to dominate the proceedings is the noblest of efforts, period. (Where’s the enthusiasm?)

    Among the Vernon performances for Franco is also his scientist in the slightly Orloffish THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z a few yeers later (’66), a film so surprisingly solid in most respects that it is almost hard to embrace for unapologetic Franco fans like yours truly. (Did Franco make heaps of garbage? Undoubetdly. But you either love his work in its entirety or not at all!)

  5. Oh yes, Franco has his solid side. The first Orloff is oddly solid, even stolid, although the nastiness makes up for it.

    Must do more on him, I have a few unwatched discs lying around. I’ve been meaning to quote some lines from 99 Women.

    Gotta admire the way his Jack the Ripper (shot in Zurich), ends with the Ripper being arrested, THE ONE THING EVERYBODY KNOWS DIDN’T HAPPEN.

  6. And remember that Franco’s Jack the Ripper is a Dr Orloff too. They seem to get about.

    The most recent DVD release of that film features one of the strangest dubs that I have ever heard. Not only does it feature very broad Suffolk accents throughout, it also seems to have a SUBSTANTIALLY different plot to the film itself. I ended up watching it with both the dub and subtitles up, and it was fun trying to process the two stories at once.

  7. chris schneider Says:

    Apologies for being late to enter this conversation, but … two reasons for the “surprisingly solid” nature of DIABOLICAL DR. Z might be the presence of Bunuel’s producer Serge Silberman and that of frequent Bunuel scenarist Jean-Claude Carriere.

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