*** ½ Out of 5
Tagline- His Shrine Was the Face of Terror
Release Date- May 14th, 1962
Running Time- 90-Minutes
Writer/Director- Jesùs Franco
Starring- Howard Vernon, Conrado San Martin, Diana Lorys, Ricardo Valle
Released in 1962 The Awful Dr. Orlof was the first horror film made by cult filmmaker Jess Franco and apparently was his 4th feature film (of course ignoring documentaries and short films) and its also regarded as the first horror film made in Spain. When it comes to the career of Jess Franco according to the IMDb he has 199 directing credits, but who knows how many more could possibly be out there that are maybe a lost film like Nightmares Come at Night was until about 2004 and with different aliases used its possible there could be a few more films than we’re not aware of. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Jess Franco and outside of a few films I really don’t like the bulk of his work and even the films I do like I find them at best to be average, but yet I still continue to seek his work out since he very much intrigues me and even if I have to sit through more films I dislike to find one I thought was ok it still doesn’t stop me from watching his films. The Awful Dr. Orlof was actually quite the surprise in the fact it was actually a pretty good film and avoids many of the problems I have with Franco’s work regardless if I liked or disliked it. Jess Franco’s films are often a bit shoddy, his use of zoom-ins are quite poor and at times the camera is out of focus (that could be a creative choice I suppose), editing is often choppy at best, but my biggest gripe is at times his films can suffer in pacing. The Awful Dr. Orlof by no means is Psycho in terms of filmmaking, but it’s actually fairly well made and while its a bit rough around the edges it isn’t shoddy like many of Franco’s films.
If I never saw a Jess Franco film and this was my introduction to his work I would very much rush out to see more of his films since with Dr. Orlof, Franco showed a lot of potential. The 70s is the era Franco is most known for and the good portion were filled with graphic nudity and were pretty much soft-core porn and while that doesn’t bother me in a film I have to wonder what happened? Like I stated a good portion of his films were quite shoddy and even the films I liked by him were a bit rough, but the Awful Dr. Orlof while rough around the edges is far superior to any other film I have seen by Jess Franco. Again this isn’t Psycho in terms of filmmaking, but its decently made and on par with many films by great filmmakers early in their careers. Based on what I’ve seen by Franco if not for his name on the credits I wouldn’t believe it was him.
Dr. Orlof (Vernon) abducts women in order to use their skin to fix his daughters scarred face. The screenplay is actually fairly decent and better written than any other Franco film I’ve seen, its well plotted and has solid characters that can carry the film. While the idea isn’t exactly original I gotta say this was a pretty strong screenplay.
As director Jess Franco crafts a fun film that’s well paced, which is an issue I often have with Franco’s films even the ones I liked I find the pacing at times to be sluggish, but not here. The pace is generally strong with some solid suspense and eerie atmosphere. In many ways the Awful Dr. Orlof reminds me a little of the Universal horror films with a little bit of the films of Hammer Studios thrown in. While not perfect and a little rough around the edges, but Jess Franco crafts an excellent horror film and was by far my favorite film he made.
Part of why Jess Franco intrigues me is there was a decent filmmaker somewhere in Franco even if the good bulk of his films were quite shoddy (even if enjoyable). The Awful Dr. Orlof is a solid film and there was potential shown. Besides Dr. Orlof, A Virgin Among the Living Dead is one of the only Franco films that I’ve seen that was fairly well done and while that film has its issues it does have some decent atmosphere. In my opinion The Awful Dr. Orlof was by far the best film I’ve seen by Franco and its too bad he never really built upon this.
Overall I highly recommend the Awful Dr. Orlof. If you aren’t a fan of his work I would still suggest seeing this since its really nothing like many of his other films. Those who watch Jess Franco’s films for nudity will be disappointed here as there is only brief nudity. I never expected to like this film as much as I did based on what I’ve seen by Franco, but Orlof was a solid little horror film and fans of cult cinema should seek this out.