Dorado Films delves deep into the expansive filmography of Jess Franco for their first Blu-ray double feature JESS FRANCO'S FORGOTTEN FILMS showcasing infrequent Franco muse Monserrat Prous (SINNER).
In SILENCE OF THE TOMB, famous star Annette Lamark (Glenda Allen, LES EBRANLÉES) invites several friends back to the island she has purchased for a weekend party, much to the dismay of her neurotic sister Valerie (Prous) who lives on the island and takes care of Annette's young son Christian. When Annette and her older lawyer fiancée Vincent (Mario Álex, SCHOOL OF DEATH) quarrel over her wanting Christian to live with them, her ex-lover and the boy's father Jean-Paul (Francisco Acosta) refuses to let her take him. When Annette's producer Jerome (Luis Induni, THE WEREWOLF AND THE YETI) argues that the boy could be damaging to her career, Valerie becomes disgusted and upset, threatening to kill anyone who tries to take Christian from her. When the boy disappears and a ransom note is left in his place, Valerie confides to Annette's bodyguard Juan (Alberto Dalbes, MURDER MANSION) that she is certain the motive is not the ransom money but in how one of the gathered suspects stands to profit from Annette's career. After Annette receives a death threat, Vincent attempts to contact the police and is killed in a boat explosion, leaving the rest of the party stranded until Monday morning. While Valerie seems the most likely suspect in the threat against Annette – being possessive of Christian and jealous of Annette's hold over lovesick Juan – the actress' ability to wrap men around her fingers has also lead to resentment from Jerome, Jean-Paul, and lesbian photographer Vera (Yelena Samarina, WEREWOLF SHADOW) and the disgust of housekeeper Laura (Kali Hansa, THE PERVERSE COUNTESS) and caretaker Pongo (Manuel Pereiro, SATAN'S BLOOD). As more members of the party are picked off, Valerie is certain that Christian's abductor and the killer is one or more of the party.
Feeling like a work-for-hire along the lines of the later FACELESS, SILENCE OF THE TOMB apes Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" but has some diverting if somewhat silly twists (Franco adapted the script from a 1962 mystery paperback by Enrique Jarber Bergua whose 1963 novel SOLO UN ATAUD/ONLY A COFFIN was turned into a 1967 film by CAULDRON OF BLOOD's Santos Alcocer that was titled THE ORGIES OF DR. ORLOFF in some territories). Far removed from Franco's dark eroticism, this is a melodrama with more soapy bickering than suspenseful corridor wandering and rather perfunctory death scenes. Characterization is shallow but the emphasis on character at least means that we get to see performances from Franco's stable of actors and staging that dictates the camera movement rather than Franco probing static sequences with his zoom lens (the credited DP is KILLER BARBYS' Javier Perez Zofio who started under Franco's Harry Alan Towers-era DP Manuel Merino). Although not as well-known as other Franco starlets like Lina Romay (FEMALE VAMPIRE), Soledad Miranda (VAMPYROS LESBOS) and Diana Lorys (THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF), Prous (sister of cameraman Alberto Prous) had roles in seven Franco films and does what she can to create some ambiguity as to her guilt or innocence. Dalbes is the only other performer who is given much to work with while Hansa gets by with sinister expressions and Samarina meets a fate not unlike hers in MURDER MANSION. Franco's stepdaughter Caroline Rivière (DEMONIAC) has a brief role as a party guest who hightails it off the island on the last boat of the weekend. Franco supplies the score under his David Kuhne alias with songs provided by WITCHES MOUNTAIN composer Fernando García Morcillo (who also penned the Spanish-language songs for DR. ORLOFF'S MONSTER). The two films in this set were produced by Franco's company Manacoa Films (along with the unreleased MYSTERY OF THE RED CASTLE), a company name that he would start using again in the early eighties after he parted ways with Golden Film and then later during his digital video period.
In THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF, paralyzed Melissa (Prous) has been troubled all her life by bloody nightmares featuring a strange man (Jess Franco, of course) who might be her dead father. Her half-sister Martha (Loreta Tovar, NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS) thinks Melissa needs to be more social, but the nosy family butler Matthews (José Manuel Martin, CURSE OF THE DEVIL) believes that Martha and Melissa’s aunt Lady Flora (Hansa) are plotting against her and her uncle Sir Henry (Jaime Picas). To look into Melissa’s case, her uncle calls upon a psychiatrist named Dr. Orloff (William Berger, FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON) who bluntly tells Melissa that her family thinks she is crazy and reveals that he was in love with her mother (also named Melissa). When she married Melissa’s father, Orloff also married and had his own daughter who he also named Melissa (who is now dead). He not only reveals to Melissa that her father was murdered (“an impossible crime” as he was alone with his daughter in the locked-up house when he was killed) and insists that Melissa has been paralyzed since birth (however, in her nightmares, she is able to walk). That night, Melissa sleepwalks (or dreams she does) and slashes her uncle’s throat with the grandfather clock pendulum. When she wakes, she learns from Martha that her uncle left very early that morning on a hunting trip with some friends. Matthews informs her that while her uncle’s car is missing and the wrong gun has been removed from his weapon collection. When a body is discovered in an abandoned car, Inspector Crosby (Edmund Purdom, DON’T OPEN TIL CHRISTMAS) and his assistant Nicholas (Joaquin Blanco, AND GOD SAID TO CAIN) show up to ask questions. Neighbor Davey Sweet Brown (Robert Wood, THE DEVIL’S LOVER) takes an interest in Melissa, but is he to be trusted? Is her family trying to drive her insane? Is Dr. Orloff in on it as well, or does he have his own plans for Melissa?
Shot in Madrid and the Canary Islands, THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF is also rather ordinary thriller plot-wise, with his recurring Orloff character (and his daughter Melissa, another recurring name usually associated with Orloff in Franco’s universe) shuffled into a Hammer psycho-thriller plot with names handpicked from “The Cat and the Canary” (which Franco would credit as the basis for his later NIGHT OF THE SKULL) and “The Hound of the Baskervilles” while sharing the theme of hypnotic control with Franco’s sublime NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT, VOODOO PASSION and MIL SEXOS TIENE LA NOCHE. The film was reportedly remade by Franco as ALONE AGAINST TERROR with Lina Romay in the lead (Franco’s Golden Films production EL SINIESTRO DR. ORLOFF was more of a loose remake of AWFUL DR. ORLOFF). Slow-moving and talky for the first 45 minutes or so, things pick up when all the cards are on the table. While it is also largely lacking Franco’s trademark eroticism (seasoned Franco viewers will find themselves wondering why the two scheming women are not rolling around naked within the first few minutes), it is nice to see this scenario performed by his stable of actors, who are usually more undraped (Tovar does appear nude in a bathing scene).
Prous is once again the wide-eyed innocent who may or may not be mad while Hansa seems to revel in the role of the scheming Lady Flora and Tovar – who also appeared in Amando de Ossorio's RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD and THE LORELEI'S GRASP – mainly shows off her legs and acts the transparent part of the seemingly caring illegitimate offspring to the fragile heroine. Berger – who also appeared in Franco's LOVE LETTERS OF A PORTUGUESE NUN – is quite good in the second half of the film after doing the obligatory benignly sinister bit for the first half, getting into the part with two long monologues delivered to the terrified Melissa. American actor Robert Wood’s career started in Spaghetti Westerns during the 1960s, but it also included six Franco titles including the coveted LA COMTESSE PERVERSE, PLAISIR A TROIS (both of which featured Franco mainstays Howard Vernon and Alice Arno) and his underrated OBSCENE MIRROR (featuring Vernon, while Arno only featured in the hardcore edit along with Lina Romay). He has the least to do here, hang out in the periphery as one of the recurring serenading guitar players waiting around to be the hero in the conventional climax. Purdom was in the middle of his post-Hollywood career in Europe, having appeared in Luigi Bazzoni’s THE FIFTH CORD and THE DEVIL’S LOVER with FRANKENSTEIN’S CASTLE OF FREAKS, ABSURD and PIECES ahead of him, is going through the motions as usual in a stock role that only serves to make the schemers nervous and the heroine more paranoid before pulling the solution out of the air. Franco muse Lina Romay has a small role as Davey’s girlfriend. The film was shot by Antonio Milan (who shot at least three Franco films whose credit went to Gerard Brissaud in the French versions) and it is heavier on foreground-background counterpoint compositions than Franco’s usual exploratory zooms.
Never dubbed and unreleased in the United States, SILENCE OF THE TOMB makes its digital debut from Dorado Films first foray into Blu-ray. THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF was also undistributed in the United States until Severin Films released it on DVD as one of their first Intervision Picture Corp. DVDs. The transfer was sourced from the rights owner's 1" tape master but looked rather poor due to Intervision's PAL conversion while the pillarboxing of the 1.33:1 frame in a 16:9 window had some long subtitles that ran outside the mattes. The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen encode of SILENCE and the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC pillarboxed 1.33:1 transfer of ORLOFF have been sourced from 4K scans of 35mm prints. Although both films share a BD25, compression seems less of an issue than the sources and perhaps some of the digital mastering. SILENCE looks a bit overbright, especially during the already overexposed sunny exteriors while ORLOFF looks a bit faded while the exposure of the entire frame reveals fading along either side at different points and the edges of the filter used for a murder scene late in the film. Some of the end credits are cropped by the edges of the frame but either the opticals might not have been made to fit the title-safe area or the credits may have come from a different source. It seems unlikely Dorado would deliberately crop the scan since there are plenty of light leaks and some scratches along the edge of the frame still evident. Both films sport Dolby Digital 2.0 mono Spanish audio tracks and English, Italian, and Spanish tracks. The English subtitles on ORLOFF sport some spelling errors ("admires" instead of "admirers" and "be quite" instead of "be quiet", for instance) while the SILENCE subtitles sport some awkward translation but are easy to follow. While a BD50 with maxxed out bitrates, lossless audio, and a more refined and proofread translation would have been great, Dorado Films is to be commended for bringing two of Franco's lesser-known films to Blu-ray as their HD debut.
Extras include the featurette "Enidia Chats with Robert Woods" (15:00) in which the Dorado Films VP interviews Woods on his work with Franco. It is not an in-depth interview, with Woods reiterating some of the comments he made in other interviews, but he reveals that it was Berger and Purdom who convinced him to come down to Barcelona to do the film (Woods notes that he directed Purdom in a film which was presumably THE DEVIL'S LOVER). He reveals that he did his own singing to playback of the guitar and that he also plays the trumpet, although of course he performed to playback in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIRROR. Woods speaks warmly of that film, co-star Emma Cohen (HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB), and Franco's direction of it (although he is less admiring of Franco's erotic works). He speaks briefly about Romay who did make-up on the film in addition to her small role. Also included is Franco's originally scripted ending for SILENCE OF THE TOMB presented scrolling text of the translated script pages (2:11) with the pop-up hint to pause the video for easier reading. The ending is superior to the one in the finished film, but Franco reportedly decided to go for a more commercial one.
There are no trailers for the two films, but the disc does include trailers for upcoming releases including THE KILLER IS NOT ALONE, Franco's CAMINO SOLITARIO (which is presumably going to be on the next Franco double feature), the Tomas Milan crime film THE COUNSELLOR, a neat English-language trailer for CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT (overdue for a decent release after Dagored's putrid VHS-quality subtitled DVD and Federal Video's anamorphic but cropped to 1.78:1 Italian-only transfer), and scope trailers for THE HORRIBLE SEXY VAMPIRE and KNIFE OF ICE. JESS FRANCO'S FORGOTTEN FILMS VOLUME 1 was originally available directly from Dorado Films as an three-hundred-copy "Ultimate Edition" with a 24-page booklet on Franco's Manacoa films. The "Collector's Edition" – currently available from Dorado Films with a choice of blue or clear case and to be available in the future from retail sites like Amazon – is identical in disc content but features only a 2-page booklet with an essay by Alex Mendibil on the adaptation of SILENCE OF THE TOMB (with the novel sounding more interesting). (Eric Cotenas)
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