Director: Jess Franco
Intervision Picture Corp.

Intervision Picture Corp.’s debut DVD release is also the U.S. debut of one of Jess Franco’s rarer Spanish productions of the 1970s: LOS OJOS SINIESTROS DEL DOCTOR ORLOFF, produced by Franco’s own Manocoa Film and featuring a handful of his more interesting 1970s regular actors.

Paralyzed Melissa (Montserrat Prous, of Franco’s SINNER) 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 (Kali Hansa, of Franco’s THE PERVERSE COUNTESS) are plotting against Melissa and her uncle Sir Henry (Jaime Picas). To look into Melissa’s case, her uncle calls upon a new doctor: a psychiatrist named Dr. Orloff (William Berger, FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON). Orloff bluntly tells Melissa that her family thinks she is crazy and reveals that he was in love with her mother (also named Melissa), but when she married Melissa’s father, Orloff also married and had his own daughter, who he 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, but Melissa is troubled by her nightmare. Matthews informs her that while her uncle’s car is missing, 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 a 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, including the re-shot scenes in the French and English versions of REVENGE IN THE HOUSE OF USHER) shuffled into a Hammer psycho-thriller plot with names handpicked from “The Cat and the Canary” and “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” although the film does share 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. 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.

While it is largely lacking Franco’s trademark eroticism (seasoned Franco viewers will find themselves wondering why the two scheming women aren’t rolling around naked within the first few minutes, but it may be that this production was not meant for export), it is nice to see this scenario performed by his stable of actors, who are usually more undraped. Although not as well-known as other Franco starlets like Lina Romay, Soledad Miranda and Diana Lorys, Montserrat Prous (sister of cameraman Alberto Prous) had roles in seven Franco films, including the lead in SINNER: DIARY OF A NYMPHOMANIAC (which was released on DVD last month from Mondo Macabro). Kali Hansa appeared in seven Franco films, as well as De Ossorio’s NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS and EXORCIST-clone THE POSSESSED (with Prous), and looks quite glamorous here and seems to revel in the role of the scheming Lady Flora. After uncredited roles in THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED and COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE, Tovar also appeared in De Ossorio’s NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS, RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD and WHEN THE SCREAMING STOPS. She mainly shows off her legs and acts the transparent part of the seemingly caring illegitimate offspring to the fragile heroine. Franco muse Lina Romay has a small role as Davey’s girlfriend. An uncredited blonde plays Dr. Orloff’s assistant.

Berger also collaborated with Franco on a handful of films, the most notable being LOVE LETTERS OF A PORTUGUESE NUN during Franco’s Erwin C. Dietrich period (he also appeared in Franco’s other more conventional thriller NIGHT OF THE SKULL). He is quite good in the second half of the film (after doing the obligatory benignly sinister bit for the first half) and gets into the part with two long monologues delivered to the terrified Melissa. His sinister eyes pop up in close-up during some of Melissa’s walking nightmares (Franco remarks upon Berger’s eyes in the disc’s interview) and they convey quite a bit and compensate for his Spanish dubbing (although it is a good vocal performance by a familiar-sounding Spanish voice actor). 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’s his usual self (for a Franco film) here, benignly sinister as one of the recurring serenading guitar players who pop up in Franco’s films (including GEMIDOS DE PLACER and BROKEN DOLLS). 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 Robert Wood). He would collaborate with Franco one more time in the director’s Jules Verne adaptation UN CAPITAINE DE 15 ANS before his better-known Eurosleaze appearances in FRANKENSTEIN’S CASTLE OF FREAKS, ABSURD and PIECES. Here, he’s going through the motions as usual, although he is cast in a stock role that, in this type of scenario, only serves to make the schemers nervous and the heroine paranoid before pulling the solution out of the air (as opposed to mysteries where the investigation is the focus of the plot). Joaquin Blanco was mainly a Spaghetti Western actor, but he may be most recognizable familiar to HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD fans as “Professor Barrett.”

Since they’ve produced a new Franco interview, it is likely that the release is legit (and that they were going for retro with the VHS-sourced original Intervision logo), but the MYA-look transfer is not pleasing. The film transfer looks not only like a PAL conversion, but also an old video master with noisy blacks and blown-out highlights. It also seems to have been cropped from perhaps 1.66:1 (compositions look okay but the closing credits are slightly cut off on the left). The 4:3 aspect ratio has been needlessly placed within a 16:9 palette (your DVD or Blu-ray player should do this automatically and give you the option of zooming in); of course, on 4:3 televisions, the large side mattes are interpreted as overscan and it will display as fullscreen (the subtitles extended beyond the edges of the frame into the mattes on 16:9 screens while fitting 4:3 screens at a smaller size). The Spanish language mono audio is okay but generally hissy. The English subtitles have some grammatical errors, the occasional weird character, and are sometimes clumsily translated (“he was condoned for being a pedophile,” the reference to some characters as “degenerative monsters,” “now the bloody fest must begin,” and “strange atmospheres” when “strange occurrences” might be more accurate, are some examples). The subtitles refer to Martha as Melissa’s stepsister but then go on to explain a relationship that sounds more like half-siblings. One early exchange is missing a part of a line, but it seems to have been in error rather than having been left untranslated. Subtitles also are missing from a 30 second exchange between Berger and Purdom as well as the first few lines in the next scene before they resume.

The 79 year old director, still smoking cigarettes, talks about “The Sinister Origins of Dr. Orloff” in an 18-minute interview (the disc’s sole extra). William Berger was chosen for SINISTER EYES because Vernon was unavailable (he was reportedly working on an American production at the time). At the time of filming, Franco says he was unaware of Berger’s personal problems (his wife had been jailed for drug possession and Berger reportedly had his own drug problems). He also talks about some of the other cast members (he discovered Kali Hansa through actor Alberto Dalbes, who was a friend of hers). The jazzy score is credited to Franco’s literary pseudonym David Khune, but it was co-composed with a musician that Franco used to play jazz with when he was younger. Franco doesn’t hold back when speaking of the film commission under the General Francisco Franco regime. He says that SINISTER EYES should have been one of his best films and takes the blame for what he views as its shortcomings. (Eric Cotenas)