The list of amazing things about Jess Franco could reach to the moon, but one of the most astounding to me is the fact that Franco was influential enough to have films made that were clearly trying to ride his coat tails. Sometimes it was as simple as emulating his style, sometimes it was trying to cash in on one of his successes--and sometimes it was trying to do both.
Franco's best film is generally agreed to be 1962's The Awful Dr. Orloff, though certainly hardcore Francophiles would argue this point. It was certainly the film that set the tone for a grand majority of Franco's following works. Most notably the film featured a mute brutish manservant named Morpho and Howard Vernon as the titular Dr. Orloff. Scores of Morphos would appear in Franco's oeuvre over the years, and not only would Howard Vernon appear in scores of Franco's films, but sveral times he reprised his role of Dr. Orloff.
Well, sort of. He was playing mad scientists named Orloff, but don't expect any damn continuity between the films where he appears as Dr. Orloff. And that's just referring to the films Franco made.
I'm sure El Santo could start his review of this off with a rousing history of its production, but I'm afraid that I'm not quite up to the task. (Other than commenting that this film, like many a Eurosmut production, has dozens of alternate titles--such as The Invisible Dead and Secret Love Life of The Invisible Man, hell even the DVD packaging calls it Orloff and The Invisible Man while the film's title card declares it Orloff Against The Invisible Man) What I can say is that, aside from Howard Vernon's involvement I can find no direct connection with Jess Franco in this film. This is rather astounding because it'd be incredibly easy to assume the filmmaker behind this film was Franco under a pseudonym.
However, as far as I can tell this film is just pretending to be a Franco film, and doing an astoundingly convincing job of it.
The kicky theme music that opens the film is definitely a Franco-esque touch. It's raining outdoors as our strapping young hero, Dr. Garondin (Francis Valladeres) stokes the fire in his office. He hears a commotion upstairs and when he comes to ask what all the fuss is, the housekeeper tells him she just sent off a young boy who had come calling about trouble at the Orloff castle. She didn't want the biy dirtying her floors and, at any rate, surely Garondin wouldn't go see anyone at that awful castle. Well, she's mistaken and Garondin hurries to depart over her objections.
In a truly surreal bit, Garondin finds the "boy" outside, who tells him only, "You've got to go to the castle at once," repeatedly before running away. This is all made more surreal by the fact that the boy is clearly pushing 20, but whomever dubbed this decided to use the voice of an actual child! Garondin is perplexed, but his resolve to go to the castle does not falter.
Garondin is new in town so he has to go to the local inn to hire a carriage to Castle Orloff. He finds that nobody in the inn wants to take him there--except for one driver who apparently values money more than fear. Well, until the carriage gets stuck in some mud. When Garonbdin tells the over-anxious driver to be careful not to overturn the carriage, he gets warned that he'll be walking from here on if he criticizes the skills of the driver. And then the driver tells Garondin that he needs to get out and push to get them unstuck.
Yep, Garondin is a sucker. Sure enough, the driver takes off immediately, leaving Garondin to walk through the rainy woods without even his bag. He manages to find a house on the way, but makes the mistake of mentioning where he was going when an old woman answers the door and gets it slammed in his face. Luckily, he does manage to find the castle, but when a servant answers the door he also tries to slam the door in Garondin's face after the doctor introduces himself.
Garondin has had quite enough of that shit, thank you very much, and shoves his way into the castle anyway. The servant claims to know nothing about anyone being sick, so Garondin forces him to lead the way to Professor Orloff. The servant leads him to where the maid (Evane Hanska) is furiously polishing the silver. The servant calls her an idiot and claims she sent for Garondin instead of leaving well enough alone. He also refuses to announce Garondin and tells the doctor to take it up with the maid.
She tries to ignore Garondin and focuses on stoking a fire, but eventually she cracks under his repeated requests to at least be told where Professor Orloff is. She promises to tell him who sent for him if he promises to take her with him when he leaves. See, Orloff doesn't know Garondin is here because it was Orloff's daughter, Cecile, who sent for him--but the maid can't tell him why, only Cecile can. So the maid gives him a lantern and tells him how to find Cecile's room--and she warns him to be careful, which strikes him as odd. Since everything has been so normal up until now, of course.
He misses the lengthy significant close-up on the maid's face as he heads down the hall. Garondin finds himself into the room he seeks, stokes the fire, and then Cecile Orloff (Brigette Carva) appears behind him. She explains that, yes, she is the one who sent for him, Nobody is sick, but something weird is going on in this castle and she hoped that as a doctor he might be able to understand whatever it is her father has been doing.
And then she tells him an actually neat story about earlier that day felling there was someone walking beside her, hearing their footsteps on the floorboards--and then looking into the mirror and seeing no reflection. However, the reflection suddenly began to return and she realized there had been something between her and the mirror, something that was both transparent and opaque. Garondin begins to try and make a gracious exit from this madness, but Cecile implores him that she's seen other objects moving when no one was there to move them.
Garondin assumes it must be a vision brought on by being alone, especially since she tells him that her father doesn't allow her to see anyone in order to maintain his own solitude. However, he figures that after all the trouble he went to in order to get to the damn castle, he might as well stay and figure out the mystery. Cecile directs him to her father's lab. Well, the lab not only looks like it belongs to an evil sorcerer from a fantasy movie, but when Garondin walks in he sees a book floating above a table, then sees the book get set down, its pages flipped, and finally something slams the book shut.
Well, Garondin barely has time to ponder that before he finds Doctor Orloff (the aforementioned Howard Vernon, and yes he is alternately called Professir and Doctor in the film) pointing a flintlock at him and demanding to know who he is. When Garondin explains himself, Orloff tells him he's come a long way for nothing. When Garondin asks how Orloff was making the book move without touching it, Orloff gleefully tells him that he didn't make it move at all--it was the invisible man that he has created.
|"He's right in front of you, do you see him?"
"Then I have succeeded!"
This either actually satisfies Garondin or he decides to play along with the madman by saying it does. Garondin gleefully talks of having created a new, superior race whose potential may be limitless. The invisible man is stronger and possibly even smarter than a human, he declares, and--as he pours some colored liquid into other colored liquids--he explains that he sees the invisible man as his revenge on his colleagues. Look, you gotta let that go, Orloff.
|"They laughed at my beakers full of colored liquid, but I'll show them!"
By restructuring the man's brain, Orloff claims he created an entirely new species that will rule man and dominate the earth, Okay, sure. Garondin is hung up on the whole "murdered a man to creaate a monster" thing, so Orloff offers him some wine and promises to tell him the whole story behind the creature's creation to show why his actions were justified.
Flashback to--via smoke and a close-up of a stuffed owl to transition--the summer six years earlier, when Cecile's weak heart got a shock and stopped beating completely. Orloff spent all night by her bedside until the servants came with the coffin to take Cecile to her grave. The servants all watch as Orloff adorns Cecile's body with jewelry--but one man and one woman get especially significant close-ups.
The two servants meet later after Cecile's coffin has been left in the family crypt. Marie (Isabel del Rio) wants to claim those jewels for herself, while Roland (Fernando Sancho) the gamekeeper wants her to marry him. She tells him that she could never marry him because he's a gorilla, not a man--and then she undresses in the mirror in front of him to tease him before slipping a nightgown over her naked body. She then tells him she will only marry him if he goes and steals the jewels from Cecile's coffin.
Roland takes very little convincing, planting a kiss on her and then rushing off--and then she changes out of the nightgown and back into her clothes. Well, I suppose if you ahve an actress willing to do full frontal nudity, you get as much as you can out of her. She's actually getting dressed so she can go with her schlubby accomplice, even though that had not been established as the plan.
|"I'm sorry, my family is very traditional--I can only accept a marriage proposal if the ring was stolen from a corpse."
After sending for a doctor, Orloff bashes Roland's door in and confronts him with the pistol. Roland begs his innocence, which does not fly. Orloff marches the man through the whole damn castle, finally leading him to the obligatory dungeon. He forces Roland into a cell, knocking him out in the process, and then chains him to the wall. Roland wakes up and, begging for his life, tells Orloff it was all Marie's idea. Well, that doesn't help his situation--especially since Marie has skipped town.
So, Orloff gives Marie's scarf to his huntsman and orderd the man to have his dogs hunt her down lik an animal. Marie foolishly paused to admire her jewelry by a pond, so when she hears the dogs approaching it's too late. She stumbles and falls, and Orloff finds her that way with the bag of jewels beside her. He whips her until her shirt falls off, naturally, and then orders her back to the castle. Thus endeth the flashback. You might have noticed that at no point did this flashback explain where Orloff got his monster from.
Well, to be fair, Orloff mentions now that, "At first I wanted to murder the guard: instead, I experimented on him." However, that's about the only reference to the monster's origin connected to that flashback. Orloff, to Garondin's horror, tells him that Cecile was driven mad by the ordeal six years ago and is still insane now. He then offers Garondin his hospitality for the night, at least until the storm passes, which Garondin graciously accepts as the invisible man helpfully opens the door and carries the lantern for them as Orloff leads his guest to his room.
Orloff wishes Garondin to, "Sleep well," but Garondin just replies, "I doubt it." And that's even before he discovers the room has no working fire place and wraps himself in his cloak to stay wamr as he settles into a chair to try and sleep. as the various creepy portraits stare at him. Orloff, meanwhile, signals for his servants. The servant ominously tells the maid to get up to where the master is, and she goes as if she knows she goes to her doom,
Oh, but she is going to her doom. Orloff angrily tells her she'll be punished for bringing that stranger here. Several objects in the room flip over and the terrified maid begs Orloff not to let the invisible man punish her. Orloff is unmoved by her plea, as she flees down to the lab. Her shirt has been torn open by the time she arrives there, desperately watching for an attacker that isn't visible. Yes, things are about to go in that kind of direction as the invisible man grabs her and drags her away.
Garondin hears the maid scream, which wakes him out of his fitful sleep. Orloff stands over the unconscious maid, stretched out on a mound of straw in the dungeon. "She's yours," Orloff intones. And so the invisible man strips her naked, which causes her to wake up, and then rapes her. Now, even tastefully done rape scenes tend to still be pretty tasteless, and there is no way around the fact that this is not done tastefully. However, it's mercifully hard to take seriously on account of the assailant not being real. In practice, the assault translates to Evane Hanska rolling around naked, with lots of close-ups of her crotch and the occasional tight zoom in on her facial reactions, which are...difficult to interpret. Though, of course, the overall sense is that she enjoys it because exploitation films don't ever actually understand how rape works.
|"Wait, did the check clear yet?"
Garondin finds Orloff standing near a man chained to the wall of a cell, which Orloff confirms to be Roland--which means that the flashback really did have nothing to do with the creation of the invisible man! Orloff explains that Roland is reponsible for finding Orloff the necessary guinea pigs for his research, and since the invisible man needs human blood to survive Roland is the one responsible for the series of disappearances in the area that no doubt turned everyone against the castle in the first place. Though I guess they're not terribly proactive villagers if they haven't gone all torches and pitchforks on Orloff yet.
Garondin then sees the maid's unconscious body and reacts in horror when Orloff explains he wanted to see how a human female would handle being with his creation. I guess the answer is "not well" because Garondin insists that without medical attention she won't last the night. (Though given this appears to be a 19th Century period piece, medical attention might kill her just as well) Orloff helpfully carries the maid's body, after telling Garondin to fetch a torch. Well, that last bit is just a ruse so the invisible man can lock Garondin in the cell. Orloff tells him that he can't let him go free after all he's seen, and then assures Garondin that he won't die in vain---though he will die in vein because he's gonna be the latest blood donor when the invisible man needs his next dose. And then Orloff carries the maid away for purposes unknown.
|It's always a party at Orloff's.
A freed Garondin promptly gets in a fight with a rubber bat that wasn't doing anything to him, then manages to get locked into another cell by the invisible man while trying to navigate the dungeon. Then, to his horro, he hears something squeaking for several minutes--but it turns out to only be Cecile, rescuing him from his confinement. She has a bag of flour with her, which she dusts the path behind them with as they go in order to make sure the invisible man isn't following them. Oddly, Garondin has to have this explained to him although Cecile is the one who merely suspects an invisible man exists in the castle while he knows it does.
He doesn't get much time to thank her after they get back to her room, because the door swings open on its own--and then footprints appear in the flour. Garondin throws himself in front of Cecile, only to be knocked aside. Poor Cecile is dragged into her bedroom, where the invisible man strips her naked. However, she is able to wriggle free from its grip and hide in a corner until Garondin can regain his sense. He rushes in and, seeing a chair move, tosses flour at it. This results in the revelation of a translucent ape man! And, frankly, I have to say it's not that bad an effect and I like the twist of it being an ape man as opposed to just a man.
|"Oh, I'm an invisible ape man; I'm an ape, ape man..."
And now the film takes a truly odd turn, for in the corridor the two run into Orloff. Orloff embraces his daughter, who moments ago was trying to avoid him, and explains that the invisible man no longer obeys him and set the castle on fire. Wait, so it set the castle on fire and then decided to go assault its creator's daughter? That seems to be cutting it close.
At any rate, Orloff urges his daughter and Garondin to go so that he can stay and destroy what he has created. Well, that is possibly the most abrupt mad scientist turnaround I've ever seen. Meanwhile, Roland stumbles around in the dungeon and then dies of smoke inhalation. Cecile and Garondin arrive outside and we see that the filmmakers were allowed to light some disturbingly convincing fires in many windows of the castle they were using for the exteriors,
The young couple watches the castle burn impassively for a moment, as Cecile says aloud how awful it is. Garondin points out that the important thing is that her father's creation has been destroyed and the invisible man will never come back again. Well, except that then they hear its cries of "Oogily augh, oof!" and see its footprints in the mud as it shoves aside tree branches.
Not to worry, though, the dogs have somehow gotten loose and the wheezing invisible man is set upon and devoured in a messily edited sequence. Cecile and Garondin, now confident that the beast is dead, and apparently just assuming her father is, embrace and watch the castle burn. The End.
|Now we'll see who's been eating my powdered donuts!
You may be wondering what the hell I'm on about, having read my synopsis. However, if you truly look at the film's plot it's incredibly straightforward. A new doctor in a country town is summoned to the local spooky castle under mysterious circumstances; there he meets a young woman he can romance; he is introduced to a mad scientist and the scientist's creation; the creation turns on its creator; and the hero and his love interest escape just as the castle, mad scientist, and creation are all destroyed. It's a very standard horror movie template and in some ways this film follows it to a T.
No, where the film becomes truly odd is the ways it slavishly follows the formula and then suddenly goes off book. And I don't mean that it subverts expectations because it really, really doesn't. Rather it fulfills expectations in the weirdest ways. Like the lengthy flashback that's supposed to explain how Orloff found his invisible ape man, but doesn't explain anything at all. Or how Orloff realizes his creation must be destroyed almost immediately following a scene where he said his work was more important than any number of human lives, with nothing in between to justify his decision except that the monster doesn't listen to him any more. I mean, he doesn't even know the beast tried to assault Cecile! You'd think that would be the thing that finally brings him to his senses, but he apparently dies (off screen, no less) completely unaware that it ever happened!
The remaining oddities are basically the hallmarks of any film that apparently strives to emulate Franco or is just generally made by incompetents. There are misjudged zooms onto faces, shots that take way too long, awkward blocking, wooden acting, inexplicable excuses for nudity, and largely inappropriate music. And, naturally, I find all of these aspects delightful.
There is no question that Orloff Against The Invisible Man is not a good movie. It's largely incompetent and nonsensical, and there's no question that the lengthy rape scene--even if it is just a naked woman writhing around--will put a lot of folks off, not at all unreasonably. However, despite the fact that not a whole lot really happens in this film it's never dull and always has something either entertaining or inexplicable going on.
This is a perfect example of a good-bad movie. Even alone it's a hoot, especially some of the wacky dialogue that Howard Vernon gets, but this would be a great one to heckle in a group.
Plus, invisible ape man! How can you resist that?
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